Reverend Harry Williams delivers a message to media in attendance about addressing what he sees as an apathy issue in Oakland's recent shootings. Credit: Ricky Rodas

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A group of violence prevention advocates held a press conference in front of City Hall Tuesday to draw attention to the recent spike in homicides and shootings in Oakland. 

Brenda Grisham, president of the Christopher Lavell Jones Foundation, and Antoine Towers, president of the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition said they organized the event to implore Oakland residents not to become desensitized to violent crime. 

“We all go through hardships and we’re all in the place of trauma,” Towers said.

After about eight years of declining violence, homicides and shootings increased significantly in Oakland and many other cities starting in mid-2020, and 2021 was the deadliest year locally since 2006. Recently over a four-day span, from Aug. 25 to 29, six people were murdered in the city, according to OPD. And earlier this summer a series of high-profile killings shocked residents of Chinatown and East Lake’s “Little Saigon” neighborhood. 

Tuesday’s press conference was held one day after an incident at Madison Park Academy in East Oakland, in which a 13-year-old student was shot and injured by a 12-year-old. In a statement, OUSD officials said “this is an example of how problems in the community can reach into the schools. We must come together to address guns and violence in our Oakland community and with our youth.” 

Brenda Grisham, the organizer of the conference, stands with fellow advocates as well as city officials as she addresses the recent homicides and gun violence in Oakland. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Grisham told The Oaklandside that while city officials were invited to Tuesday’s event, the focus was more on the community and families impacted by gun violence. Grisham’s son Christopher Lavell Jones, an accomplished 17-year-old musician, was shot and killed in front of their East Oakland home in 2011. Ever since then, she’s been an advocate for peace.

“We have parents here today that have lost children from all areas of Oakland, and we’re focusing on supporting them and spreading the message to stop the violence so no one else is added to this circle,” said Grisham.

Lynnette McElhaney also knows the pain of losing children to gun violence. Her son Victor McElhaney was shot and killed in Los Angeles in 2019 while attending the University of Southern California, and Torian Hughes, a boy she considered her grandson, was murdered in West Oakland in 2015. “We’re here to say that all of these fallen lives matter because with outcry comes resources, and with resources comes change,” she said. 

McElhaney and Larry Reid, the former District 7 councilmember, championed the establishment of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention. Guillermo Cespedes, chief of the department, attended the press conference to show support. When asked whether the department has lived up to her initial vision, McElhaney told The Oaklandside that it is still young and deserves an opportunity to prove itself. 

“There’s still potential because the department is very new,” she said. “My vision was never for the department to run like Public Works, but to have a community approach, and the department is definitely positioned to have more conversations with the community.” 

OPD Chief Armstrong spoke briefly at the event, noting how each act of violence ripples out into Oakland, affecting dozens, even hundreds of people. “We are a big but small city. When a death happens in our city, it affects so many of our families,” Armstrong said.

Reverend Harry Williams, a well-known violence prevention advocate, said that the violence is part of a larger wave of apathy that has increased. “Our biggest problem is apathy, not bullets,” he said. “We need everyone to share more empathy with each other.” 

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.