OAKLAND — Advocates around Oakland are calling for peace even as a share of storefronts in the city disappeared behind layers of plywood in advance of a verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial.
"This is about people coming together," said Abel Habtegeorgis, of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
On Thursday, the organization hosted a graduation for the Heal the Streets program, a yearlong fellowship that teaches young people "what peace looks like," Habtegeorgis said. It was one of several events aimed at preventing the kind of violence that erupted in the days after Oscar Grant III's shooting Jan. 1, 2009, and to show solidarity with his family.
In addition, business leaders announced the creation of the Oscar Grant Memorial Fund to benefit Oakland youths.
"We want to make sure Oscar Grant doesn't happen again in the days, months and years after this. It's about a movement," Habtegeorgis said. "We're not telling people they have to be quiet and stay home. But violence is not justice."
Meanwhile, the Ella Baker Center, Youth UpRising and the Urban Peace Movement hosted an emergency leadership forum Thursday.
"The point is that there are deep-down issues," he said, citing unemployment, racial profiling, incarceration rates, lack of education opportunities and police brutality. "People are looking to channel that."
Community advocates and city officials have blamed the violence on "outside agitators" who stoked the anger and frustration of young people who have had few outlets for their own experience with those problems. Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jean Quan said three-quarters of the 90 people arrested in the wake of the January 2009 unrest came from outside Oakland.
"We're not going to tolerate violence," said Quan during a peace vigil in the Dimond district held regularly since 2005. On Thursday evening, the gathering was dedicated to Grant, who worked at Farmer Joe's Marketplace less than a block away from the gathering point in Quan's council district. Quan said Grant sold her meat just two weeks before he was shot to death at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland.
Cars zooming by the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue honked at the crowd consisting of about 20 neighbors. Neighbors held signs reading, "Love," "Paz! Justice!" and "No Violence! Don't be like the cops." Quan said Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts promised that officers will protect property but allow crowds to protest peacefully.
"We are united around our young people," Quan said.
The vigil organizer, Molly Kenefick, said she hoped the positive messages and effort to reach out "makes us less fearful of each other "... especially now that people are worried about possible violence."
Anyone wishing to contribute to the Oscar Grant Memorial Fund can do so at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.