Pastors and community leaders in West Oakland have mobilized in their communities to hold weekly night walks to respond to escalating violence in the city that has claimed many lives of young people.
Horrific and senseless killings have captured local headlines.
In 2011, one-year old Hiram Lawrence died after being shot in the head during a music video taping. In 2013, eight-year old Alaysha Carradine was shot and killed while at a friend’s sleepover. Last month 17-year old Justice Tolliver was killed by her younger brother.< p>“Over the past three years, there has been several killings in West Oakland; there have been three killings in the square block of 7th and Willow streets,” said Pastor Ken Chambers Sr., who also recalls two killings in recent months just a block away from his church, WestSide Missionary Baptist Church on Willow.
Pastors, including Chambers and Pastor Allen Langston, along with community members recently met with Oakland Police Captain Drennon Lindsey, Lieutenant LeRonne Armstrong and Ceasefire Program Director Reygan Harmon to work together on solutions to restore safety in the community.
Issues on the table included the need for more community policing, conflict resolution, community programs and family engagement.
They focused on the question: how can OPD and the local community collaborate to prevent more young people from becoming victims of or committing acts of violence?
During the “Lifelines to Healing Nightwalks,” pastors and community leaders walk through high-crime areas throughout the city encouraging residents to get involved.
“We carry the message that we love the community, and we want community members to be safe and free, and that we want the killing to stop. We can work together to create better opportunities for everyone,” said Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole, program and operations manager with OCO, which started organizing night walks in West Oakland in September.
“We want to let people know that you don’t have to resort to violence to resolve conflict,” Pastor Chambers said. “Community engagement and partnership is part of a process of helping to heal the community.”
As a former teacher and assigned by OPD to work on homicides and gang activity, Captain Lindsey said giving young people hope is where it starts.
“One of the things I saw as a teacher was that kids felt that they had no future or they didn’t really have hope. They didn’t believe they could go to college,” Lindsey said.
“I really think programs in schools or programs that can offer children information about how those steps can be obtained makes a difference, because they don’t understand that those things can be realized, that they can go to college.”
Lindsey also stressed the need for more community resources that offer training, education, and other activities for youth.
“Resources, resources, resources,” Lindsey said. “I believe in trying to work together, we can’t do it by ourselves. But I can say, realistically, if there are programs in place where we can encourage the officers who come into contact with people who are in trouble, we can make the referrals and really push that.”
“That’s something that we can realistically do to help these young people,” Lindsey said
Community members said the mindset of young people in the way that one handles conflict is just as important as the resources available; and learning conflict resolution begins at home.
“Being a school officer about 12 or 13 years ago, I realized that first graders were thinking about assaulting people so when they had conflict, their first response was to fight, even as early as 6-years old. We need to change that way of thinking,” said Lt. Armstrong.
He continued, “If you really want to accomplish that, you have to have the wraparound services that they need in the school because the reality is that we may not be able to get into somebody’s house.”
The next “Lifelines to Healing Nightwalk” will start at 6 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7, at WestSide Missionary Baptist Church, 732 Willow St. in Oakland. For more information, call Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole at (510) 639-1444.