District 3 City Councilmember Carroll Fife speaks at the rally and vigil held Tuesday at Lake Merritt. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Hundreds of people gathered at the Lake Merritt Pergola Tuesday evening to mourn recent lives lost to gun violence and support plans to shift millions of dollars out of the Oakland Police Department’s budget to fund alternative violence prevention programs.

City Council President and District 2 Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas and District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife called for the vigil and rally following the shooting at Lake Merritt last Saturday that claimed one person’s life and wounded seven others. So far this year, 60 people have been killed in Oakland.

Some have said the shooting underscores the need to maintain Oakland’s roughly $340 million annual police budget, including the Oakland Police Officers Association and Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Bas and Fife disagree and say the increasing level of violence is all the more reason to support their public safety vision for Oakland, which includes shifting millions of dollars out of the police department’s budget to expand violence prevention efforts and services like housing and parks.

City Council president Nikki Fortunato Bas. Credit: Amir Aziz

“Now more than ever as we are recovering from this pandemic, after what happened here at the lake, after counting the 60th homicide in this [city], now more than ever we have to invest much more deeply in violence prevention, in preventing violence long before it even happens,” Bas told the attendees.

District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife. Credit: Amir Aziz

Fife noted that the gathering was one of the first times people could gather safely without masks since the pandemic began. She pushed back against critics who say reducing police spending to better fund things like libraries, parks, affordable housing, and civilian emergency responders is too radical.

“That should not be a radical thing,” Fife said, “to make sure our communities that have gone without can actually have a chance at thriving.”

Oakland Department of Violence Prevention Chief Guillermo Cespedes. Credit: Amir Aziz

Guillermo Cespedes, chief of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention, said during the rally that he was disappointed to hear people blaming outsiders from San Francisco for the Lake Merritt shooting. According to OPD, many of the people wounded, and possibly the suspected shooters, were “gang members” from San Francisco. Cespedes rejected this view.

“They’re not gang members; they’re our children. They’re not criminals; they are youth that are hurt and angry and have grievances and they’re infected with a violence that goes back generations,” Cespedes said. “

After the rally, Cespedes told The Oaklandside that his team of counselors and violence interrupters are already in contact with people affected by the shooting and working with them to address trauma and prevent any further escalation of conflict.

Anti Police-Terror Project co-founder TurHa Ak. Credit: Amir Aziz

TurHa Ak, a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and the Community Ready Corps, two activist groups advocating for reducing OPD’s budget, said the shooting demonstrated what he views as the failure of the existing public safety system.

 “There’s a machine that creates the shit you hate. There’s a machine that creates the shooting that just happened. That shit doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” said Ak.

A couple hundred people gathered to mourn recent victims of violence and rally in support of larger investments in non-police violence prevention programs. Credit: Amir Aziz

“When we think of violence, yes it’s gun violence which we have to eradicate from this country and our town, but it’s also the violence of poverty and disinvestment,” said Bas. “Because when people don’t have jobs, when people don’t have housing, and quality healthcare and education, that’s when they may turn to a path that is not the path we are trying to put this whole country and this whole town on.”

Councilmembers Noel Gallo (Fruitvale) and Dan Kalb (North Oakland) also attended the rally. Both are part of the team, along with Fife, supporting Bas’s budget amendments. The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget tomorrow.

Amir Aziz is a photographer and videographer from Oakland, California. Using photography as his primary medium, Amir documents life and times in his community and the rapid changes in his environment. He's covered music events and social justice movements in the U.S. and abroad for local and international publications. Before shelter-in-place, he traveled to over 10 countries producing multimedia projects juxtaposing the experiences of locals elsewhere to those in his hometown of Oakland. Amir hopes to continue to bridge the gap between African diaspora communities and oppressed groups in the world through multimedia storytelling.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.