Oaklanders march to end gun violence in their city

Members of churches and community organizations marched through the streets Saturday afternoon, calling for less gun violence in the city.

The chants and whistles pierced the Saturday afternoon air, alerting the entire neighborhood that a mass of people waving signs was not far behind.

Mothers pushed children in strollers, teenagers rode bikes and older people leaned on canes to march to Frank Ogawa Plaza—the meeting ground for a rally to protest gun violence in Oakland.

Several blocks behind the action, where the cheers faded away to silence, Cheryl Paige, 61, reflected on those in her own life who had been killed by violence.

An Oakland native, she once moved to Sacramento for work. But multiple funerals for young people from her church—the young men she worked with in the Acorn projects who attended Paige’s Bible study, the girl who was shot while standing on the street for a prayer vigil—kept bringing her back home.

Few of these shootings are solved by police, because witnesses rarely come forward.

“There’s a street mentality of being a snitch,” Paige said. “If that kind of street mentality continues, there won’t be anything to put to justice.”

Paige’s church, True Vine Ministries, was just one of the 50 churches, community organizations and other supporters that marched from five locations throughout Oakland as part of the Celebration of Life Peace March. About 300 people attended the rally, which included multilingual prayers, dance and music performances and pledges of action from public officials.

Mayor Jean Quan and council members Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf and Rebecca Kaplan were all in attendance, along with Oakland Police Captain David Downing, and members of the school board and Peralta Community College District. They were asked to work with the community to speak to higher state officials about the violence in Oakland. Officials were also asked to simplify the process for new businesses in the city as a way to increase jobs and decrease crime.

“I’m a real believer in the ceasefire model for stopping violence, particularly gun violence,” Schaaf said. “Events like this are a very important part of that strategy where the community unites and sends a very clear message that we will not tolerate violence anymore.”

Many participants in the march had personal connections to the city’s violence. When a speaker at the rally asked attendees to raise their hands if they had a family member killed by gun violence, a sea of upraised palms rose from the crowd.

The effort was coordinated by Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere, a community group that encourages neighbors to speak out against the violence in the city and take a non-violent stand against murder.

SAVE was started by Pastor Zachary Carey of True Vine, after the murder of his family member Leon Wilson on November 17, 2010. Wilson had been on parole following five years in prison, and was attending a GED course at the Allen Temple Baptist Church when he received a phone call. He went outside the church to meet the caller and was shot. The shooter then escaped in a car.

Since Wilson’s death, SAVE members have gathered weekly in the locations of recent murders while carrying signs and chanting slogans at events they call “stand-ins.”

“We’re tired of the violence in our city and the surroundings,” said Deacon John Edwards, 70, who is part of True Vine and has lived in Oakland for 50 years. “We’re tired of losing our young people.”

Saturday’s march was part of a Weekend of Peace that started Friday night, with dozens of simultaneous prayer vigils at churches across the city.

Members at True Vine faced the open street, held hands and prayed aloud for safety in their community and in their families as the sun set. They “threw their peace signs up” at passing cars, showing the community that they were tired of the violence, said Nathalio Gray, youth minister at True Vine.

“The citizens have to say it’s intolerable,” said Lynette McElhaney, who is executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of East Bay as well as a member of True Vine and a candidate for Oakland City Council. “We must demand action. We must agitate our city council to ask for more.”

Their efforts are starting to take root. Gray said children in the congregation are “throwing peace signs up” at school during recess, possibly changing the way they respond to adversity.

“The Bay Area has a history of addressing the needs of the community,” Gray said. “There’s a tradition of speaking out.”

Just this past week, a sleeping 11-year-old boy was shot when assailants opened fire on his East Oakland home. Luis Duenas Hernandez was hit in the chest, and the bullet lodged in his liver. He should be released from the hospital within a few days.

3 Comments

  1. Does anyone imagine that gun-carrying criminals pay any attention to a nonviolent protest march? If Oakland residents want to reduce gun violence, they need to 1) stop raising their children to become criminals, 2) put a lot of volunteer effort and what little extra money they have into the schools, as Berkeley & Davis residents do, 3) stop glorifying criminals, in hip-hop music or any other way, 4) as the article mentions, start phoning the police when they see, or have probably cause to suspect, any criminal behavior, including among their friends & relatives, & 5) vote enough higher taxes on themselves to pay for a much larger & more professional & competent police force.
    And the police need to do real community policing instead of having an Us vs Them war mentality, but that’s a separate issue.
    Decriminalizing all drugs would help a lot too.
    For those of you who are about to give me a PC answer–are you sure you want Oakland’s murder rate to continue as it is? If not, suggest some solutions that would actually have a real effect instead of just making you feel better emotionally.

    • Charley

      What some may call “that gun-carrying criminal” leads me to think, “hmm… what caused that gun-carrying criminal to become a gun-carrying criminal?” or even, “what is happening in that indivudual’s life to lead him/her to feel like he/she has to carry a gun?” What is considered a “gun carrying criminal” as seen through many unconscious eyes is what I call surviving the streets. For some people, carrying a gun is the only way to feel safe when walking around in oakland; where anyone can take your life. To most people everyday is a life and death matter. The streets of oakland has been given a nic-named by Reporters & residents, “Baby Iraq.” The reason why it was given this title is because of the war like experiences that oakland residence go through on a daily basis.As a young person growing up having to constantly look behind you just to make sure your safe, or duck and cover every time you hear gun shots, or seeing one of your family members leave the house one day and getting a call saying that, “Johnny isn’t with us in this world anymore.” Over the years all of the trauma these young people go through leads up to it being normalized for them. when these things become normalized they begin to think it is the way of life. It’s been so normalized that nobody thinks to question it.
      I am a 17 year old young man of color and an oakland resident and i think i have solutions. it has nothing to do with raising taxes for better police but realizing that we (people of color) have been put in this situation to fail. The school to prison pipeline for example.
      I think that we have to first recognize what we are doing isn’t healthy; mentally, physically, and spiritually. then be able to understand what is happening around us (know your surrounding) and think critically on how does this effect yourself and the community. then after that you must take back ownership of your life and as you rise to the next level you must lift someone up as well. More on this??? email: Va.charley.eostc2013@gmail.com

  2. Charley

    I am considered a gun-carrying criminal and i do pay attention to the non violent marches and protest. i participate in some of them. And we don’t raise our children to be criminals, the social conditions of the streets do. We try to be the best parent(s) we can be, but there is a disconnect somewhere and i believe it is the combination of violence on the streets in addition to showing up to school and not receiving the help we actually need.
    for example, if you are dealing with the recent murder of your brother or anything else traumatizing and to go to school where it is pushed away and not recognized but to focus on next week’s Exam, is a disconnection between the individual’s reality living in Oakland’s “Baby Iraq”.
    @Doug Finley, i don’t think your wrong i just think i have another answer for the same problem.

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