Last weekend, Oakland put its best foot forward.
Thousands of people — some of whom I'm sure had never set foot in our fair city — participated in the Oakland Running Festival. The races showcased some of the city's landmarks and picturesque vistas. Oakland was in the news for something good for a change and civic pride was at a high.
But Oakland also put its worst foot forward that weekend.
In less than 24 hours, two 18-year-olds died from gunshot wounds. They'd been killed within a mile and a half of each other in East Oakland.
Police found a dying James Allen in the courtyard of an apartment building near 92nd and Bancroft avenues. He'd been shot in the chest.
A neighbor who lived across the street said he'd heard several shots, from what he believed were two guns, at 1:45 p.m. in the afternoon. He later told a Tribune reporter that he "usually counts the shots, but I was sending somebody a text and didn't pay attention."
I'm not sure what's worse: (1) the fact that gunshots are so common that people who live in this neighborhood — just 16 blocks from my own — have taken to counting them for sport, or (2) that someone could actually be moronic enough to be more concerned about sending a text message than paying attention to a burst of gunshots.
The second teen, Eric Toscano, was killed in a drive-by outside his home on Ney Avenue near Parker Elementary School.
One moment, the Skyline High senior was having a belated 18th birthday celebration. The next, someone fired from the back seat of a car into a crowd where Toscano was standing. The teen was struck in the head. Three others were wounded, but at least their families can be grateful they won't be planning funerals.
As I applauded an 80-year-old man who'd just crossed the finish line during the half-marathon, I thought about the two teens who'd just lost their lives the previous day. Their combined age was 36. Between the two of them, they'd lived less than half as long as this hardy soul.
So it goes in schizophrenic Oakland: for every step forward, a giant step back.
Today, when you pick up your newspaper with your morning coffee, you will see the Tribune's Oakland Homicides 2009 coverage. It includes the names and most of the pictures of all of those slain last year. The good news is that violent deaths in Oakland dropped for a third straight year in 2009. Also, according to police statistics, violent crime overall is down 27 percent so far compared with last year.
That's encouraging as statistics go, but the fact is, 110 people were killed. So many that the annual, terrible tally nearly fills up a full page in this newspaper. This doesn't even take into account all of those who are shot but survive.
Eight on the list were enrolled, or had recently been enrolled, in Oakland public schools.
The youngest, Josue Lopez-Gil, was just 13.
When students lose their lives to violence, it's not just their immediate family and friends who are affected. The students in their school community are also traumatized.
The district has a crisis response team that employs "psychological first aid" to help students cope with the violent deaths of classmates.
In this year's Tribune Homicide package, you'll find something different.
The Tribune has published a poignant letter written by Alicia Romero, the principal of Oakland High School. Romero wrote a letter to her student Phillip Wright after the 16-year-old's shooting death Nov. 19. In it, she describes how his fellow students and teachers reacted to the news that Wright was shot when he went to answer the door. That he didn't have a chance to open it before bullets were fired. That the boy was not the target. The letter is a must-read. It will break your heart.
Romero was a good kid. He had a learning disability and struggled through school, but he always showed up and did his best. He had a job at the East Oakland Boxing Association and stayed out of trouble.
In the end, none of that was enough to save him.
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for Bay Area News Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Twitter/tammerlin.