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Shootings Double in Gang 'Safety Zone'

A memorial for Kikhiesha Brooks, an innocent bystander who died in a gang-related shooting on the corner of 59th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 2007
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A memorial for Kikhiesha Brooks, an innocent bystander who died in a gang-related shooting on the corner of 59th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 2007
 
Violence has continued in North Oakland despite a gang injunction

On West Street in North Oakland, a short residential block within the borders of Oakland’s gang injunction zone, a bloodstain marks a spot on the sidewalk where a woman was killed last month in a drive-by shooting.

While City Attorney John Russo has moved forward with plans for a second injunction zone, some residents on West Street, who have seen little change, seem resigned to the violence.

“It’s either here or around the corner or up the street somewhere,” said Keyondra Dollar, 27, who can see from her living room window the site of the recent shooting.

The gang injunction, Oakland’s first, functions like a restraining order against 17 individuals whom the police have identified as members of the North Side Oakland gang. The court-ordered measure imposes a 10 p.m. curfew and bars activities like interacting in public with others on the list, carrying a gun or recruiting members. Named members who violate the injunction face steep fines or jail time.

In his campaign for the injunction, Russo argued that the measure would help improve public safety. But studies show that proving the effects of injunctions is no easy task.

So far, Russo has followed San Francisco’s lead by gathering statistics not on violence, but on the number of times the named individuals have been arrested (at last count, once). Unlike San Francisco, Oakland has not seen a temporary drop in shootings.

In the six months since the injunction was put in place, shootings and killings within the 100-block “safety zone” have doubled over the corresponding period a year ago.

Between June and October 2009, the safety zone was the site of one killing and 11 shootings. This year, the area has had two killings and 22 shootings. While the police point to an overall drop in violent crime citywide, shootings this year increased about 13 percent.

Criminologists say while those numbers are shocking, more data is needed to determine a real trend.

On West Street, 29-year-old Carolyn Howard was one of those numbers. A handful of homes line this short street off busy Martin Luther King Jr. Way, bordered by public housing complexes and a church, and a dingy tract of concrete benches. Children’s Hospital is less than a block away.

The park at West and 53rd streets, across the street from where Carolyn Howard was killed
Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen
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The park at West and 53rd streets, across the street from where Carolyn Howard was killed
Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen

Just before midnight on Oct. 15, a car pulled alongside another and someone inside fired about 20 shots, residents say. The car sped off, leaving three men seriously wounded and Howard, who had been a bystander, bleeding to death on the ground. The case remains unsolved.

Last week, the police began serving 42 reputed members of the Norteño gang in Fruitvale, the focus of Oakland’s second gang injunction.

With fewer officers on the streets, the police say the injunctions scare gang members by increasing scrutiny and penalties and taking away the anonymity that allows crime and anti-snitching sentiment to thrive.

On West Street, that change has yet to take hold.

When asked what he knew about the shooting, one resident who stood next to the bloodstain on the sidewalk shook his head and quoted a street expression about minding your own business.

“That’s how you get shot,” he said.

This article also appears in the Bay Area edition of The New York Times.

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