Oakland schools have a reputation for being dangerous. But for some families, they’re an oasis of security in an otherwise frightening and unpredictable world.
A group of East Oakland mothers told Oakland Police Capt. Ersie Joyner this morning that they live in perpetual fear — that they rarely feel safe, even in their own homes. That walking their children to and from school, past groups of young men flying gang colors, can be terrifying.
“I am tired of feeling like a hostage in my own house, in my own neighborhood, in my own city,” said Maria Soto, whose two children attend Greenleaf Elementary, a new school on the Whittier campus.
An incident this fall stoked parents’ worst fears: 6-year-old Leslie Ramirez, a Greenleaf first-grader, was wounded in the middle of the night by a stray bullet fired from outside of her house.
Leslie survived the shooting and is back at school. But Soto says she still worries every night whether her kids will be safe in the morning.
Oakland Community Organizations organized today’s bilingual meeting at Greenleaf. The mothers who led the event said they wanted to work with the police to make their neighborhood safer. But they also told Joyner that witnesses and crime victims sometimes feel they’re being treated as suspects, a dynamic that compounds their anxieties and discourages people from making police reports in the first place.
Joyner, the Area 3 commander who replaced Capt. Paul Figueroa, said he grew up in East Oakland with a dim view of law enforcement. He said he welcomed feedback about their interactions with his officers, and he promised to hold them accountable.
One mother asked Joyner if community leaders could take the beat cops around the neighborhood one day on foot. It would help to build trust between the officers and the residents, she said.
But Joyner said it wouldn’t be possible. Emma Paulino, an OCO organizer, later clarified that it would be for just one day.
“It’s not going to happen. I don’t have the staff to do it,” Joyner said. ” … It’s virtually impossible for me to set a time.”
I found that response a bit puzzling. How hard would it be for the department to allow a pair of officers to spend one afternoon shaking hands with the people who live in the neighborhood they cover — people who could prove to be allies in one of the most crime-ridden beats in the city?
I know the department laid off 80 officers this summer, but it managed to send an army of officers (though many were from other Bay Area agencies) to downtown Oakland in the wake of the Johannes Mehserle verdict.
Paulino said she hasn’t given up on the idea. The meeting, she said, was just the first step.