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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.