By Alex Emslie
City officials are reaching out to Oakland youth in an effort to fully implement Operation Ceasefire, which was adopted last year as the police department’s violent crime reduction strategy but is only now getting a dedicated team of officers.
The move comes after the shooting deaths Wednesday of 1½-year-old Drew Jackson and his father, Andrew Thomas, in East Oakland.
Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Jean Quan and interim Police Chief Sean Whent talked violence prevention with young Oakland residents. They announced a partnership with community development and leadership program Youth Uprising aimed at getting youth to invest in their own public safety.
“The shooting of Andrew and his son, Drew, is another example that no one is coming to East Oakland to save us,” said Olis Simmons, founding CEO of Youth Uprising. “The solution to violence has to be from the young people who live here that are not only the victims but, sadly, often the perpetrators of violence.”
Operation Ceasefire is a multipronged approach to reducing gun and street violence developed in Boston in the mid-90s. Under Ceasefire, police put gang members and groups they suspect of violence on notice that they’re cracking down on shootings, simultaneously offering connections to city services.
Oakland has already hosted two of these meetings, Quan said, and is working on setting up a third.
“We plan to continue with Ceasefire until we’ve called in the top two and three hundred most violent people in the city,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in one round.”
Whent said a police academy class that recently graduated from field training will free up enough officers to create a full-time Ceasefire enforcement team. Responsibility was previously spread among officers who coordinated the effort part time while also performing other duties, Whent said.
A practice called street-based conflict mediation is another component of the program that’s shown recent success in Baltimore. Street mediators, who are sometimes former gang members, try to diffuse tension before it erupts into violence. They’re sometimes called violence interrupters because they try to break the cycle of shootings and retaliations that can spike a city’s homicide rate.
Quan and Whent said much of the violence in Oakland is retaliatory. Whent said Wednesday morning’s shooting was believed to be a targeted killing, but he did not confirm speculation that an earlier homicide could be related.
Simmons says youth often know when tension is headed for gunshots, and they can help diffuse the violence.
“We’re not asking the young people after a crime has been committed to tell,” she said. “We’re asking the young people before a crime has been committed to be a part of the solution.”
Jamani Williams said he and other young Oakland residents are committed to building a better community.
“Let’s have it grow and continue to be something stronger,” he said. “More recreation centers, more college career counselors and coaches, and more job opportunities and less of the negative.”