A peace parade is planned for Sunday, Nov. 1, on 98th Avenue and International Boulevard in response to increased gun violence this year in Oakland. The event, which involves dozens of local organizations, will serve as the kickoff for a yearlong grassroots campaign to reduce violence in Black communities in East Oakland and across the city. 

Lead organizers from the groups co-hosting Sunday’s action, Adamika Village and the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, are calling on Oakland residents to commit to a citywide truce. 

“The whole purpose of the parade is to make a mighty noise and let the community know that we are here, and we’re demanding peace in the streets,” said Tanya Dennis, board chair of Adamika Village and the director of media and communications at Oakland Frontline Healers, a coalition group that is also supporting the event.

peace in the streets parade

What: A neighborhood parade to promote peace and end gun violence in East Oakland, and call on residents to adopt a citywide truce.

Who: All Oakland community members are invited to join the parade, which is being co-hosted by Adamika Village and the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, with the Council of Elders, Peacekeepers, Credible Messengers, and Violence Interrupters.

When: Sunday, Nov. 1, 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: 98th Avenue and International Boulevard

For more information and to register online, click here. (Registration is not required.)

Homicides and firearm assaults have spiked in Oakland this year. As of October 25, the Oakland Police Department had reported 80 unlawful homicides in 2020 to date—a 34% increase over last year’s number at this time and 22% above average for the previous three years. The combined number of homicides and non-lethal firearm assaults this year stood at 466, 32% above the city’s three-year average. 

In Oakland, like much of the U.S., gun violence disproportionately impacts Black communities. According to data collected by OPD, the vast majority of gun violence, including homicides, assaults, and gunfire incidents in which no one is injured, is happening in West Oakland and in East Oakland flatlands communities where the vast majority of families are African American and Latino. 

“What people don’t understand is, it might be less than 5% of the community that is perpetrating the violence,” said Dennis. “Not only are we going to address them, but the 95% that are hiding behind their doors in fear and terror.” 

Tanya Dennis, known to many in the community as “Mama D,” is one of the organizers of the East Oakland peace parade happening on November 1. Credit: Courtesy Tanya Dennis

Violence prevention efforts in Oakland are nothing new, said Dennis, but she believes a community-led effort that is culturally relevant to residents can be successful where others—specifically those led by institutions mistrusted in Black communities—have fallen short. 

“We’re doing it the ‘African way,’” said Dennis. “And what I mean by that is, we have to understand the population we’re dealing with.”

All this week, she said, volunteers have been canvassing East Oakland and distributing tens of thousands of door hangers with information about COVID safety measures, the truce, and an invitation to join the peace parade on Nov. 1.

On the day of the parade, organizers will pass out face masks and participants will be asked to social-distance. Community members walking in the parade and others who they encounter along the way will be given a postcard with a description of the citywide truce, and those who agree to the truce will be given a red, black, and green wristband to symbolize their commitment. Dennis doesn’t know how many people will come out on Sunday, but she said organizers are prepared for a large turnout with 5,000 wristbands. 

As the parade moves through different neighborhoods, a trio of spiritual leaders representing Christian, Muslim, and African spiritual traditions will cleanse “hot spots”—places where violenced has occurred—with sage and frankincense. 

“We’re going to tie red and black and green ribbons, and that’s going to be our signature,” said Dennis. “If you see a red, black, and green ribbon tied on a pole, it means that we’ve been there and cleansed this area of violence, and we are demanding truce in this area.” 

Sunday’s “spirit walk,” she said, is the first in a series of bimonthly marches over the next year. The long term goal, she said, is to embrace a handful of African American neighbors in East Oakland hotspots, connect them with services, and begin to build an “African-centric neighborhood watch, where they feel that they don’t have to call the police if they see something going on—they can call us.”

The march will include a horse-drawn casket, emblazoned with the words “#StopKillingOurKids.” There will be a caravan of cars carrying mothers that have lost their sons and daughters to gun violence, with the pictures of their lost loved ones on top; and there will be at least one band playing music from atop a flatbed truck. 

At the time Dennis spoke to The Oaklandside last Tuesday, she was still busy making arrangements with other possible participants, including a New Orleans-style brass band. One community member, she said, has agreed to dress in costume as King T’Challa of Wakanda from the film, Black Panther.

Community networks strengthened during COVID

One of the organizations involved in Sunday’s action, Oakland Frontline Healers, was formed earlier this year to combat a very different public health crisis in East Oakland—the COVID-19 pandemic. Dennis, a former vice-principal at Castlemont High School in the ‘90s, became involved with the group when it was founded by one of her former students, Daryle Allums, who is now a community organizer.

Since early March, said Dennis, the Oakland Frontline Healers have “been boots on the ground in the Black community,” serving homeless seniors, recently incarcerated people, and other residents with critical services during shelter-in-place. Dennis said the coalition currently includes 27 local organizations. “Basically, we brought people together that were already doing the work. We are the community. We are the change that people need to see.”

Now, said Dennis, that same East Oakland organizing network that coalesced around the pandemic is being mobilized to address the spike in gun violence. 

Brigitte Cook, a member of the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, which is co-hosting Sunday’s march with Adamika Village, was among the first to alert Dennis and Allums to the rising homicide numbers. 

Brigitte Cook, chair of the gun violence subcommittee of the Violence Prevention Coalition. Credit: Pete Rosos

“There is a correlation between the violence and COVID,” said Cook. “Within the first month or two, we saw a huge drop off in all crime, because everybody was staying at home. And then there was a time period where it just started escalating, and then it just skyrocketed.”

Other cities in California and across the country have reported increases in homicides and shootings during the pandemic, leaving law enforcement agencies to speculate why. At a city meeting on September 29, Oakland’s assistant police chief Darren Allison cited an increase in gun sales during the pandemic, and the city’s interim police chief, Susan Manheimer, described the combination of pandemic and shelter-in-place as a “perfect storm” resulting in more violence.

Cook noted that violent crime in Oakland had been trending steadily down for at least the last several years—until the pandemic struck. She attributed the progress in recent years to community-led efforts that took shape in the wake of Oscar Grant’s killing at the hands of a BART police officer in 2009. After that tragedy, she said, faith leaders and others in the community began calling on residents to mobilize against neighborhood gun violence, in addition to police violence. There was even a peace march, said Cook, organized by another Oakland organization, Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), around the time violence was peaking in Oakland, in 2011 and 2012. 

This Sunday’s peace parade, she said, is an extension of the community-led, neighborhood-based organizing model that took shape then, and is coming at a critical time.

“Folks are so caught up in COVID and everything else that’s going on, that we’ve kind of lost sight of these community killings that are happening,” said Cook. “We need to make people aware and to start having concrete internal conversations about what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.”

The Violence Prevention Coalition, said Cook, is aiming to reduce homicides by 80% in the next three years. “We have lofty goals,” she said, “but there is no reason why Oakland cannot have the same dramatic decrease in the number of homicides” as cities like Richmond and Palo Alto have in recent years. Those cities, she pointed out, both experienced declines in gun violence after they adopted prevention programs that were community-driven, and less reliant on traditional law enforcement methods.

“The city of Oakland has tried for many decades with a law enforcement strategy, to deal with homicides, and it has not been successful,” said Cook. “We are advocating for a community-based response, and that resources be redirected towards boosting some of the on-the-ground work that can actually get in contact with the folks who are either the victims or the perpetrators, and come up with real solutions.”

Jacob Simas is Managing Editor of The Oaklandside. He joined us from Univision, where he led social-impact initiatives and established the Rise Up: Be Heard journalism training program at Fusion for young people and community organizers in underserved areas of California. He was a senior editor and director of youth and community media at New America Media, where he led a community news network that amplified student and youth reporting in California news deserts. He is an advisory board member for Youth Beat, a graduate of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a former producer with KPFA's First Voice apprenticeship program.