Another death at Life Academy

Staff Photojournalist
photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

Yesterday in the school auditorium at Life Academy, school employees and grief counselors stood in a circle and quietly discussed their plan for the memorial assembly in 18-year-old Alejandro Aguilera‘s honor. Some of them had puffy eyes. Most looked exhausted.

Apart from the sorrow and the heaviness in the room that day, something else hit me:  Everyone seemed to know what to do. One teacher noted that her students erected altars for the dead with a disturbing degree of expertise.

The small school — and the broader community — has experienced far too much loss. This is the second such assembly I’ve attended at Life since the school year began.

Staff Photojournalist

This evening, as I began clearing the stacks of notebooks and old newspaper clips off my desk in preparation for our move back to downtown, I found a spreadsheet I had printed out more than two years ago. It’s not titled, but it has 13 students’ names on it — followed by a date, a school, and their ages, 13 to 19.

Those 13 students died during a 13-month period: May 25, 2009 to June 23, 2010. I must not have thought it complete, as I left two spaces between James Allen (Bunche Academy), who died in March 2010, and Damon Williams, 17 (Bunche Academy), who was killed three months later.

I remember why I started the list — it seemed that more students and recent graduates were dying in the streets, and at younger ages. (The first four Oakland students who died in 2009 were 13, 16, 14 and 15.)

I can’t remember why I stopped. My last entry was Rachael Green, newly graduated from Bunche Academy, who was gunned down at a vigil in West Oakland for one of her classmates.

Maybe the violence was too depressing, or the log too sterile a way to record the relentless string of early deaths.

Whatever the reason, that is why I can’t tell you how many Oakland students have died violently in the last two years, or even since the school year began. I’ve lost count. So, apparently, has Oakland Unified, which didn’t have a number yesterday.

Yesterday at the event for Alejandro, people hastened to tell me that — though he was a Latino teen from the flatlands — he wasn’t in a gang, and that he was a  wonderful human being with so much life and potential. They wanted him to be remembered as more than a “San Leandro man” shot on a dodgy street corner on a Friday night.

A wail rose from the front row the moment his picture appeared on the projector screen. Maybe the number doesn’t matter after all. One is too many.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    I saw the article. All we can do is report the facts of the deaths as widely as possible and make sure no one involved in Oakland Education ignores what is happening or can refuse to discuss who the fatalities are and how they all died.

    Knowledge is power – especially when it comes to deciding future actions. There are reasons for each one of these deaths. It’s normal to refuse to stare these reasons down. The students will wear better when this problem of violent crime mortality is faced head on.

    So what are the common factors and risk factors in these cases? Is it time of day? Is it the gender of the dead? The ages? Clothing, race, hobbies, sites, victim background? What is it?

    We’ve had these stories before. Each time I take the position that these are never just random fatalities (even if the only common theme is being on the street in Oakland). There is a reason why little old ladies are not dying this way, but black and brown boys are – at a minimum. Other readers say we should just mourn and never talk of RISK FACTORS.

    Life is a game with odds and statistics. I believe our public school students will wear better if they are routinely schooled in risk factors and odds of those things that can hurt them. Yes, you can get hit by lightning. But car wrecks are more likely. The kids I see seem to have been taught that all bad results are a matter of fate and God. That is not true.

    Ken and Barbie know better – even if they do like to ski.

  • livegreen

    I would be interested in knowing the circumstances around the last death of a student at Oakland High…The last shooting was the poor young man who was a victim of the recent drive by shooting. But I remember a young man a few years ago who was doing well in football and good enough in academics that he was about to make it out…

    If he was not the last OHigh student who was killed he was almost…

    It was around the same time an OHigh Pacific Islander student shot a fellow Asian American young woman at a park in Alameda.

    It was around the same time a young African American middle school age student answered a knock at the (boarding house) door and was shot and killed by somebody who wanted to retaliate against an offense and knocked at the wrong door. The young man died in his grandfather’s arms.

    Since then have died the young man near Castlemont who was holding his baby nephew as his family got in the car. The young man who was going to Oakland International HS, had recently left a gang and was shot in retaliation on MacArthur off 13th Ave. in the back of the taco restaurant. Around the corner on 13th Ave. a half block from Bella Vista Elementary a drive by shot four young men one of whom died. He grew up there but happened to live across the street from a drug house (the infamous Blue House in Bella Vista)…

    Two young fathers killed (one during the beginning of this timeline, the other towards the more recent present), and three babies more recently.

    And yet the OEA, SEIU and other city unions will accuse OPD and the OUSD PD of being the biggest threat to the citizens of Oakland. And blame them for arresting, or even seeking, the murderers. While OPD is so understaffed it can’t get beyond a 30% clearance rate on these. Or find the killers who are responsible for a majority of the murders of our black and brown brethren.

    I am thankful for the work of the Khadafi Foundation. And I look forward to the day when their victims’ family services are needed no longer…

  • Nextset

    One of the things I see that the general public is kept unaware of is that in CA police services are being withdrawn from the public. It’s being done quietly. A deliberate decision is being made (justified because of money) to end suppression of gangs/organized crime. The results to the cessation of suppression is the steady rise of gang discipline (killings) in black and brown areas.

    Remember in Los Angeles the Narco Gangs (Which are most definitely not black – they’re Mexican) have been ethnically cleansing housing tracts and clearing out the Blacks. Any blacks found in those areas are subject to attack. It’s easier to impose gang discipline when you don’t have outsiders on your turf. But you can bet the white areas are getting services – Police are appreciated there. It’s an insidious process but there you have it.

    It is the duty of the municipality to maintain law and order in it’s territory regardless of how they raise the money. They can sell the parks, close the libraries, do whatever it takes. That will not happen in Detroit, in Oakland, & in Black Los Angeles. Appearances are more important than reality and besides, the urban blacks never did appreciate police services, so now they don’t have it and can be happier.

    So we have these killings. Believe me they will increase. And no, it’s not “senseless” when someone is killed for being in the wrong neighborhood. It’s gang discipline. It’s discipline the students don’t learn to deal with at school where they are taught they can have life their way.

    Decades ago a city police department would get a list every day of the warrants issued by the local court and a warrant service team would go house to house that evening trying so serve the warrants and arrest the defendants. They’d make forcible entry and search/ransack the place to find Tyrone/Paco/Joe. That’s all gone now.

    Also decades ago the city police department would get a list of the local parolees/probationers and would periodically go house to house searching – forcible entry if required. They’d take the guns, stolen TVs, Dope, under aged girlfriends and other contraband away and note other criminals found present and arrest Parolee for violating their terms or parole/probation.

    City police would do this, not waiting for parole or probation officer to leave their offices and come out. These efforts gave a margin of safety to the towns.

    It’s all gone now. I think the police were made unwelcome – and budgets are cut. So they don’t do the service anymore. Detectives are being eliminated also so murders without a suspect in X hours are not worked much either.

    So our criminal class are now ensconced throughout the town, arming themselves, loaded on dope, communicating on MySpace and by cellphones, and running riot. You will see a LOT of black and brown teens killed from now on. It’s survival of the fittest and the schools don’t teach these lessons.

    But the Parks and Libraries are still open.

    And the state legislature is flushing the prisons into the CA cities under the “realignment” scheme – to “save money”.

    Brave New World.

  • Cranky Teacher

    “And yet the OEA, SEIU and other city unions will accuse OPD and the OUSD PD of being the biggest threat to the citizens of Oakland. And blame them for arresting, or even seeking, the murderers. While OPD is so understaffed it can’t get beyond a 30% clearance rate on these. Or find the killers who are responsible for a majority of the murders of our black and brown brethren.”

    Some very questionable claims there. When did OEA say anything about there fellow union members in OPD? Please show some evidence.

    Similarly, please show evidence that OPD staffing is linked to clearance rate. Evidence linking police staffing and true crime and consequence rates are notoriously inconclusive, despite “common sense” claims.

    OPD continues to resist modern, reformed policing, which is community policing, relying instead on (tardy) arrival at 911 scenes to interview a hostile community that doesn’t trust it.

    When an OPD officer goes rogue and is not investigated (see the latest memo from Judge Thelton Henderson), the repercussions go far beyond the specific victims — they mean a lack of trust between police and (the non-criminal elements of the) community which damages policing efforts city-wide.

  • livegreen

    Talk about generalizations and stereotypes. One officer has caused all this damage?

    It is well known that the OEA went outside its area of expertise and has sided against solutions that OPD Chiefs and the OPOA alike have supported.

    OPD does practice community policing as it is mandated by law that they have PSO’s (who in turn must go to communty meetings). And if the remaining patrol officers must run from 911 call to 911 call (instead of performing community meetings) it is because they are so understaffed and have so much paperwork to fill out.

    Same with investigations: there are more Officers in Internal Affairs than investigating murders or any other crime against the citizens of Oakland. This has a direct impact on the clearance rate of Part 1 crimes: Oakland has less investigators and less Officers than just about any major city, and is both more violent, solves less of its crimes and is less of a deterrent that PD’s in other cities.

    Regarding the OPD Officer who you and Judge Henderson say “went rogue”, who were the victims you mention? And how did the one officer’s actions “mean a lack of trust between police and (the non-criminal elements of the) community which damages policing efforts city-wide.”?

    As if to prove my point you are blaming OPD, not the criminals. More precisely you are blaming one Officer for causing a lack of trust across the entire city. Doesn’t that seem just a little broad to you?

  • anon

    I just want to honor and remember this young man. Although I didn’t know him, I do know that he was a scholar, a leader and a member of our community. And, for that I am deeply saddened by the loss.

    To the community at Life Academy-you are in my thoughts and prayers. Continue to be resilient and dedicated…and continue to remember those that you have lost.

    Sending lots of love your way.

  • J.R.

    Cranky wrote,
    “When did OEA say anything about there(their) fellow union members in OPD? Please show some evidence”.

    I am pretty sure that the OEA’s position on gang injunctions qualifies at the very least as a vote of no confidence in police enforcement policies. The police were backed into this position by:
    1. The reduction in officers by city hall(even though people were taxed specifically to keep the number of officers above a certain number).
    2. The hug a thug policies of city hall.
    3. The unwritten “don’t snitch” rule of the streets.



  • J.R.