Still reeling from a shooting on the night of January 4, residents of an East Oakland neighborhood received surprise visitors on Saturday—Mayor Jean Quan and a retinue of volunteers. The mayor spent the morning going door to door through East Oakland’s police beat 33, talking with residents about new services and programs in the neighborhood, including the reinstatement of the neighborhood’s crime prevention council.
The area is “one of what we call ‘high stressor beats,’” Quan said. She cited 1,500 arrests and 500 incidents of domestic violence in the beat in 2010. Calling unemployment and crime rates in the area “unacceptable,” Quan said, “It’s time to turn those statistics around.”
The beat appeared a quiet residential zone as Quan, an estimated 50 volunteers, and a pack of reporters walked the streets Saturday. The area is a grid of houses mixed in with the occasional business bound by International Boulevard on the east and San Leandro Street to the west and running from 99th Avenue north to 82nd Avenue. Quan said that even though the area has a bad reputation as part of deep East Oakland, residents were shaken by Tuesday’s shooting—which injured 6 men, including a 49-year-old man who was hit by a bullet inside his house and remains in critical condition—like any group of “regular, hardworking people” would be.
Quan asked each resident she spoke with, sometimes with help from her Spanish-speaking husband Floyd Huen, if they had children under the age of three. She said she wanted to encourage such parents to attend the “Baby College” program starting in the area. “‘Baby College’ provides parents with training and support so that their [preschoolers] are well prepared for school on day one,” Quan wrote in her weekly newsletter sent out on Sunday.
Saying that the children of parents who go to Baby College tend to be more successful in kindergarten and thus later in school, Quan said the program would have a positive effect on future crime rates. She also told residents about two upcoming openings: the Elev8 community health clinic at Madison Middle School and the new 81st Street Library.
Carlos Hernandez, who has two children aged 1 and 7, stood in his doorway and spoke in Spanish with Quan through Huen. He told reporters in Spanish that Quan was, “a very good person for supporting us Latinos and helping the area move forward.”
Quan also told residents that Oakland’s problem solving officers (PSOs) have been reinstated. The officers, funded by violence prevention funds from the Measure Y tax, work with neighborhood crime prevention councils to tackle problems like prostitution and blight. The PSO positions were cut last summer when the city could no longer collect the Measure Y tax because officer levels were too low. The city council had laid off 80 police officers to deal with a budget deficit in July, leading to the officer deficit. In November, Oakland residents voted in favor of Measure BB, which allows the city to collect the tax without keeping staff at a set level.
According to Oakland Police Department spokesperson Holly Joshi, the PSOs will work their first shift on Saturday, January 15, a day when city officials and volunteers will participate in a neighborhood clean up in beat 33.
Beat 33 resident Angel Patiño said he was happy to hear that the crime prevention council was starting up, but that he’d be happier when he saw results. Sitting in his parked car and watching reporters as they followed the mayor down the block, Patiño asked, “Is it going to be all talk and no action, or is it really going to happen?”
Sean Kennedy, a 41-year resident of the neighborhood and the executive producer of Good News In Oakland, which creates videos about positive aspects of Oakland, echoed Patiño’s skepticism about police working with residents. Saying he sees police drive down the street in unmarked cars and suddenly pop out to surprise people, Kennedy said, “That’s not policing, that’s provoking.” Kennedy said he hoped reporters would focus not just on shootings and violence, but also on any positive changes in the area.
For his part, Deputy Chief of Police Howard Jordan said his short-term goals for the area are “getting people out, getting our hands dirty.” Jordan came out to meet volunteers and the press at the corner of 89th Avenue and D Street just before Quan arrived. He later made a statement to the press in which he expressed enthusiasm for Quan’s efforts. “She’s got a lot of energy and she’s very focused. We like it. We intend to support her,” Jordan said.
Jordan declined to comment on past tensions between Quan and the OPD, which arose after the July layoffs and an incident at a July protest after the announcement of a verdict for transit officer Johannes Mehserle in the shooting death of Oscar Grant III. Quan and fellow city councilmember Rebecca Kaplan stood between protestors and a line of police officers. The police union, the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, supported Don Perata—Quan’s biggest rival—in November’s mayoral election. Quan and Deputy Chief Jordan were friendly on Saturday, with Quan referring to him as, “HoJo.”
Quan said her goal was to get people working in their own neighborhood. “We teach people how to fish,” she said. “We don’t feed them.” Asked how long it would take for the changes she described to set in, Quan said, “It’s up to them.”
As Quan continued her door-to-door route, across International Boulevard in beat 34, members of an Oakland church were also at work asking residents to curb violence. Carrying signs reading “Stop the violence,” parishioners from True Vine Ministries stood on the corner of 92nd Avenue and International Boulevard, where a shooting occurred in December.
“There’s a lot of killing going on now,” said parishioner LaRoy Stanfield. “We haven’t even made it to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.”
Called Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), a parishioner said the group has been going out every Saturday since November to stand on corners where acts of violence such as the December shooting have occurred. It was the second corner of the day for SAVE, and they were heading to another later in the afternoon.