Click photo to enlarge
Hiram Lawrence. (Family photo)

"We need help!" " ... We are afraid for our lives."

This SOS to the Oakland Police Department came from a terrified resident of the Lower Bottoms in West Oakland.

I am not identifying him or any of the other residents who I interviewed for their safety.

A woman who lives four blocks away and her housemates were forced to flee their home after she found a duffle bag with guns and masks in it buried in her backyard and turned it over to the police. The people it belonged to demanded that she give them $800 or they would kill her.

On Aug. 24, at least two men started shooting down 11th street at another group in the middle of the afternoon. Bullets flew into homes where young children live. One man hit the floor and shielded his child. Three cars and a corner liquor store were also struck. Thankfully, no one was injured or killed.

The month before, an 18-year-old man was shot and killed on the same street.

According to witnesses, he had gotten out of a car and started shooting at another man down the street. His accomplice, who was firing from inside the car, shot him.

There have been at least three fatal shootings in the vicinity in the last year. All happened near a corner drug market at 11th and Willow Streets. People call it, "Wild, Wild, Willow."

After the August incident, one family moved.

But it's not that easy to just leave. People have mortgages and children. And why should solid, hardworking citizens have to flee because of criminals?

We often hear that violence flourishes in certain parts of Oakland because people refuse to cooperate with the police.


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Nothing could be further from the truth in this neighborhood under siege.

Residents have begged for increased police patrols. They have provided authorities with information about criminal activity. Information from residents led to the arrest of a shooting suspect but he was back in the neighborhood within days.

Cars with tinted windows and no license plates routinely race down the streets, running stop signs. Why, residents ask, don't the police step up traffic patrols?

Why not station a patrol car visibly and regularly at the notorious drug market intersection-- at least on Fridays when most of the violence has occurred? I realize police officers are stretched thin. But if OPD were to put some visible heat on this known drug corner, it could help prevent shootings.

OPD says it is conducting a "violence suppression operation" in the area and that officers have made "numerous narcotic-related arrests."

Yet that seems to have had minimal impact.

People openly peddle drugs. Guides riding around on bikes call out to potential buyers. I saw a kid who should have been in school, flipping through a wad of cash that had to be six inches thick.

It is a minute's drive from the liquor store parking lot where 23-month-old Hiram Lawrence, Jr. was fatally shot on Nov. 28.

According to witnesses, the same group that was shooting a rap video on 7th and Willow had been on 11th Street moments before Hiram was shot. Some residents asked the group to leave because they feared possible violence. The entourage went a few blocks down the road where the child was shot.

Authorities have arrested three alleged gang members in connection with the killing.

In an effort to offer a positive alternative to the street violence, residents began holding "read-ins" the first Friday of the month.

They came to the drug corner with their children, pulled out their books and started reading.

On July 7, an intoxicated woman drove her car dangerously close to the children. After the parents and kids left, the street erupted into the shooting gallery that left the 18-year-old man dead.

The organizers have since moved the read-ins.

A few blocks away near some of the newer gentrified condos, it's like night and day.

I guess the criminals know better than to set up a drug market there.

"I just want them gone," one resident said. "If they want to shoot why don't they go and sign up for the Army and go to a real war so they can shoot to their heart's content?"

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/Tammerlin