Community members, law enforcement officials and politicians alike reached across church aisles Thursday night to hold hands, literally, and pledge commitment to ending gun violence in Oakland.
About 200 people packed into the Allen Temple Baptist Church on International Boulevard in East Oakland to listen to proposals on how to make their neighborhoods safer. One of the methods discussed was the city’s Ceasefire initiative, a strategy police officials say will start next month.
Operation Ceasefire, which was unveiled in August, is a data-driven program that identifies those believed to be at highest risk for committing major crimes like shootings, murders and robberies. From there, a partnership between law enforcement officials, clergy and community members provides an opportunity for those identified to change their lives around, said Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan in Tuesday’s Public Safety Subcommittee meeting.
These services can include counseling, housing opportunities or employment, said Mayor Jean Quan at Thursday’s event. The Ceasefire program has also been used successfully in Boston, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice.
“It’s not just good enough to keep the door open—we have to reach behind us and bring people with us,” Quan said Thursday night. “We have to reach back and say, ‘You have a place with us.’”
The first steps of the program are community outreach and notification, said Oakland Police Department spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson. She said more information about the launch will be released closer to October.
Reactions to the initiative at Thursday’s event appeared to be positive, with several community members expressing support for the project.
“As long as our children are dying in the streets, we’ve got work to do,” said Pastor George Cummings, of Imani Community Church in Oakland. “All of us must work together…if we are going to stop the violence in our community.”
The initiative’s reliance on congregations and church leaders was visible in more ways than just the event’s location. Resounding hymns emphasizing partnership and resolve initiated the meeting. People of all ages stood, swayed, clapped in time to the organ music, sometimes clasping hands with those nearby. High-fives with neighbors were common, and prayers for safety and courage were a major part of the evening.
Cummings related the community’s struggle against violence to the Biblical story of David and Goliath, in which underdog David wins a battle against Goliath with only a slingshot.
“We’re here with little rocks,” he preached. “And we’re saying to the giant of violence, ‘We’re coming for you.’”
Beyond the comments from public officials and church leaders, the program also featured the personal story of Hadari Alexander, a 15-year-old boy who was shot outside his home in a gated complex in East Oakland—two weeks before his 16th birthday.
His sister, Anthonesha Alexander, 23, urged audience members to remember their roles. Children need to stop acting like adults, she said, and adults need to stop solving their problems like children.
“Whoever glamorized gun violence and shooting?” Alexander asked, raising her voice.
Though Ceasefire was touted as a viable and sustainable answer to Oakland’s violent crime, Jordan warned the audience that it would not be a quick fix.
“This is not a one shot deal,” he said. “We may not see the results today, or the next day. But you’re going to be able to walk the streets.” Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley also emphasized the importance of early education and partnerships with schools. “Our community lives in siege,” she said. “I see people all the time being afraid to come out of their houses—they’re completely petrified.”
Other public officials in attendance included Larry Reid, president of the Oakland City Council, and LaDonna Harris, acting chief probation officer.
Community leaders have planned a night walk for 7 p.m. tonight, to encourage neighborhood cooperation and camaraderie. Walkers will meet at Victory Baptist Church at 2103 24th Avenue. Church leaders have also planned a citywide street corner prayer, in which churches will be assigned seven street corners where they can pray for seven minutes. The goal is to cover 300 city blocks, said Bishop Jerry Macklin.