One month after deadly shooting, First Friday returns with a focus on peace
on March 4, 2013
One month after a homicide forced city leaders and event organizers to question the future of Oakland’s First Friday art festival, the event returned this weekend—smaller and more low-key than past versions, but turnout was strong.
The themes of the March 1 were peace and unity. People gave peace signs all night, some wore neon green t-shirts that read “Respect Our City,” and organizers held two moments of silence in honor of Kiante Campell, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed after February’s event in an incident that also left three others wounded.
“Seeing so many types of people trumpeting the same ‘Respect Our City’ message was powerful,” said Lukas Brekke-Miesner, who posted the idea of the t-shirt on his blog 38th and Notes.
“It is this vision of unity and shared ownership of Oakland that we wanted to help create.”
The monthly art festival in Uptown started as a gallery walk in 2006 and has since become Oakland’s foremost cultural event. Last fall it drew as many as 20,000 people to a single festival.
But after the shooting, the event has been under scrutiny as leaders search for a way to ensure safety. A month of negotiations between city officials and event organizers led to a smaller festival, limited to the span of Telegraph Avenue between West Grand Avenue and 27th Street, that ended at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. Public alcohol consumption was strictly regulated and there was an increased police presence.
Oakland police Chief Howard Jordan wouldn’t say how many additional officers were tasked with patrolling the event, but he said the number of private security guards employed by VMA Security had not increased. Between OPD officers, the VMA guards, and business district ambassadors, several security personnel were visible on each block and one could see squad cars parked along the perimeter.
“Our goal is to make this a very peaceful event,” Jordan said as he walked through the crowd early in the night. “We’re very concerned about the safety of everyone, so we made sure we have adequate security and resources here to prevent any acts of violence. We have a very good plan, we think, to make sure people have a good time and that they leave and go home safely.”
The themes of peace and unity were reflected throughout the event. Vendors taped black and white peace signs to their tables that reminded patrons there would two moments of silences for “all the victims of gun violence in Oakland,” while one artist spray painted a giant dove on a makeshift canvas throughout the night. Children dressed in green “Respect Our City” shirts played with hula hoops.
Before the first moment of silence at 7:30 p.m., District 3 Councilwoman Lynette McElhaney, who represents the Uptown area and was involved in discussions leading up to the event, stood on a music stage and addressed the crowd. “Throw your peace signs up,” she called. “If you love Oakland, throw your peace signs up. If you’ve got love, like mad love for this town, throw your peace signs up. First Fridays is a resilient movement, y’all.”
As McElhaney talked and people in the crowd raised peace signs, a documentary crew filmed the scene. The team, headed up by N’Jeri Eaton and Mario Furloni (both UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumni) is producing a film titled “First Friday.” Eaton and Furloni documented the planning process leading up to Friday’s event and had eight crews out filming Friday night. Their film will examine how those with a stake in the event worked to refocus it after the violence and in time for March 1.
Though noticeably smaller and calmer than other First Fridays, the event still brought out thousands of people from all over the Bay Area–First Friday organizer Eric Arnold estimates that five to six thousand people attended. Many event-goers said they were aware of last month’s shooting that left 18-year-old Campbell dead and three other wounded, but decided to come anyway. The incident didn’t stop parents from bringing their young children to the event—some pushed strollers, others walked hand-in-hand with their toddlers through the throng.
“It felt very much like the Oakland I grew up on. Young folks and triple OGs dancing in the crowd, good music on the stage, and sobering moments of community awareness. I really enjoyed the festivities as an audience member. It was just a bonus that I got to be a part of the awesome community effort that orchestrated it,” said Brekke-Miesner.
Husband and wife Vanessa and Antonio Corriea said they made a point of coming to this First Friday, even though they’d never come before. “I felt that if we didn’t come after what had happened last month that it would just slowly diminish,” Vanessa Corriea said. “I just wanted to come and support it and show that we want to keep this here.”
“I was hoping I’d even see more turnout, in spite of what happened, just to show that the community can still come together and that we don’t want to let one bad incident ruin a good thing that they got here in Oakland,” Antonio Corriea said.
“I think the city has done a relatively good job,” said James Copes, a T-shirt vendor who helped start Oakland First Fridays, the community group that coordinates programming for the event. “And the Oakland Police Department, I think they’ve done an excellent job of standing back and supporting us and not being really aggressive. We’ve had a lot of good partners.”
Copes’ daughter Isioma has been involved in organizing First Friday since last summer. She said the tone of Friday’s event was noticeably different from previous months’—in a good way. “It’s a really chill vibe,” she said. “I see a lot of people every month, but there’s a different crowd of people. There’s a lot more artists this time. There’s less concentration on drinking. It’s more like, ‘Let’s get some art, let’s see some things, see the vendors, try the different foods.’ I actually like it,” she said.
But not everyone thinks First Fridays are an asset. Keith Kanahara, one of the owners of Angel’s Beauty Supply on Telegraph Avenue and 20th Street, says the event costs him thousands of dollars because of increased shoplifting, as well as costs associated with graffiti clean-up. “I thought it was enough, but the city of Oakland doesn’t think that it’s enough,” he said, referring to last month’s shooting, which happened right in front of his store. “So they want some more people to get killed, then they’ll probably think about it. But I think we had enough.”
For now the event is expected to make a return on April 5, but what it will look like isn’t clear. “One thing that is certain is that it will not stay the same,” said Eli Marienthal, who works with Oakland First Fridays. “It never has stayed the same. It has changed every month since it started happening, and I’m sure that April will be different than March.”
This story has been updated on March 5 to add comments from Lukas Brekke-Miesner.
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