In the past five years Oakland, a town that was once a mainstay on lists of America’s most dangerous cities, has earned national attention for reducing gun violence. On Friday, members of the Golden State Warriors joined with politicians and local leaders to raise awareness of a success story that they hope can be duplicated across the United States.
During the short walk from the East Oakland Youth Development Center to Allen Temple Baptist Church, chants of “I believe that we will win” and “Black Lives Matter” emitted from a chorus that grew every few steps. Dozens of residents and gun violence prevention advocates were led by local clergy, organizers and the Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, and team member Klay Thompson.
“This goes way beyond politics, this is about humanity,” Kerr said during a press conference after the march.
“I get some pushback but I really don’t care because it’s too important and too many people are affected,” he continued.
Demonstrations such as these usually happen at night, but Friday’s walk took place during the late afternoon. Known as “peace walks”, the march was a special edition of a well-known violence reduction strategy. These marches are a staple of Operation Ceasefire, a national violence reduction effort that targets the small number of people who are most likely to be victims and/or perpetrators of gun violence.
Before the peace walk members of the Golden State Warriors – including Kerr and the players Steph Curry and Klay Thompson – joined the former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot during a 2011 assassination attempt in Arizona, as well as Pastor Michael McBride, the national director of the Live Free Campaign, and Oakland officials and gun violence prevention organizers for a private meeting to review Oakland’s successes in violence reduction.
The multipart event was intended to amplify the groundbreaking work being done in Oakland, where between 2007 and 2017 Oakland’s gun homicide rate dropped by 44%, according to a Guardian analysis. Many credit collaborations between the local community and faith-based violence prevention strategies, and law enforcement for this decline. This reduction has also been praised by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, named after the congresswoman who has become one of the country’s most prominent gun control advocates.
Following the march Coach Kerr, who’s been outspoken on federal inaction on gun control, joined Oakland’s violence reduction leaders for a town hall in an East Oakland church. Panelists continued to praise the reduction in gun violence and reflected on the work that still needs to be done.
“As someone who’s been directly impacted by gun violence, it’s great to see the collaboration of people, like victims and perpetrators of violence, police, and the mayor, who in the past wouldn’t have collaborated,” said Kerr, whose father was shot and killed in Beirut in the 1980s.
“It’s important to keep reminding ourselves that collaboration is the silver bullet,” Pastor McBride said.
“We can move from 70 to 30 to 10 homicides by scaling up the work and shifting our investments into jobs, housing and healing services.”
“Everyone put their heads together and figured out the root of the problem,” Kerr continued.
Even as Oakland’s reduction efforts have earned national attention, panelists acknowledged that gun deaths and other violent crime have not been completely eradicated and continue to disproportionately harm low-income black and brown communities.
“While we celebrate this data, to the mother who lost a child, the data doesn’t mean much,” said Guillermo Cespedes, the chief of the city of Oakland Department of Violence Prevention, during the town hall. “We have way too many homicides that have not been resolved. People are in pain because they don’t know what happened to their children.”
Reflecting on the work that the community has done, Pastor McBride said that getting local financial support for things like counseling and job training has been a key piece of Oakland’s success. Now, he hopes that this investment will come from the federal level so that other cities who are struggling with gun violence will follow suit.
“People did not believe that the young people in Oakland’s lives were worth saving with a sustained commitment,” McBride said. “We now have the infrastructure to scale up the work.
“Now it’s up to us to keep investing in it and pushing.”
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