About 2 months ago I relocated to San Francisco to start a new job in Silicon Valley. When I arrived to the Bay Area I was initially struck by the hilly and picturesque terrain of the city and the spirit of ingenuity amongst the residents. Yet, like any bustling cosmopolitan area, I noticed very quickly that the Bay Area has it’s fair share of issues: pervasive homelessness, gentrification, and prostitution. However, what irritated me the most was the chauvinistic attitude that many San Francisco residents had towards residents of the East Bay, more specifically Oakland. When describing the “town”, many people spoke of crime and poverty, and what my generation likes to call “sketchy areas” inhabited by “sketchy people”. Sooner or later, it became very clear to me that their cryptic language was a futile attempt to mask the unhealed racial wounds (Oscar Grant Murder) that have become symbolic of the Town vs. City divide.
While both SF and Oakland boast more diversity than the average American city, Oakland has 3 times more African-American residents than SF. Additionally Oakland has a higher crime rate than SF, in fact, according to Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts, “in 2011 Oakland averaged 3 street shootings per day”. 77% of the homicide victims were African-Americans. So, obviously the “sketchy areas” with the “sketchy people” had a darker hue.
Yet and still, some would say that Oakland is on the rise. With the skyrocketing cost of living in SF, many young professionals have flocked to the East Bay for more affordable housing. Additionally, an event known as ‘First Fridays’ has become the centerpiece of a burgeoning arts and entertainment district which has helped put Oakland on the map as a center for food and culture. What started seven years ago as a small, once-a-month gallery walk has mushroomed into an event that attracts as many as 20,000 people downtown for an evening known as Oakland Art Murmur. For a city that seemed like it could never catch a positive headline, ‘First Fridays’ was welcomed.
Yet, last week it seemed that things took a turn for the worst. As my friends and I partied on Telegraph Street we heard what sounded like gunshots, then watched hoards of people run in one direction as if they were being chased by a bull at a rodeo. Around 10:50 p.m. a confrontation erupted in the parking lot of a beauty supply store on Telegraph between 20th and 21st streets where Kiante Campbell, an 18-year-old Oakland student, was killed, and three others were wounded, including two passers-by. I was just one block away from the melee. While most people were stunned, what bothered me the most was that the conversation did not revolve around the life of a young man that was killed in a brash act of violence. Most of the conversations that I heard that night were about the fact that the local East Oaklanders ruined “their fun” and that “they were sad because they may never get a chance to go to First Fridays again”. Some people, including people of color, mentioned that they knew that this was bound to happen. I overheard an elderly lady say, “This is Oakland, what do you expect?” Where was the concern for the victims? Far too often, we as a society overlook, the humanity of victims if they don’t deviate from what we believe is the norm for people who engage in illicit behavior. Because the victim was a young black boy, the concern was not about a life taken away too soon, but how he and “his friends” ruined other people’s good time.
The Oakland City Council has not yet stated whether or not they will discontinue ‘First Fridays’ downtown. Whatever decision they render will not solve the problem of crime, because it won’t solve the problem of poverty and inequity. Every life has value, but as long as we continue to reduce the humanity of a few, we will never progress as nation.