OAKLAND -- It was discouraging enough that Oakland had 110 homicides in 2011, up from 95 in 2010, making it the first time in five years there had been an increase in the death toll.
But what will define the deadly violence of 2011 and will be difficult to forget is that three of the victims were the youngest ever slain by gunfire in the city's history.
The most recent was 5-year-old Gabriel Martinez Jr., who was shot to death Friday night outside his family's taco truck in the 5400 block of International Boulevard.
Before that, Hiram Lawrence Jr., 23 months old, died Dec. 9, 11 days after being shot in the head while in his father's arms in West Oakland. Carlos Nava, 3, was killed Aug. 8 while his mother pushed him in a car-shaped stroller on a busy street in East Oakland.
The boys' deaths attracted nationwide negative attention to a city that has captured unwanted headlines before and brought more focus on the city's deadly violence. Police said that Hiram's and Carlos's deaths resulted from gang shootings.
"Now we're killing babies, too," said Marilyn Harris, who founded the victims advocate and support group Khadafy Foundation in 2001, the year after her 18-year-old son Khadafy Washington was fatally shot. Harris, who tries to visit and aid the family of every homicide victim, said 2011 was probably her most difficult year because of the deaths of the little boys.
"We're losing our self-confidence when we can't
Besides Gabriel, Hiram and Carlos, 15, 16 and 17-year-old boys also were slain, police said.
Harris said the taking of anyone's life by violence is horrible, but losing a young child is the most difficult thing for any family, since it means that life has "ended before it really began," she said. "They should be celebrating birthdays at home or at a Chuck E. Cheese, not at a graveyard. It's not only not right, it's not fair."
Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan said he is "personally disappointed with the violence in Oakland. Whether it's one (homicide) victim or 101, it's way too many people getting killed, especially the victims this year. The two young children, they had nothing to do with anything. As police officers, it impacts us personally. I don't ever want to see it happen again."
If there is an encouraging sign, it was that the homicide rate began a decline at the end of summer. At the end of August, there were 80 homicides in the city, an average of 10 a month. Since then, there were 30, an average of 7.5 per month. There have been 13 since Nov. 1.
Mayor Jean Quan said the decline began with the rehiring of dozens of laid-off police officers, identifying the 100 most violent street blocks and concentrating police and other city agencies and resources in those areas to deal with the violence.
"It seems that the strategy of putting more police officers into these 100 block areas has worked," Quan said.
Jordan said having other city agencies -- such as public works, the fire department, and code enforcement -- join with police is crucial to making the city safer. He also appreciates the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies -- the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, Oakland Housing Authority police, California Highway Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals -- in assisting Oakland in enforcement efforts.
One of Jordan's strategies to reduce homicides and crime is to conduct as many violent suppression projects -- where officers identify hot spots and suspects that frequent the locations and make cases on them -- as possible. Also, he will once again pair Oakland officers with parole agents at least once a week to target known parole and probation violators who commit the majority of crimes. He also wants to increase the use of computer and officer generated crime analysis to identify trends and possibly predict where crimes may happen. Jordan would like to have 1,000 police officers but knows he must make do with the authorized 645, down more than 150 from a few years ago.
He considers the officers hardworking and "dedicated to removing violent offenders from the streets.
"I want the public to have confidence in the police department that we will reduce violent crime this year with whatever resources we can gather," he said.
Of the 110 homicides in 2011, 102 will be reported as murders to state and federal statisticians. Last year, 89 of the 95 homicides were considered murders. Murder is defined in the penal code as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice. The seven not counted as murders for reporting purposes in 2011 were six fatal police shootings and a death by heart attack in May of a storekeeper who was attacked by a 14-year-old boy.
Until 2011, the number of homicides in Oakland had dropped every year since 2006, when there were 148 homicides. Violent crime in Oakland went up 6 percent in 2011, although the overall crime rate declined 2 percent.
The only other Alameda County city to experience an increase in homicides was San Leandro, which went from four in 2010 to seven in 2011. Alameda had one homicide, the same as in 2010; Berkeley had one homicide in 2011 compared to five in 2010; Hayward went from 13 in 2010 to six; Fremont from three to two; Newark from five to one; and Union City from four to three.
The who, what, why, when and where of the Oakland homicides in 2011 remained similar to prior years.
What helped drive the number up in 2011 were increases in gang, drug, robbery and retaliation-related disputes, which are usually the main motives for murder.
Confirmed gang-related killings doubled to more than 20 while the other motives also had double-digit percentage increases. Eighty-one victims were black males and females and 19 were Latino males and females. Of the most known suspects, 39 were black males and nine were Latino males. Forty-one of the slain were age 18 to 25 age. Hiram was the youngest victim with the oldest being a 90-year-old man who was beaten to death.
Handguns were used in 82 killings, assault rifles in nine and rifles and shotguns in seven others.
Six people died from stabbings or cuttings. Seventy-one of the killings happened on streets or sidewalks with Saturdays and Wednesdays the busiest days of the week and the period between 8 p.m. and midnight the deadliest with 36 killings.
The number of 2011 killings cleared with the arrest of a suspect or the issuance of a warrant was over 30 percent; 14 cases from previous years also were solved. The clearance rate for 2011 is lower than in previous years, but investigators are encouraged because there seems to be more people coming forward with information about possible suspects. In the killing of Carlos, members of an outraged community gave investigators information that led to the arrest of two gang members for the shooting. There also have been some good leads in the death of Hiram but not enough to charge anyone.
Harris said the community reaching out to try to help "shows that they care. They are tired of the violence and want it to stop."
Staff writers Matthew Artz, Eric Kurhi, Chris De Benedetti and Peter Hegarty contributed to this report.
Source: Oakland Police Department
Source: California Department of Justice
* Through Dec. 30, 2011
a decade of slayings
2011 was the first year the number of homicides increased in five years.
2011: 110 *
Source: Oakland Police Department
2011: 140 *
Source: State Department of Justice