Oakland leaders are calling on Alameda County to declare gun violence a public well being emergency

Black and brown community leaders are calling on Alameda County to officially declare gun violence a public health emergency and allocate $ 100 million in newly available federal pandemic aid to help communities directly affected by gun violence.

“Emergency!” a crowd of about three dozen residents and activists sang repeatedly in the Lake Merritt Amphitheater Thursday morning. The leaders in attendance represented local organizations such as LIVE FREE, Roots Community Health Center, Fund Peace, Faith In Action East Bay, and Californians for Safety and Justice.

Last Saturday, Lake Merritt was the site of the sixth mass shooting in Oakland so far this year, according to the Bay Area News Group, which used the definition of four or more gunshot victims. A gunman killed 22-year-old Dashawn Rhodes in a crowd of thousands at a June 10 celebration just before 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Seven other people were injured. The police have not yet arrested the shooters responsible.

“We are in Armageddon. My city is on fire, ”said Mistah FAB, three-time platinum artist and songwriter and founder of Dope Era Apparel.

Speakers called for Alameda County officials to declare gun violence a state of emergency, just as they did with the coronavirus and HIV / AIDS.

Dr. Noha M. Aboelata, CEO of the Roots Community Health Center, which provides medical and behavioral health care and other services to those affected by systemic inequality and poverty, said gun violence affects not just the immediate victims, but generations of people who have to carry it the trauma with them. “Things are getting worse and worse, there is no end in sight,” she said.

Dr. Noha Aboelata, Founder and CEO, Roots Community Health Center. Photo credit: Amir Aziz

The groups are calling on the county to invest nearly $ 100 million of the $ 324 million in pandemic relief allocated to Alameda County from the American federal bailout plan for black and brown communities. Specifically, they want funds to support the Black Community Recovery Plan created by the African American Response Circle, a group established to combat the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on people of color. Their plan is to invest in housing, economic self-sufficiency, and mental and physical health in communities affected by gun violence.

This includes giving 500 individuals or families $ 1,000 monthly rental subsidies for a year, up to $ 50,000 for 250 individuals or families for down payments on real estate, and $ 8 million for developing more affordable homes. The largest investment would be $ 15.75 million to expand Oakland’s Basic Income Pilot to donate $ 750 a month to 1,000 families in Oakland and 750 families in Hayward and unincorporated areas of Alameda County.

In a June 7 letter to the Alameda County Board of Directors, Greg Hodge of the Brotherhood of Elders Network – a cross-generational network of African men who support black boys and young men and the group that founded the African American Response Circle – said her recovery plan addresses many of the structural inequalities highlighted during the pandemic.

The group says the county has not yet responded to their letter with these inquiries.

“How come we have to beg Alameda County to use the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been set aside for healing our community as if they need the money but the people of Alameda County don’t?” Said Rev Michael McBride, senior pastor at The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley.

Organizer and Pastor Michael McBride speaks to the crowd at the Lake Merritt public health crisis press conference. Photo credit: Amir Aziz

The Black Community Recovery Plan shares some similarities with President Joe Biden’s new strategy to combat gun violence nationwide, such as: B. Investing in community violence and expanding crime reduction programs. According to senior White House officials, homicides rose 24% nationwide in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.

In Oakland, shootings, injuries and deaths, increased 75% year over year, according to the Oakland Police Department. As The Oaklandside previously reported, the shootings were almost as deadly as COVID-19 was last year.

But the plan that local colored people put forward Thursday differs from Biden’s when it comes to the police’s role in repairing damage done to black and brown communities. Biden’s plan would give police more money, while the Black Community Recovery Plan would not give police extra money for more community-based efforts.

At the same time the groups were holding their press conference at Lake Merritt, the city council was debating how much to spend on the Oakland Police Department over the city’s next two-year budget cycle. Mayor Libby Schaaf and some council members are in favor of an increase in the police budget, while Council President Nikki Bas and others want to cut police funds in order to invest in violence prevention and non-police solutions.

Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said because the violence and unaddressed trauma among black Americans “is literally killing our people” the United States can no longer simply rely on incarceration and police to deter crime.

“People don’t understand: the police don’t prevent crime, they react to crime,” she said, adding that it is important to break systems that encourage people to resort to violent crime. “If we don’t react in a way that allows us to pass the resources directly on to the people who have a relationship with the local people, things will go on.”

Oakland artist Mistah FAB speaks to the crowd at the Lake Merritt public health crisis press conference. Photo credit: Amir Aziz

Local artist Mistah FAB said most people don’t understand the childhood trauma of violence that people carry as adults.

“In our communities where we come from, we shy away from admitting that we have these problems. We don’t admit that we have mental health problems, ”he said. “We’re not admitting that losing 10 friends in a year can lead to traumatic syndromes in your mental state.”

Activists want federal funds into the hands of those in the community who could begin addressing underlying issues before they become bigger problems. Just like with COVID-19, declaring an emergency in Alameda County would remove red tape so money can be released faster. Philadelphia passed a similar declaration of gun violence, but the mayor refused to sign the order.

The Alameda County Health Care Services Agency is the department that designs health emergencies that are then approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. In a statement to The Oaklandside, Jerri Applegate Randrup, a health agency spokesman, thanked community leaders for raising “this issue of life and death.”

According to Applegate Randrup, many programs and services offered by the county health department focus on building resilience and wellbeing, including behavioral health services, home visits by public health nurses, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Paternity programs, etc, as well as youth programs that promote safety, health and belonging in the school environment.

“As with other complex health issues, there is more work to be done if we want all residents to lead safe and healthy lives,” said Applegate Randrup. “We look forward to working with local leaders, community organizations and residents to identify and address the main drivers of violence in our communities.”

Daryle Allums of Adamika Village and Oakland Frontline Healers speaks to the crowd at the press conference on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Photo credit: Amir Aziz

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who represented Oakland in the California State Assembly ahead of his new role, released a statement Thursday calling for the nationwide implementation of programs such as Operation Peacekeeper and Operation Ceasefire that have helped reduce gun violence in communities how Stockton directly reduce community funding in high crime areas.

“Community-based strategies, such as those implemented at Stockton, prevent gun violence by providing critical support and resources to people on the front lines before tragedy strikes,” said Bonta.

For those who gathered at Lake Merritt Thursday morning, tackling the gun violence epidemic means getting to the bottom of the problem before it can spread any further. And money to fund these efforts cannot come quickly enough.

“Thoughts and prayers are great, but we need resources,” said Hodge. “We don’t ask. We demand.”

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