After shooting, First Friday organizers discuss how to keep future events safe

Oakland's First Friday art festival has drawn as many as 20,000 people. Photo by Charles Berkowitz.

Oakland's First Friday art festival has drawn as many as 20,000 people. Photo by Charles Berkowitz.

Nearly a week after the post-First Friday festival shooting that killed 18-year-old Kiante Campbell and wounded 3 others, event organizers say they’re waiting for a cue from the city about how to proceed. City of Oakland officials have called a meeting with the festival’s key stakeholders for Thursday to examine ways to keep future events safe.

The art festival that takes over swaths of downtown Oakland on the first Friday of each month started as a humble gallery walk in 2006. By last fall, First Friday drew as many as 20,000 people, earning national press and marking the city as an arts destination.

On Saturday police arrested 19-year-old Donald Parks Jr. in connection with the shooting. He was arraigned Tuesday on eight felony charges, including assault with a semi-automatic firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and carrying a loaded firearm in the city. He was not charged with shooting Campbell.

For now, organizers won’t comment on what tacks they’re considering to keep the event safe or the approaches they’ll propose at Thursday’s meeting. Some aren’t optimistic. “I don’t know that there is a plan that can prevent violence from happening,” said Steve Snider, director of the Lake Merritt-Uptown and Downtown Oakland associations. “I don’t think there’s any way to strategize ourselves out of this before next First Friday.”

Oakland First Fridays, the group that organizes event programming and coordinates with the city, held its weekly community meeting on Wednesday, but kept the proceedings off the record.

A group of artists and performers involved with the event also reportedly met Monday to discuss ideas for moving forward.  Eric Arnold, a member of Oakland First Fridays’ communications team, wrote about the meeting for Oakland Local: “The conversation centered around the need to do more youth-specific programming and outreach, monitoring lyrical content, culture-keeping and messaging, getting buy-in from artists with street cred, and keeping Oakland’s history and culture intact,” he wrote.

But for now, some city officials say that despite Friday’s shooting, they would like to see the event make a comeback.

“Anytime when people can come together and have a good time and feel comfortable in our downtown, that brings more resources to this community, and we need that. We need to revive downtown and we need to have an entertainment area for the city and that area was suppose to be it. So I think that if they go back to being true to who they are, then I think they can recapture it and rebuild that event,” said Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks (District 6) who was present at the last First Friday event but left shortly before the shooting.

Friday’s shooting is only a reminder to some Oakland residents about the current gun violence.

“No amount of planning and security can provide 100% protection against gun crimes and random, senseless acts of violence. However, the City is taking immediate action to assess the security and overall nature of the event and will meet with our community partners to determine the needed measures to make sure First Fridays will continue to be safe and successful moving forward,” Jean Quan said in a statement.

Although the city of Oakland currently pays for private security and Oakland Police Department officers to patrol the event, some residents believe its tenor has changed drastically since the city got involved in organizing it.

“When [First Friday] started out it had a focus. It kind of lost it’s focus and was just anybody come down, do whatever you want. That’s what it kind of seemed like down there. And so I’m hopeful they can go back to what they were, Art Murmur, bring people down to go to the galleries, bringing people down to go to the restaurants. But not necessarily the street festival that it had become with no focus, organization, to kind of guide it,” Brooks said.

“Anytime you have something free and fun to do at night in Oakland it’s only a matter time before folks find out about it,” said Oakland resident Lukas Brekke-Miefner, who responded to the shooting with a blog post on 38th Notes that received over 80,000 hits. He has attended the event for nearly three years.

“I hope we can figure out some solution that incorporates young people and gives them the opportunity to have positive engagement,” said Brekke-Miefner, who has partnered with the Oakland-based clothing store Oaklandish to sell t-shirt that say “Respect My City” at the next First Friday to help spread a message non-violent message across the city.

While the street event may be in flux, galleries plan to stay open on First Friday evenings, said Danielle Fox, director of Art Murmur, the gallery organization that previously organized First Fridays. She said her group has considered making gallery hours earlier, from 5 to 8 p.m., but will continue Friday programming. What happens with the broader festival will probably take longer to work out. “There’s a lot of different stakeholders,” she said, “so there’s a lot of different conversations that have to happen.”

Read Oakland North’s previous coverage: First Fridays’ uncertain future hinges on collaboration.

4 Comments

  1. Rob G

    I think a priority should be clearing crowds out at 10 p.m.

    There’s a witching hour where people turn the corner from tipsy and celebratory to drunk and prone to rash decisions. At that point, the likelihood of ignorance to come out increases dramatically. Make announcements on the PAs, have organizers ask people to move along, and get those streets cleared, block at a time.

  2. Marcy

    If this is the first shooting since Art Murmur and First Friday began, what is all the drama about? Shootings happen all the time in Oakland and other surrounding cities, so why does the monthly event need to change anything after only one shooting? I’d wait till there’s some sort of pattern that demonstrates a connection between shootings and Art Murmur/First Friday. Remember Festival at the Lake? Don’t let that happen here. Keep the event, keep level heads and be proactive.

    • Steve

      There was a shooting at last month’s (January) First Friday too.

      And in July 2012: http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/crime-courts/2012-12-28/july-shooting-threatened-cancellation-first-friday

      There has been more too.

      • Gavin

        Steve: You just shared an article about Augusta, Georgia… this is not Oakland, California.

        This is the first such shooting at the First Friday event, which began in 2006. Considering the level of violence in a city like Oakland, there is something to be said about a diverse, enriching, and extremely well attended community event that can take place peacefully for such a length of time. The event itself is something of a crime-prevention mechanism, creating community and business activity in the Uptown area. I would hope that we are all smart enough to keep this in perspective and understand the tremendous value of First Friday for Oakland.

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