2021 will be Oakland’s deadliest year since 2006

Councilor Loren Taylor read out their names at the city council meeting on Tuesday, the last of the year.

William Blakeman, who was shot dead at his home on Santa Rita Street on January 1st. Lai Dang, shot dead on Market Street in West Oakland a week later. Lashawn Buffin, a grandmother who died a week later when someone shot into her East Oakland home.

Reuben Lewis III, a former youth coach and mentor who was fatally wounded before a soccer practice session at Concordia Park where his young son and others were playing. He died on March 24th. When Taylor learned the names of those killed earlier this month, he had read for five minutes at a time.

“You don’t get serious about it until you read the names,” Taylor told The Oaklandside this week. “That amplifies the lives we lost and the effects. We lost people between the ages of 1 and 75. ”

After years of steady decline in violent crime, homicides have increased in many major US cities since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Previous annual homicide records have already been broken in at least nine major cities this year.

Oakland is among the hardest hit. To date, police have investigated 133 murders, marking the city’s deadliest year since 2006.

The shootings have returned to levels not seen in a decade as the number of guns seized by police hit record highs last year and this year as well. The shootings had leveled off at around 277 in 2019, but rose to 479 last year and, according to police data, are already at 587 and are counting this year.

These dismal statistics fail to capture the trauma inflicted on family and friends of the victims and the fact that the police count of murders starts over on January 1st, but this never really applies to those who have lost loved ones or are confronted with armed violence every day.

The youngest victim that year was Alia Musleh, who died shortly before her second birthday along with her father, 37-year-old Esam Musleh, in a fire at their home in East Oakland.

Oakland’s homicide census does not include five murders on Oakland Freeways investigated by the California Highway Patrol, including the deaths of 23-month-old Jasper Wu and two teenagers, 19-year-old Alayasia Thurston and 16-year-old Zoey Hughes, who are due to belonged to the seven wounded women celebrating a friend’s birthday on a party bus.

The Oakland Police Department Homicide Squad cleared 47% of the cases, meaning detectives arrested and charged suspects in nearly half of this year’s homicides. Since 2004, the resolution rate of murder cases by OPD has fluctuated between 41% and 79%. The nationwide clearance rate over the past ten years is 62%.

Oakland’s violence prevention programs have been overwhelmed by the pandemic and continue to struggle to keep up with the rate of violence

Violence interrupters and victim counselors say trauma suffered by families and friends of gun violence victims is even more debilitating during the global pandemic. Headlines aside, murders this year have seen families already struggling to lose a member whose income they could depend on. Housing instability among victims’ families and people unable to work due to gunshot wounds has increased this year.

Paris Davis, intervention manager at Youth Alive, said his organization had seen a record number of referrals to counsel and assist victims of gun violence. Some victims were homeless or on the verge of losing their homes.

District 6 Councilor Loren Taylor speaks at a news conference in October after a violent weekend in Oakland. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

“It’s life changing,” Davis told The Oaklandside. “Some of these people get caught in the crossfire. They had no ties to gangs. These are people who are just trying to get home and God forbid they were hit by a bullet. ”

The rise in violence during the pandemic has further strained trust between the community and the City of Oakland. It has also weakened the city’s services aimed at preventing violence, particularly shootings.

Youth Alive employs violence interrupters and other workers who assist young people on probation, counselors who help people cope with trauma, and other aids such as: B. Housing aid, for people affected by armed violence. But many nonprofits and other support services have been discontinued or scaled back due to COVID-19.

The city’s violence prevention department tripled its workforce in November from 10 to 31 since June, DVP chief Guillermo Cespedes said. A worker went to 48 murder sites to meet with families, he said.

“Since COVID, the link between city government and especially black and brown communities has been really compromised,” Cespedes said. “It’s not that the relationship was great from the start, but COVID exposed the flaws so we’re rebuilding trust.”

Cespedes has done similar violence prevention work in Honduras. In Los Angeles, he was the director of gang reduction and youth development after spending part of his early career in Oakland.

“I worked in Oakland during the crack epidemic. It was much more localized, it wasn’t as widespread as it is here, and it was a bit more predictable, ”he said, referring to recent violent crimes.

Predictable, but still fierce. There were seven straight years, from 1989 to 1995, that Oakland had more murders than that year. The peak was in 1992 when 175 people were killed. The police classified 165 of them as murder.

Cespedes noticed two moments this year: a colleague told him not to honk at a traffic light because it could end up violent, and there was a double stabbing in front of his house because of an argument over loud music.

“We are exhausted as a community, we are very moody, we are traumatized, we respond with very short backups,” he said.

Dr. Sarai Crain, assistant director of violence prevention, said last year there has been a 36% increase in gender killings and shootings from crimes resulting from intimate partnerships, domestic violence and human trafficking. Crain suspects the surge will be even bigger this year, but this data is more difficult to compile and is ongoing.

Oakland hospital staff, Crain said, “stated they had never seen it”. [as large] an increase in identified female victims being treated in the emergency room for gunshot wounds – ever. “

East Oakland has been particularly hard hit by the increase in violence

In an interview with The Oaklandside on Thursday, Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the main reason for the rise in gun violence was feuds between gangs and groups. According to the latest crime report, there were 587 firearm attacks, an increase of 23% over the previous year. The number of shootings in inhabited apartments and vehicles has also increased by double digits compared to 2020.

The riot of violence that Oakland experienced around 2012 and 2006 was also very much caused by violent feuds between gangs and groups that make up a very small percentage of Oakland residents, as well as people who live in other cities, come to Oakland and make victims or Violence becomes perpetrator.

Armstrong said the city was flooded with guns. Police seized around 1,100 firearms this year, roughly the same as in 2020. Ghost weapons are becoming increasingly common: 35% of firearms seized in 2021 are undetectable firearms, some of which are purchased online in people’s homes Kits were assembled.

While gun violence struck almost every part of the city, East Oakland was the site of much of the bloodshed. As of December 12, police had investigated 76 homicides within Police Areas 4 and 5, which are in the neighborhoods east of Fruitvale. Police officers said this week that nearly 55% of firearm attacks have occurred in these areas of East Oakland.

“Even if you hear it, it hurts,” said Treva Reid, councilor for District 7, of the gunfire. Reid, whose son was murdered in 2013, said the violence “tore our hearts and families apart.” “You’re going to North Oakland, it’s the fear and horror of a home invasion. What we endure are gunshots. ”

Taylor, who represents District 6 of the council, said he saw the trauma firsthand while visiting crime scenes. One scene that hit him particularly hard was a double homicide in which an 8-year-old boy witnessed the murder of his mother.

“To see him shocked and the neighbors trying to hug him are just raw emotions,” said Taylor, who has a son of the same age. “What crossed my mind: This young man will recover and recover and heal from what he has just experienced. But how do we make sure that the cycle does not go on, that we can support it so that it can still lead a happy, healthy and productive life without this experience going completely in the wrong direction. ”

Taylor said several victims’ families asked him if he could recognize their loved ones before the city council’s holiday break, and he felt it was necessary to read all 133 names. When he finished on Tuesday, there was silence over the virtual council meeting.

“Some of us just pick up on all of these names,” said City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas. “I just want to create space so that we can remember and think about loved ones who are no longer with us.”

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