Scenes from the aftermath in Oakland:
stories of victims, survivors and healers.

Life After Homicide, Parts 1 & 2

1. Adrift in a churning tide

Very suddenly she had become like a lifeless stick adrift in a churning tide, with no will of her own. That's what it sounds like as Rose Holman describes the days after her son Lewis was shot and killed in Oakland in April of 2012. Lewis was a passenger in a car near Mills College in East Oakland. The driver was shot, too, but survived. Lewis died at the scene. It happened at 4:30 p.m.

When she emerged from that tide, things got even worse. "I was in an uncontrollable rage," says Holman, in a voice today full of kindness and calm.

Even in Oakland, you wouldn't have heard much about the killing of Lewis Holman. The 21-year-old carpenter was shot to death during the most murderous year Oakland had seen since the 2006. Lewis was not wealthy or white. He was not a child. He was a young, black man in East Oakland, and so, in some objective ways, the most unspectacular of victims of the city's long-standing troubles with the gun. Such murders garner little public attention. 

There was a handful of news items. One said there were many witnesses to the killing of Lewis, but more than a year later the police have no real leads. No one would talk. 

Like most survivors of the killed, his mother was offered little help from the city. Her loving daughters jumped in to try to guide her, but what did they know, really, about what to do when you are thrust into the strange world of homicide and its aftermath? Suddenly, there are police to deal with for perhaps the first time in your life. There are coroners and morticians and preachers and a whole world to notify and everything costs money and you had no idea this was coming. And you have lost not just your son or brother but, for a time, your mind, your heart. 

Who would step in to help her?

2. "She's gonna help you get through it"

Just over a year later, Rose Holman still says it's hard to believe her son is gone. Lewis was 21. He was killed in daylight, while riding in a car near Mills College.

"I know it, but then I don't," says Holman. "I still feel like we have had one of our arguments, a falling out. But that sooner or later we will meet up, at a family gathering or something, and we will sit down to talk and then we will be past it and move on."

Sooner or later, maybe much later, it will hit her, though, that there will be no chance to reconcile with her son, or to watch him become the man she hoped he would be. And then all the grief will come tumbling down on top of her again.

That's what the killing does to survivors. More than 170 killings in 2012 and 2013 in Oakland have left hundreds of family members in our community, mothers, fathers, children, sisters and brothers, crushed under the weight of their grief. Over 800 victims since 2006 means thousands of survivors, thousands of Oaklanders hoping something or someone will come along and find them and pull them out from under the rubble of their lives.

For many, that someone is Marilyn Washington Harris a kind-of one woman search party. (See: Miss Marilyn.) That something is the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence, the organization Harris founded in the name of her son, killed in Oakland in 2000. Harris is an emergency responder. In some ways she is not unlike a police officer or firefighter or paramedic: where others might run away, she steps into the most tense, fraught, sometimes still dangerous situations to bring safety and healing to survivors, to protect them from further harm, neglect and exploitation in their sudden grief.

"A woman at work told me I should talk to her," says Holman. "She said, 'She's gonna help you get through it.' I didn't know what she meant at the time."

At first, Holman said she resented this woman who was stepping into her life at the worst possible time, telling her what needed to be done, what business had to be attended to. Because there are many things to do when you are a survivor of a homicide victim, many people to deal with: police, coroners, funeral directors, city clerks. Suddenly there is much business to attend to, just as your state of mind has been shattered.

Soon, says Homan, her feelings about Harris changed.

"Because she showed me that love," says Holman. "She said, 'I understand where you're coming from, and you can't do it alone.' She has helped me understand a lot of things."

Rose is now a volunteer with the Khadafy Washington Foundation. And the Foundation has found a gem, a self-professed lover of paper work.

"I love organization," says Holman. "Having things together when people need them, that's just who I am." Now, on a daily basis, she sees Harris working with families, doing for them what she did for Homan in her time of need.

"What I love most about her is she'll let you know the consequences. She says, 'If you are a responsible adult like you say you are, you need to consider this.' She will take you step by step and show you how to do it. If there's someplace you need to go, she'll get you transportation, or take you. I see her working with these young kids who have lost a father or mother."

Holman says she couldn't understand how one person could do so much.

"I saw her at an event," she says, "and I sat down and talked to her and asked her if she needed help. I wanted to take care of her, because I saw the work she was doing. She needed help with the computer. I'm a computer nut, put me with a computer and I'm happy."

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