Golden Gate residents confront neighborhood crime
on September 30, 2009
It happened on Saturday, in broad daylight. Kendall Moalem noticed the two men lingering outside her house in the northwest Oakland neighborhood of Golden Gate. She watched on as one of the men, covering his face with a ski mask, pulled out a “long muzzle shot gun” and prepared to attack an incautious passerby.
“Watch out!” Moalem shouted, as she closed the door and reached for the telephone. Fifteen minutes later she heard the police outside her house. They questioned Moalem, but she had neither heard nor seen anything after entering the house. There were no signs of violence in the street when the police arrived. She still doesn’t know whether anybody was shot.
But retaliation for Moalem’s help came later that day. Around 9:30 in the evening, Moalem was sitting in her living-room with her boyfriend and a few friends when a rock “the size of a baseball” crashed through the window, crossed the living-room, missed Moalem and her guests by a few inches, and hit the back wall, making a dent in the sheet rock.
“Oh my, God,” Moalem asked herself a few minutes after the incident, when the initial shock had passed. “Can I live in my home?”
Moalem, a business policy analyst born and raised in northern California, moved to the house in the heart of Golden Gate eight years ago. It’s the first house she has ever owned. Since moving to Golden Gate, she has been an active participant in the neighborhood’s constant battle against violence and decay, organizing on matters big and small, including the adoption of a Stanford Avenue tree, which Moalem waters and tends to, encouraging her neighbors to do the same.
Moalem currently serves as the secretary for Golden Gate’s Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). The NCPC, like its sibling chapters all over Oakland, is a volunteer group that meets monthly with Oakland police to discuss crime prevention measures.
In response to the weekend’s events, Moalem took to the streets on Monday afternoon alongside a few of the neighborhood’s more committed residents for a small march around the block. She said that after the attack on her house she had two options: come out into the neighborhood or hide in fear inside her house.
“There are things you can’t control,” she said, as she showed the rock that had shattered her window. “But here’s what I can do: walk with my neighbors, talk about what happened.”
In her living room, the curtains remain open across the newly-replaced window. Moalem says that the only reason she feels “decent” after what happened is that she has the support of her neighbors.
“People tell me, ‘you’re important to the neighborhood, you can’t leave” she said.
Even before her house was attacked on Saturday, she said she had a “feeling that things were on a downswing” in the neighborhood. The foreclosure crisis has left a few abandoned houses in her block. As the small group of women who joined Moalem walked around the block, she pointed to a boarded house in a corner. Until recently, Moalem said, a group of squatters had been living there. A few streets over, an overgrown garden crept up over another abandoned house.
“A few bad houses, a few bad apples make things worse than they really are,” she said, pointing out that most of the neighborhood is composed of people who are deeply invested in the well being of the place.
A big problem Moalem cited is that many people choose not to report criminal behavior for fear of retaliation, like the rock that shattered her window. Moalem said she once approached businesses around the area to set up ‘neighborhood watch’ signs, but was turned down. Business operators argued that they did keep watch and report misdeeds to the police, but that they preferred to keep “a low profile.” And their fear is justified. A few years back, Moalem said, a friend of hers who was particularly vocal about her opposition to gang violence had her house firebombed.
Toward the end of the short walk, as the group turned right on the corner of Lowell and 61st streets, one of the women suggested they cleanup the corner as a symbolic gesture against the neighborhood’s decay. The woman recently moved with her partner from an all-white suburb in New Jersey, where she said they were probably the only lesbian couple, and certainly the only Jewish lesbian couple. Her partner says she loves Golden Gate’s diversity, but that she is still adjusting to the area’s constant threat of crime. After a few friends told her about being robbed at least once, she said she asked, “Does everybody get robbed around here?”
The corner nominated for cleanup is dimly lit, surrounded by two converted apartment buildings and two warehouses, littered with abandoned furniture and garbage.
As night fell, the group stopped and Moalem looked despondently at the potential cleanup project. “We better find an easier project to start,” she said. The corner would require “six people at least, and a truck,” she said, and would “keep falling back too quickly.” The other women in the group agreed.
Moalem says that, despite the area’s problems, she won’t be leaving the neighborhood any time soon. “I love my house, my neighbors,” she said, as the group completed its loop around the neighborhood.
She dropped a couple of walkers in front of their house, and prepared to walk back to her own home.
“I still have to putty my window,” she said, with a smile.
Golden Gate NCPC meetings take place on the third Wednesday of every month at Golden Gate School, located at 6200 San Pablo Avenue. For more information, click here.
Lead image: Kendall Moalem’s window was shattered hours after she warned a passerby of a possible attack.
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