You Tell Us: Oakland’s elephants in the room
on April 18, 2011
I am sick and tired of the downhill momentum that the city of Oakland has undergone for so very long. My credential: I’ve been a citizen of Oakland, California since May 11, 1972. More specifically, I’ve resided in Deep East Oakland (D.E.O.) for 20 years; therefore, I think I know a little bit about its condition. In short, the negative aspects of the city overshadow the positive.
As I reminisce about my teenage years, which took place in the late-80’s through the mid-90’s, I recall conversing with peers about those whom we knew that had been murdered on such-and-such block in East Oakland. “Dag,” “Twomps,” “Jingletown” and “The Dirtroad” are just a few colloquial names for neighborhoods that exist throughout East Oakland. The nicknames themselves have a miscreant ring to them. This topic of peer-murdering went from a shocking account to everyday, normal conversation, which I understand continues today, two decades later. Sadly, I can’t recall when all hope was lost, when we the citizens of Oakland began to shrug off these dire circumstances, and there was no more talk of things changing. Instead, we made provisions: We installed dead-bolt locks and bars, we made sure to be indoors come night, and some of us purchased firearms for protection. We did what we thought was necessary in order to protect ourselves and our families. Perhaps in some small way we became a part of the problem instead of the solution.
It’s time that I take a stand, or at least take the microphone and voice what, exactly, needs to change in order for save my city. And as insane as this might sound, drug-related crimes and the heightened murder rate seem to be mere adverse reactions to a couple of real evils. It could be considered the huge elephant in the city because there’s hardly ever any talk about the bold line that separates above I-580 from below I-580 geographically, but also separates the haves from the have-nots. In essence, it is a bold line of classism. This class divide has existed ever since I could remember, and it seems to be getting more prominent by the minute.
In the past, societal ills including but not limited to armed robbery, shootings, prostitution, gambling, and drug deals were not as pervasive in the Oakland Hills as they were in the flatland. In fact, my mother insisted that even though we lived below I-580, all of our education and extracurricular activities take place above I-580. In her mind’s eye — and I am sure she was not alone — quality of life existed above I-580 as opposed to below. And because I have witnessed and experienced some of the most horrible events below I-580, I pretty much adopted the same sentiment. It’s really quite a shame that every single day your main objective is to flee from the very place where you sleep night after night.
The real dilemma is why or how such segregation even exists in the 21st Century, especially in a city whose county is often touted for its diversity and multi-cultural richness. Case-in-point: The bold line of classism needs to be erased. There is no reasonable explanation why streets are safer, more aesthetically pleasing, and more developed just a few streets above. And to the rebuttal that before D.E.O. can be restored, the crime there needs to be cleaned up, my answer is this: Give the disenfranchised residents of Oakland a dwelling to be proud of and I guarantee you that the crime rate will, at the very least, be lowered, which is a better outcome than it rising — right?
The other evil that contributes to the City of Oakland’s demise is the lackadaisical attitude that many of its citizens have adopted, which seems to be another elephant in the city, because this is rarely admitted. Why blame the disenfranchised, right? Mind you, I empathize because I know firsthand what it’s like to feel powerless, to feel like you haven’t what it takes to fight the bad guys, who run amok, leaving their filthy residue for the rest of us to politely step over and for our children to unknowingly play in.
A vivid, horrible memory I have growing up in D.E.O. is witnessing a woman in her thirties being brutally beaten and car-jacked. Once again this crime occurred in broad daylight on a heavy-trafficked street. I was no more than 10 to 15 feet away as the two assailants demanded her car keys, then pounded on her like she was a heavyweight, boxing champion. I remember staring into one of the attacker’s eyes, hoping that I, a fifteen-year-old, could hypnotize him into consciousness. I remember looking around to see if others were also witnessing this travesty. They were; however, most tried to appear as if they were the not least bit fazed. To this day I still wonder whether or not the woman survived. I also wonder whether or not we, the witnesses, could have done something to help her fend off the thugs.
One could very well argue that incidents such as this one occurs every day in hoods all across America. As a result, we have reached an appalling level of apathy. However, I would have to contend that no matter how wide-spread or how desensitized folks have become, an injustice remains an affliction that needs to be confronted. Therefore, in order for a desired outcome to be realized, the citizens of Oakland will need to cure themselves of apathy. We will have to stop making provisions and skirting around elephants. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we need to start being confrontational. We will need to get in the faces of those involved in wrongdoing, not only as far as the law is concerned but also in terms of neighborly respect.
Last but certainly not least, the concerned citizens of Oakland will need to, as we say in the hood, “Have each other’s backs.” For starters, we’ll need to lead and be a part of peaceful demonstrations, show up for Oakland clean-up, and shop at the mom-and-pop stores below I-580 as well as above. Additionally, those of us who reside in D.E.O. will need to be accounted for at the Oakland City Hall meetings, and when it makes sense, support those well-intended elects. Case-in-point: The citizens of Oakland need to take responsibility for the place they call home. And to those who feel as though they don’t have the time or energy to invest, I say this: It takes more of an investment to step over, go around or simply pretend the elephants don’t exist.
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Anna “Nurlyn” Nelson-Stith is a Muslim-American and a proud mother of three daughters. She’s an Administrative Support Professional who enjoys working for non-profit organizations that serve children and their families. Currently, she’s a Senior at Holy Names University where she expects to obtain a B.A., Business Administration, Communications emphasis; Media Arts minor. Anna believes wholeheartedly that positivity breeds positivity.
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