Community members, business owners, and activists discuss public safety issues in East Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood. Monday, Apr. 17, 2023. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Fruitvale residents gathered last night to voice their concerns about public safety and share their opinions on how to mitigate crime in their East Oakland neighborhood. The non-profit Unity Council, which offers a variety of services to business owners and operates affordable housing, hosted the event. 

Unity Council CEO Chris Iglesias told The Oaklandside the safety summit was a year in the making. Councilmember Gallo, who represents Fruitvale, held a similar meeting last year at the transit village that was mainly attended by small business owners who called for increased camera surveillance along International Boulevard.

“We’ve been talking to Councilmember Gallo about this [summit] saying, ‘Hey we got to do this,’” Iglesias said. Gallo was in attendance Monday evening, as was Mayor Sheng Thao and law enforcement officials such as Oakland Police Department Captain James Bassett, OPD Deputy Chief Angelica Mendoza, BART Police Lieutenant William Spears, and Department of Violence Prevention Interim Chief Kentrell Killens. 

Iglesias said there was a public outcry to continue the conversation about how to improve safety in Fruitvale. Crime, including robberies and burglaries, has been a problem in the area for decades, but shootings increased significantly during the pandemic. A double shooting that occurred on Apr. 3 at a convenience store in the Fruitvale Transit Village plaza caused some business owners to call for more help from the city. 

“We have different things we want to try [to increase public safety] but we need to hear from folks,” said Iglesias. 

Attendees huddled around the microphone for the opportunity to share their experiences with community leaders. 

Karla Gandiaga, principal of Arise High School located in the village complex, said the Apr. 3 shooting was a harrowing experience for her students. “The shooting happened during school hours and it was traumatic considering the school shooter landscape we live in,” she said. She thanked Enrique Leyva, the police officer assigned to Fruitvale, for his service. But she said OPD should extend his patrol times. “We want him here more.”

The desire for increased surveillance was a sentiment shared widely by the business owners in attendance. One shop owner named Elias pointed to Gallo and asked him to have the city install cameras along International. “There are a lot of shootings and we are tired of this. We want cameras, we want action,” he said. 

Gallo said cameras have been placed outside of shops and that business owners need to turn them on.

Shotspotter data provided by OPD at the meeting show the number of recorded shootings has decreased since 2021, but gun violence remains a serious issue for the community. 

On a weekly basis, there are about 21 gunshots detected by Shotspotter’s microphones in Oakland Police Area 4, a geographic zone that includes Fruitvale. That number is still higher than in other areas of Oakland, but lower than the rest of East Oakland. 

Some community members say police aren’t the best answer to Fruitvale’s problems

While business owners lean towards more police and surveillance, members of groups like Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) and the Ella Baker Center said that over-policing of Black and brown neighborhoods like Fruitvale is a problem and that the police don’t make many people feel safe.

“I don’t get afraid of the community members here, I’m scared of y’all,” said Phillipe Kelly of the Ella Baker Center, referring to the police officers in attendance.

Youth members of CURYJ said they don’t want policing to be the solution to the neighborhood’s systemic problems. “We want this police money to go back into the community,” one young person said. “Why are you talking about public safety when police murder our brothers and sisters?”

After Jorge Flores, assistant director of the Oscar Grant Foundation asked Unity Council staff and OPD officers about reported discussions that have been underway to establish a police substation at the transit village, Iglesias and OPD officers were interrupted by crowd chants of “We don’t want that!”

After the meeting, Iglesias told The Oaklandside he thought the discussion was informative. “Some folks were obviously very opposed to having a police substation here and we knew that would be the reaction but we didn’t know to what extent,” Iglesias said.

The Unity Council will be hosting another public safety summit soon, though the date and time have yet to be announced. Iglesias said he hopes to make some improvements for the next meeting, including increasing translation capabilities for Spanish speakers in attendance, allowing more attendees to speak, and getting more stakeholders such as property owners and Alameda County officials to participate.  

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.