OAKLAND -- It's a bitterly cold and drizzly Saturday morning and Theresa Butler, bundled in a heavy coat and scarf, is standing on a bustling street corner deep on International Boulevard in East Oakland.
Half a dozen people are across the street holding signs that read "someone died here" and "stop the violence." She is handing out fliers about the rally to passers-by.
"We are going to stand on the corner where someone dies every Saturday for the rest of the year," Butler said.
This part of International Boulevard -- the asphalt thread that runs through some of the city's roughest neighborhoods -- is busy with cars and people. The streets and sidewalks are littered and dirty. It's loud. Car stereos blare. People talk loudly, mostly in Spanish, and cars honk and honk and honk.
But on this day, and several other Saturdays since late November, the honking, shouting and thumbs-up are aimed at the group that stand on corners with their handmade signs. People like what they see, that is clear, and the group from Oakland's True Vine Ministries is proud of its anti-violence work.
The "stand-ins" as they are called "are to bring awareness to neighborhoods that someone died on your street and we need you to be proactive," said Butler, a 52-year-old social worker who lives in West Oakland. "We've had people ask us, 'Why are you standing here?' And we've said, 'Someone was killed here.' And they've said 'Who?' People are dying in front
No one who is holding a sign ever knew murder victim Linh Nguyen, 37, who in mid-December was shot at 90th Avenue and International Boulevard, where the group is this Saturday morning. They also didn't know Dominic Carter, 19, who was shot and killed a block away at 91st Avenue and International, also in December.
But for the roughly 50-person group, which calls itself Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere, it doesn't matter that its members didn't know the victims directly.
A human life was taken violently. Somebody needs to do something, and do it now, they say. The group has pledged to rally every Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the location of the previous week's murder (or murders) throughout 2011. That's 49 more Saturdays if there is a killing each week, which is common in Oakland.
The Rev. Zachary Carey, 50, said the idea is to bring attention and awareness about the homicide rate.
"It's not cool to kill people. This is a morality issue. When you have people dying in the streets like this, this is unacceptable in any civilized society. The church needs to take the lead on this. We are one of the moral compasses in the community," he said.
It's not unusual for people to hold rallies, candlelight vigils and marches for murder victims. They are usually one-day or -night affairs that draw family and friends and occasionally media members. But what is different here is a group that pledges to commit to an anti-violence, victim commemoration project for such a long period of time.
"I am always encouraged that churches and other community groups are doing something to address this issue. Awareness is the first step to action," said the Rev. Jayson Landeza, the former priest at St. Columba Catholic Church, which seven years ago began putting up a white, wooden cross in the churchyard to memorialize the people behind the grim tally of murders.
Landeza said parishioners at St. Columba became more active with Oakland Community Organizations and their work with violence prevention, in part, because of the crosses. Catholic Charities' anti-violence work with homicide victims was also influenced by the effort that St. Columba began, said Landeza, who is no longer at St. Columba but is the chaplain for the Oakland Police Department, Oakland Fire Department, Alameda County Sheriff's Office and BART Police.
Church member Joanna Habi, 50, of Alameda, said Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere is working on creating a blog that will have posts about the experiences at each location, as well as a Facebook page and a website. Habi was involved from the start, creating a peace symbol sign, some of the anti-violence slogans and the wording on a flyer the group distributes on Saturdays.
The group has held 11 stand-ins so far. One was for True Vine church member Leon Wilson, 46, who was shot and killed in November. Wilson had been on parole and was living in Oakland and taking GED diploma classes at the Allen Temple Baptist Church campus in East Oakland, police said. During one of those classes, a call came in on his cell phone that prompted him to run outside, where he was shot by a gunman who escaped capture.
"I talked about it (with other church members) and said, 'We can't sit in church any longer and act like these social ills aren't affecting the community and the family," said Carey, who said Wilson had been coming to his church for 10 years.
Butler also had a personal connection that got her involved in helping with the stand-ins.
"I got tired, I was upset," she said. In October, 18-year-old Kwami Nunn, of Mountain House, was killed at a San Leandro party at a golf course.
"I had watched him grow up and he was on his way to greatness," Butler said. "After that, I just started talking to (men on the streets) about life and telling them that God loves them. I had a need and a desire to be a part of something that could help."
Both Butler and Carey said they don't feel they or others are in any danger standing at the site of murder scenes.
"This is what we do. We are a community-based church. We feel pretty comfortable going out into neighborhoods," Carey said.
Said Butler: "We are not afraid to hold up signs and ask for peace on the streets and save a life, not take a life. We are not afraid to do that."
But Sherri-Lyn Miller, an anti-violence community activist and the co-founder of the Citizens for the Lost, which helps search for missing people, said she believes the stand-ins are dangerous.
"Right now, it's a dangerous thing to do because people are getting shot at vigils," she said.
There have been instances of shootings and killing at memorial services, vigils and funerals in the past.
"People need to come out of the woodwork before there are this many homicides and not wait until there are so many," she said.
There have already been nine homicides this year as of Friday afternoon. So Saturday, the group will be standing at 26th and Market streets in West Oakland from 11:30 a.m. to noon for Allen Collins, 21, who was killed Jan. 4.
About 12:10 p.m. they will move to 16th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard for Kerry Baxter, 19, who was killed Jan. 16 in front of a church at East 15th Street and 16th Avenue. They will also release balloons for four December victims who were not represented at a previous stand-in.
It may be a small step, the organizers acknowledge, but at least it's a step.
"I understand we can't fix the problems, but if we can have one person lay a gun down and say I'm not going to do it, that would be pleasing to us," Butler said.