Four shot in one night. Babies murdered on the streets. Police officers wounded.
The news gives the grisly details of the shootings, city officials are giving news conferences and community activists are in an uproar. One might wonder: Is there anything really being done while young black and brown men are dying in Oakland and people hide in their homes hoping to get through the nights of terror?
I’m here to tell you that there is hope on the way. Groups such as Oakland Community Organizations (one of the largest and most historic faith-based community organizing networks in the city), Pastors of Oakland and many more have joined forces to fight against the long trend of violence. We are doing more than praying. We are putting our faith to work.
Together we have launched the Lifelines to Healing organizing initiative, which includes the Ceasefire violence intervention strategy. The Lifelines and Ceasefire models are more than a program to end violence. They are both long-term strategies to stop violence as well as pathways to create an environment of peace and a roadmap for success to enrich Oakland. Ceasefire and Lifelines are practices that try to end the mass incarceration of men of color, and offer them opportunities to make better choices and improve their quality of life.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan already supports the Ceasefire model, and he and community leaders throughout the city have been implementing Ceasefire’s key tactics.
Ceasefire, a proven strategy that has been implemented throughout the country with great success, has three major components: call- ins, community policing and night walks. Call-ins are a collaboration of law enforcement, faith and community leaders, and service providers coming together to tell those involved in gun violence that the “shooting has to stop.” Community policing focuses on the local beat officer working with the community in the area of service to prevent and solve crimes. This takes the “cops vs. the community” mentality and makes it the “police and community vs. crime” approach. The night walks are a critical element in the Ceasefire strategy. Every Friday night, people of faith walk the most dangerous neighborhoods of our city—not to proselytize but to manifest a ministry of presence, hope and concern.
I was personally involved in two recent call-ins. It was powerful to see the community and law enforcement acting together as a body of concern. We were not there to incarcerate anyone but to give those involved in violent crime an opportunity to stop. It was powerful to let those young men and women see that there are people around them who are truly concerned about their well being and who are willing to put themselves on the line to help. How great would it be if the pastors and community leaders who live in Oakland and in some of the neighborhoods where the violence is taking place would say to these young people: “We love you and we care.” I was able to give out my phone number and address to some of those involved. There were tears, looks of disbelief and looks of hope.
Over the last couple of weeks, our city has been engaged in a polarizing debate about how to respond to the crisis of violence and homicide in our community. A complex and healthy debate has been reduced to competing sound bites: bring in more law enforcement or invest more in services for young people. The advantage of Ceasefire is that it brings that discord into harmony. Ceasefire asserts that data-driven collaboration with a laser focus on the most likely to shoot or be shot—with a clear message and real opportunities for alternative behavior—is the best approach to reducing the number of young men laid down on our streets. Everyone must be at the table, in a deliberate process of trust-building and co-implementation, for lives to be saved. Previous efforts that may have fallen short are now re-invigorated with significant and serious commitment from all stakeholders and a higher sense of accountability than ever before.
This brings me back to the night walks. Join us this Friday night! Come out of your house of worship to show your concern to members of our community who are often left to fend for themselves. We’re not just saying, “We love you.” We put our love into action by reclaiming our streets, corner stores and bus stops as holy ground. We cast our fear with a spirit of power and hope.
If every church, synagogue, temple, or fellowship in Oakland would commit three passionate people to the weekly Friday Ceasefire night walks, we could cover our most violent areas neighborhoods. The residents, along with the people most likely to be involved in gun violence would experience a healing presence across our city.
My fellow clergy, people of faith and community leaders: It’s time to stand up and be counted. Come out and let’s change our great city one person, one mind, one soul at a time.
Rev. Billy Dixon is the pastor of At Thy Word Ministries COGIC, an Oakland Community Organizations board member and an Oakland resident. For more information about OCO, visit www.oaklandcommunity.org.
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