At 2:45 a.m. on a recent Saturday, three people were shot -- one of whom, a 25-year-old Walnut Creek woman, was gravely injured -- at a sideshow near the Foothill Square shopping center in East Oakland.
MacArthur Boulevard at 106th Avenue looked like a scene out of the television series "CSI." The intersection was blocked off in all directions that morning and into the afternoon as police technicians gathered evidence.
A police officer at the scene summed it up this way: "Another day in Oakland."
As I watched the officers putting down yellow cones from behind police tape, I thought about all of the people who live or work in Oakland who have had a firsthand experience with violent crime -- or know of someone who has.
It has gotten to the point where people are living in a state of hypervigilance. Whether we live in East Oakland, in hills neighborhoods or in Rockridge, we find ourselves altering our routines to reduce our chances of becoming victims.
It ranges from small things -- I no longer drop the top on my Jeep Wrangler -- to people avoiding popular downtown nightspots and installing elaborate video surveillance cameras to prevent burglaries and robberies.
Yet there is a bizarre disconnect between this reality -- the long shadow of crime that affects so many Oakland residents' lives and the public dialogue about public safety.
Who on earth are these people who have been showing up at the recent meetings about the city budget, railing about the "corrupt" police department? Demanding that the city not give OPD any more funds to hire additional police officers? But even more to the point, where are all the people who argue that public safety is their No. 1 priority? How can they possibly expect city officials to take them seriously when they can't even bother to show up for the meetings where officials are deciding whether to appropriate more funds for public safety?
Do you ever stop to wonder why such insane levels of violence are occurring in Oakland, but not in neighboring San Leandro or Alameda? How it is possible to go a mere six blocks from East Oakland into San Leandro, and it's as if you have entered a different universe?
There is no magical barrier that keeps the bad guys out. Just a lone sign that denotes that you are entering San Leandro city limits.
I am convinced that a big factor is the vastly different mentality of the people who live in those cities. They don't have what former Police Chief Anthony Batts once called Oakland's "high tolerance for violence." In other words, they're not going to stand for all the robbing, shooting and killing that so many in Oakland are willing to accept. Their elected officials and police know that if they want to hold on to their jobs, they can't allow criminals to run amok. They support their police departments' efforts to keep the streets safe.
Here, on the other hand, is a prime example of what happens in Oakland.
A few days before the sideshow near Foothill Square, officers on a crime reduction team tried to stop a car based on information they had received that the occupants might be armed with a stolen gun. When they tried to stop the car on 90th Avenue, the suspects sped away. The officers pursued. A short time later, three men jumped out and started running. An officer fatally shot one of the men who police said was armed with a stolen gun from Georgia.
A woman went to the shooting scene and held up a sign reading, "Stop killing our people."
Stop killing our people?
How about our people stop killing our people? Police shootings account for an infinitesimal number of homicides in this city.
Where did this woman presume the man who was killed was going with the stolen gun? Did she ever stop to consider what he might have done with it? Who could have been harmed?
If things in Oakland are ever going to change, we must first change the perception that we are a city that allows violence to flourish. We must stop making excuses for the people responsible.
One key element -- regardless of what some in this city seem to think -- is proactive policing that shows that you mean business.