Bullet Holes In My Walls

I've had a long love hate relationship with the city I live in and am from-Oakland. I find myself defending my city to people who've never lived here, all too informed by media folks who seemingly want to see the city banished from the golden state or completely cleansed of its long time residents. Meanwhile  I've seen more than my share of $hit I'd rather not see or hear go down in my midst. I've wanted to share this story for the last 8 or 9 months but have had mixed feelings...until now.

Last spring (April 2011) I was having a typical Saturday afternoon at my East Oakland castle. Just finished yard work (yeah aint that hip-hop ;), my kids already completed their chores, and were waiting on me to take em out for an impromptu outing. Where they got the idea we were going out was beyond me. "Daddy let's go to the movies" is what they kept askin. I wasn't really feelin it...after kickin back for a sec,  I was like "why not?! let's go!" I can't remember the movie we saw, all I know is we went to get something to eat, then went to the movies and had a great time. We must have came back to the house around 9:30 pm....

As soon as I got back to my house and walked through the front door, I knew something wasn't right. All our stuff was there, but there was this strange sort of dust on the living room floor, along with pieces of plastic on the floor as well. At first I thought there was someone in my house, so I had my kids wait on the porch as I went through and checked all the rooms. I was relieved to find out that no one was in my house, and nothing was missing - but it was then that I started noticing holes in my walls, one in the kitchen, another in the living room that seemed to align with two interior walls that had holes in them as well (one of those interior walls was right in front of my kid's room!). It was then that I realized that while we were at the movies someone or some group of people had some sort of shoot out in the front of my house. I found a bullet slug in the kitchen as well as one in my kid's room. After goin outside I see that my lady's car got hit, as well as my fence and garage! The whole thing felt surreal. While I was very much concerned and pissed off, I also felt a weird sort of calm, that we had went to the movies and that my lady was out of town when it all happened (the cosmos at works, or as the old folks told me "that was God boy!") seemed like the best time for a such a thing to happen - if it had to!

My next door neighbor convinced me to call the police (something I was somewhat hesitant to do at first). OPD finally arrived, asked a bunch of questions rather routinely and then asked me a few times if I had thought I was the intended target. Since I don't have those kind of enemies (that I know of) and the sporadic manner at which the holes were placed on my house, garage, car etc we both agreed these weren't intended for me and my family (though they certainly ended up in our world) After cleaning up glass, debris and other physical remnants of what had gone down, as much as I wanted to get upset, I felt blessed that we weren't at home at the time...although I was fairly convinced I wanted to move as soon as I could - more on that later...

The next few days after this incident my neighbors checked on me and my family quite a bit, and to fill me in on what they knew to have happened that night. An elderly lady who lived around the corner informed me that the shooting had began on her street and had proceeded to my street as the shooters were in hot pursuit (though according to all accounts no one got hit, or was murdered). My neighbor from across the street, in particular, kept urging me to attend the next Neighborhood Watch Meeting, this too made me quite reluctant. "Why bother" I thought, she urged and urged saying how the community needed to know what was going on, stand together etc. So I agreed to do so...

The Neighborhood Watch Meeting was held in the cafeteria at Horace Mann elementary school in East Oakland.  There was about twenty east Oakland residents, mostly elderly, in fact I was the only young person there, and the only young black male in attendance. Also in attendance was a woman from the Oakland city council (I can't remember her name) 2 beat OPD officers who patrol this area and 1 community relations OPD officer. My first impression was striking: When I first entered into the cafeteria the 2 OPD patrol officers looked at me crazy as if I matched a description, mean stares, and one even put his hand on his gun (no lie!) and kept an eye on me the whole time.  This was a bit unnerving as I had came to share my experience of violence not as the perpetrator of any violent act! The meeting began shortly after I arrived, mostly updates about street lights that have gone out and needed replacing, the city's plan to create cool and hip bus stops along East 14th (aka International Blvd), renovation efforts of a local community center etc. The moderator had been informed by my neighbor of what had happened at my house, and as such directed me to share my story. And I did. There were sighs and the usual politician response of community and bringing criminals to justice, by calling the police blah blah blah. Upon hearing this I had to point out that I felt that the police were pretty much useless in that the bullets left the gun, hit my house, and had we been in it we could have been seriously harmed let alone killed. The police certainly aren't arresting the social phenomenon that causes violence so how could they help? Awkward silence, of course this made the 2 menacing looking officers even more menacing but aint that life...

Plans were in the works to move, but as life goes things kept popping up, delaying our departure from a neighborhood I really felt close to...

A year later almost to the date, April 2012, I'm working at home in the afternoon (around 4pm) when I hear a loud gunshot. I recognized the sound right away as that of a gun. I get down for a minute waiting for another round or two but nothing but silence. I slowly crouch up and look out the window to see that one of my neighbors across the street had been shot in his side. While holding his todler daughter and clutching an area to the side of his body above his hip, he runs inside the house sets his daughter down, then runs back outside to wait for the ambulance, firefighter, police combo that has been seen too often in my hood. As the sirens in the distance gets closer he slowly lays down on the sidewalk - at this point I'm hoping that he isn't dieing. The help soon come and wisk him off to the hospital. Fortunately he didn't die -  I saw him 3 days later speaking to me in broken English I ask him how he's doing in my broken Spanish...his smile and thumbs up let me know he's thankful and good.

3 months after this incident me and my family moved out of the neighborhood. We're still in Oakland, I'm in love with this city, but hate the violence that has plagued this rich and fertile place. The folks I had/have for neighbors are hard working family folks. The story I've shared in this post is just one of a few crazy incidents that I've seen in my city. Unlike the common response to these things, and rather paradoxically I don't see this as a call for more cops, or disparage the character of the youth in this city (supposedly my neighbor was shot by someone no more than 15 years old trying to rob him, and only after my neighbor tried to chase him with his child in hand, did the youngsta decide to shoot him) not because people don't have choices, in general they do, but because I see these situations as dynamic and complex. Like what would this neighborhood look like if the weight of poverty were lifted, the unemployment rate was at least the national average vs 2x the national average (in black and brown communities it's always higher than the national average) drug addiction was treated as a medical need vs a criminal one etc etc The list could grow long, but the point is I bet this community would look differently, and still the violent actions of a few hurt and scar so many. I'm still in Oakland, rooting and supporting this city where I can, but in a much quieter and safer part. With just a little more peace.