Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Violence & Deaths

Stop The Violence Now

A Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, starting at 5:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will decide a question of urgent priority. The question is whether to establish a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Or whether to accept Mayor Libby Schaaf‘s goal to reduce violent crime by a mere 10% using the same old failed methods. A coalition of community groups along with Councilmembers Lynette McElhaney, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan are calling for people to show up at the Oakland City Council meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you should contact Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks.

Why This, Why Now?

It’s 1999.  I’m standing in front of City Hall with my two young grandsons. Both of them are still in elementary school. We are part of the Acts Full Gospel Church‘s weekly rallies against gun violence in Oakland. The faith community wants the killings in Oakland to stop. We want City Hall to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

In 2001-2002, there is a rash of killings of young Black men in a part of Oakland known as “Ghost Town.” I sue the City on behalf of the family of 21-year-old Chance Grundy. A man murdered Chance because Chance witnessed a murder and cooperated with the police. The police let it be known that Chance was a cooperating witness. The murderer let it be known that he wanted Chance to “sleep with the fishes.” We lose the case. It turns out that (in real life, not like in the movies) the police have no duty to protect witnesses even when they know the witness is in danger.

Fast forward to January 11, 2013.  My friend Brenda Harbin‘s beloved grandson, Ken Harbin, Jr. is shot and killed. Four people are killed that day in Oakland. In the wake of Ken’s murder, we stand on street corners with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.). Once again, we ask the City to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

Every grandmother and mother’s nightmare, the loss of a beloved child.  A dream struck down and unfulfilled by a senseless act of violence.

America’s Gun Violence Problem

America’s “gun culture” is totally unique. We own way more guns privately than other countries, and we have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. Gun violence has long been deemed a public health crisis. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were from the United States.

In 2010, the number of homicides by guns in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. By comparison, there were only 173 gun homicides in Canada, 155 in the United Kingdom, 158 in Germany and 142 in France. Sweden had only 30 homicides by gun. Japan had only 11 people killed with guns.

Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig/ABC News

Currently, the U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm.  A young man here aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than his counterpart in the eight largest industrialized nations in the world. These include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and 33,636 deaths due to firearms in the U.S. That same year, guns were used to kill only about 50 people in the U.K. More people are killed with guns in the U.S. in a day (about 85) than in the U.K. in a year.

The Race-Based Rationale for Guns

Efforts to control guns in America have stumbled on the “right to bear arms” clause in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. What is often overlooked is the history of the Second Amendment. It was added as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep the slaves under control. The Supreme Court has interpreted and protected the Second Amendment regardless of the consequences.

In 2002, Michael Moore wrote, produced, directed and narrated Bowling for Columbine.  The film highlighted the racist underpinnings of the Second Amendment. However, the Film’s main point, that our violent crime rate is substantially higher than other nations, seems to have been lost over time.

Support the Department of Violence Prevention

Gun violence in Oakland has remained steady.  In 1999, the County Board of Supervisors passed a strong gun control law. The Board reacted to a “rash of gun-related violence” in Alameda County. The Board found that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic proportions in Alameda County.” That law was immediately attacked based on Supreme Court decisions. While the case was pending, the County retreated and announced that gun shows would be allowed on County property.

Our Mayor opposes the proposal to create a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). We need to support the goal to reduce homicides by 80% and achieve an 80% clearance rate within 3 years. The Mayor wants to increase funding for law enforcement,  but “budgets are statements of priorities.” Our priority has to be to reduce gun violence, domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

We need the DVP. Let’s make 2017 the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland. We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

Tragedy In My City

Tragedy In My City

I’m flying home from a conference and a brief visit with Mom. My mind is focused on renewing the Call to Action for a fair investigation of Bay Area police sex trafficking. My heart is focused on the City that I love. The City by the Bay that is the real heart of the Bay – Oakland.

ABCNews.com

Credit: ABCNews.com

We receive the first reports of a major fire late Friday night. Over the weekend, the horror grows. More than a 100 people trapped in a huge fire. It’s unbelievable. Our whole city is traumatized.

 

People begin to mark themselves “safe” on Facebook. Even though I am a thousand miles away, I feel compelled to mark myself “safe” as well. We are all beating as one heart. Across our city, we share the victims’ heartache. Our shock is amplified by the reports of young lives with so much promise for the future now gone.

We have all experienced tragedy at some point in our lives. Life is about challenges and overcoming challenges. Sometimes the challenge comes in the form of tragic death. Oakland is no stranger to tragic death. As we reel from the tragedy of the worst fire in our history, let us acknowledge that most of our community lives in a constant state of trauma. In 2016, we were all victims of 75 reported murders across our City.

Preventable Violence In 2016

Most of the 75 people murdered in Oakland in 2016 died by gun violence. Gun battles in the midst of a crowd of people happen way too often. Some people were stabbed and beaten like Karla Ramirez-Segoviano. Some, like Reggina Jefferies, were innocent bystanders killed in unexpected places or circumstances. Jefferies was at a vigil gathering for two teenager friends who drowned. She went to the vigil after doing a praise and worship dance in her church.

Reggina’s murder in the middle of the day in downtown Oakland was as shocking as the murder of Antonio Ramos in September 2015.  He was shot while painting on a community mural under the highway.

“Grief-stricken” families in Oakland are commonplace.  Street memorials of candles, flowers and pictures have become “normal.”  I know I am not the only one that becomes completely distraught when I accidentally walk upon a street memorial. I know that the young people in our City are not the only ones traumatized when they bury someone who died way too young. As we live and work in the midst of out-of-control violence, we are all living in trauma.

City Council President Lynette McElhaney recently called for the creation of an Office of Violence Prevention.  She cited the tragedy of young people, both victims and witnesses, who experience an unacceptable level of violence in our City. She is no stranger to the tragedy of gun violence in Oakland.  She lost her grandson to what she describes as “a preventable disease in our community.

As We End 2016 In Mourning

As we mourn the 36 young people who died in a tragic fire, let us also mourn the 75 people whose murder this year is equally as tragic for us, their families and those who loved them. Those who died in Oakland in tragedy this year need all of us to carry on – to live on – to love more and do more to repair our City. Let us remember that none of us is promised tomorrow. Yes, there is tragedy in death. But there is still joy in life.

Each of us – the living – have the opportunity – indeed the responsibility – to shine TODAY.  To love TODAY. To speak up TODAY. Remember that “life is not a dress rehearsal.” We must tell young people that if you are in school, don’t drop out and think you are coming back later. If you are in a gang, get out now. If you are in politics, don’t “wait your turn.” If you have a vision for your future, begin it now.

And don’t get stuck in grief. Time alone does not heal all wounds. Don’t try to bury your feelings or “be strong.” Get the help you need to heal. Look for therapists who are offering healing services throughout our City. Many therapists are volunteering grief recovery services in the wake of the fire. If you are able to help in our recovery from the Fire, reach out to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

In Oakland, as we close out 2016, I hope this holiday season will be a season of healing and love for all of us. As we enter 2017, let’s make it the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland.