Imagine sitting in a Subway sandwich shop early on a weekday evening when all of a sudden bullets pierce the glass and start whizzing into the restaurant. Employees and customers dive to the floor. A 20-year-old man gets shot in the head. His companion runs out the front door and starts returning fire at the group outside. Some two dozen rounds are fired, some striking a barber shop across the street.
That was the scene last Wednesday at the Subway near 109th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard in East Oakland. It was the second shooting at an Oakland eatery in a week. On July 2, two employees were fatally shot at the Wingstop on Lake Park Avenue near Lake Merritt.
The shooting at Subway is the latest in a crazy series of street shootings that have occurred in the last year within blocks of a major $45 million development at Foothill Square Mall -- one that many people had hoped would help inject new life into a long neglected, desolate area of East Oakland. The idea was that with the new and improved Foothill Square, nearby residents would no longer have to drive to San Leandro to get to the closest bank or supermarket. Kroger Company, America's largest supermarket chain, is opening a Foods Co supermarket, and Wells Fargo is putting in a branch.
The Subway had just opened last year on the MacArthur Boulevard corridor -- a healthier alternative to the fried chicken and hot dog joints. On Wednesday, they got a real welcome to the neighborhood.
As the Foothill Square development gets closer to its supposed opening date later this year, the violence in the immediate area seems to be getting worse. On June 2, a woman was shot and gravely wounded a few blocks from the mall during a sideshow. Two other people were also shot. Since May 2012, six people have been shot and killed within blocks of Foothill Square. I don't how many others may have been shot but survived.
It is stunning, given the major investment in the Foothill Square development, that city and police officials have not made it a high priority to clamp down on the violence -- which, if it is allowed to continue unchecked, will make what could be such a positive development dead on arrival. Time is running out for city and police officials to send a strong message to the thugs running up and down MacArthur Boulevard with guns blazing that at least the Foothill Square corridor is off-limits.
I realize OPD doesn't have the manpower it needs to police this city. But police officials must find a way to maintain a highly visible presence in the area around the mall. Oakland must take a stand somewhere against this insanity. Foothill Square is as good a place to start as any because there is so much at stake.
This development is key to helping East Oakland finally begin to reverse decades of economic decline. We cannot allow runaway violence committed by a relatively small number of bad actors to scare off customers.
Gloria Polo, who lives near Foothill Square, wrote in an email that Mayor Jean Quan, the City Council, "especially Larry Reid," the Oakland Police Department and Oakland Public Works have a lot of work to do if the project is going to be successful. "This part of Oakland has been going downhill since I moved here five years ago, and I have seen no signs of improvement this year," Polo said. "In fact, matters have only gotten worse as the city has failed to deal with crime at any level."
I wasn't able to reach acting Capt. Kirk Coleman, the area commander for District 5, to find out what OPD intends to do about violence in the Foothill Square mall area. Councilman Larry Reid, whose district includes Foothill Square, says OPD has a strategy but that he was "not at liberty to discuss it."
Reid said he told Acting Police Chief Sean Whent that something had to be done. "We have to do something so people will feel safe," Reid said. "This has got to stop."
The clock is ticking.