Solutions to violence: Part 1

by Rina Palta

It’s been a violent year in Oakland so far – both homicides and shootings are up about a third over last year’s numbers. And, throughout the year, various editorials have called for different solutions to the uptick in violence.

After restaurant owner Jesus Campos was killed in the Fruitvale district, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Chip Johnson blasted Mayor Jean Quan for focusing too much on community programs, and not on police. Meanwhile, others, like Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon questioned whether or not there’s anything you can do in the short-term about violence and crime.

KALW News decided to explore other perspectives. So for the next three days, we’ll be talking with Oakland residents about what they think are real solutions to violence–mini-editorials on what they think are appropriate responses and actions in the wake of violent periods. Today, we start with Jakada Imani, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.


JAKADA IMANI: You know there is, I don’t want to say a gore factor, but there becomes a little bit of a voyeuristic factor in that you want to talk about tech stocks in Silicon Valley, and you want to talk about the wine country in Napa, and you want to talk about what’s happening on the streets of Oakland. And so it’s not to say that there aren’t real challenges in our community. It’s just not, sort of, an off the hook zoo.

We have had these problems of ebbs and flows of violence in urban communities for all of my life and most of the time we’ve had cities in the United State. And we’ve had cops all that time, too. It’s not like police officers are a new invention. We’ve had them. If that was going to be the solution, it would have done it. So we need a new approach, we need to invest in new strategies.

There’s been incredible work in the City of Oakland to increase the peace and to bring unity and healing to this community. And I think through Measure Y, and some other programs, and some very innovative work in the City of Oakland, we’ve begun to figure that stuff out. And the mayor’s called for continuing to support that work, which is putting out peacekeepers on the streets who can actually get there before the cops because they can get there before somebody gets shot.

Right now, the next person who gets shot in Oakland, probably most people in the neighborhood know that somebody wants to shoot them. Or they’re having a dispute with so-and-so. Probably, there are a number of public systems, the child welfare system, the juvenile justice system, the adult probation, the sheriff’s department or the Oakland Police Department, have them in their systems or under their supervision. Currently. So this isn’t some, “Oh, I wonder who’s going to get shot.” No. We kinda know. But nobody has the skills or the skills or the standing to resolve it, nor the support to resolve it.

You know, it used to be in this country, a hundred, a 150 years ago, people settled things – congressmen, senators – settled disputes by a duel. They would go and shoot one another. Federal senators – that’s how they solved a dispute. And now we have courts. Well, it turns out if you are in the street economy, there’s no court that can settle the dispute of, “I loaned you some dope and you didn’t pay me.” Nope. There’s no court that’s going to go handle that, like, well, “Why don’t you go ahead and pay him back 5% a week.” No. So the only way to settle that is in the street. And if you have people who can interrupt that violence and get out and help people, you can actually settle those disputes.

And that’s what so important about the violence interrupters. And now it’s time to take those kinds of programs to scale. And really make sure that the people who do that business on the streets of Oakland do that business as safe as possible, as we find other alternatives for them to do other sorts of work. But that’s what it is, right? You can’t tell people, “Look, you’ve got to get off the corner and get a job,” when I know people who have a Masters degree who waits tables, or who are trying to get a job. That’s an absurd conversation.

So there has to be a conversation about it in the meantime. Because people are dying in the meantime. And so in the meantime, how is it that you make that absolutely safe? How do you give people alternative methods to settle disputes?