IN 2008, so much blood spilled on MacArthur Boulevard between 74th and 82nd avenues that people took to calling the eight-block stretch in East Oakland "the killing fields."

Within four months of one another, three people, all younger than 25, were gunned down and killed outside a row of apartment buildings at 82nd Avenue. Shaneice Davis was shot in the head by an errant bullet while asleep in her bed. Zaire Washington was killed on his mother's front steps. Kennah Wilson had stepped outside to seek refuge from the stifling heat when bullets started flying. Wilson, who was pregnant, was struck in the chest and died on the sidewalk.

In March, just down the street, four Oakland police officers were fatally shot when what started as a traffic stop went terribly wrong. Motorcycle officers John Hege and Mark Dunakin had stopped a Buick driven by parolee Lovelle Mixon. Mixon shot both officers on MacArthur Boulevard proper in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, sending passers-by ducking for cover.

He then ran a block down 74th Avenue and barricaded himself in his sister's apartment, where he killed SWAT officers Daniel Sakai and Erv Romans, who had stormed the building.

This latest horrific spasm of bloodshed, which made international news, merely further cemented in people's minds that MacArthur Boulevard in easternmost Oakland is a place to avoid — that even the police aren't safe there.


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Despite the bad rap the neighborhood so often gets, there are residents and business people who are doing their best to hold together their community, despite huge challenges. As I learned when I visited there, there's a lot more to this neighborhood, which spans two council districts, than gets portrayed in the steady barrage of negative headlines.

Bill Owens has run Cascos Martial Arts Academy on MacArthur Boulevard for 38 years. He has taught generations.

His former child-students have brought their children for lessons.

Owens remembers when MacArthur Boulevard — and Oakland in general, for that matter — did not have the stigma of being a crime capital. He remembers when that same eight-block stretch was thriving with small businesses and Eastmont Mall was a real mall.

Things began to go south in the mid-1980s with what Owens calls "white flight by black people."

Established black families began moving to such places as Fairfield, Antioch and Fremont, abandoning East Oakland. More transients began moving in.

Owens went from having a waiting list to wondering how much longer, financially, he could continue to stay open.

Just when he thought things couldn't get worse, two police officers were shot directly outside his business. He opened the door to find two crumpled bodies in the street. When customers call and find out where the karate studio is located, they're afraid to show up.

"It's too bad that (the criminals) get so much attention, and rightly so because they're very violent and they can kill you," Owens says. "But, at the same time, there's many, many beautiful people in this community."

Just up the street, Karen King, owner of Karen's Flowers, hires high school students from Youth Uprising to work part-time at her shop. She mentors them and teaches them about inventory, bookkeeping and, of course, flowers.

"People come down here, surprisingly," King says. "And they're surprised that there are some good services here. If we had more services, I think there would be less crime."

Jack Fiore, 90, remembers when people would come from all over the Bay Area to Fiore's Music Co. to learn to play the accordion and other instruments. Fiore has been at the same location at 79th and MacArthur since 1948.

Back then, there were lots of small businesses: Realtors, a motorcycle shop, mom-and-pops. Only Fiore remains.

It started to change, he says, in the 1970s, with white flight.

"A lot of the whites got afraid 'cause a couple of the colored families moved in," Fiore says. "They keep saying to me, 'Why did you stay there so long?' And I said, 'Their money is as good as anybody else's.'"‰"

The recent police killings have galvanized the community. Residents turned out in large numbers to share their grief. Unfortunately, there were also those terribly misguided individuals who celebrated and spit on the officers' photographs.

Karen Smulevitz, a member of the Eastmont Elmhurst Neighborhood Council, is hopeful that all of the recent attention will encourage more residents to get involved.

"People feel we really have to do something, whether it's through our churches or our communities," she said. "If we're going to save ourselves, we're going to have to work at it."

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for Bay Area News Group. Reach her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com.