A History of Violence

I was surprised this morning when link jumping through the Internet to come across an article entitled A History of Violence in the East Bay Express about Trevor Latham, a long time friend, founder of the East Bay Rats and owner of the Ruby Room and Radio. The first paragraph references his destruction of a bus stop at 24th and Telegraph, across the street from what was then Mama Buzz. The article reads

A friend of Latham’s had been mugged there, and her companion had been hit on the head with a bottle, landing her in the hospital with a scalp full of surgical staples. “Whatever he’d hoped to do to the mugger he did to [the bus stop],” writes Abramovich. That passage is one of several in which Latham plays the avenging role in an area where law enforcement is conspicuously absent.

The friend who had been mugged was me. This was in August of 2011.

This was definitely an interesting time in my life; I was unemployed, I was partying in Oakland, and on that particular night had been walking to my friend’s house when my companion and I were jumped. It was a traumatic experience, and, yes, I wound up going to the hospital to get fourteen staples in my head.

But rather than focus on the trauma and the circumstances, what’s most interesting to point out is that Oakland was vastly different in 2011. The person who jumped me was associated with the crack heads and crack dealers who posted up at the bus shelter across the street from Mama Buzz and right outside my friend’s house. The people who worked and kicked it at Mama Buzz were fairly tight knit; we all knew each other because this was back in a time during Oakland where everybody knew each other, one way or another. This was also in a time in Oakland before the word gentrification had burned a place on everyone’s mind and tongue. New people were moving into Oakland, but the core community of Oakland artists was still vibrant. Social outliers were few and far between, and their presence was generally accepted in Oakland at the time.

After I got mugged, Trevor and his friends tore down the bus stop where the crack heads would kick it. We joke now that this was the first step of gentrification in that neighborhood; ousting the local drug dealers is a common theme of gentrification, but I rue that comparison. There was then (as there is now) a mutual understanding, especially on that block: we leave you alone if you leave us alone. Breaking that social contract was what lead to a community action that was intended to ensure the safety of those who were a part of that community. It was an action by that community in reaction to violence. This was for us. Even if in some way everyone else who wasn’t here at the time eventually benefited from it.

Unfortunately, in the context of what has transpired in Oakland on a social and economic level, that’s not what it feels like now. Mama Buzz is gone, having been replaced by Beeryland which (the last time I checked) is a mecca for new Oakland folks. Ruby Room and Radio are no longer two of the five local bars in Oakland, although they are still pretty packed (albeit with a notably less interesting and rowdy crowd now than five years ago).

Macrocosmic social comparisons aside, on a personal level I am deeply grateful for what Trevor did for me. As a woman, people want to say things like, “You were drunk!” or “You were dressed like a slut!” and say I got what I deserved. But Trevor didn’t ask questions because violence against people in our community is unacceptable, and no one else was going to do anything about it. As a woman in this community, Trevor’s actions made me feel like I belong here, and that’s what I want to extend to other women here: someone is looking out for you. This is an incredibly painful memory, but Trevor helped me to not feel afraid because I knew that my community cared for me. Someone like me doesn’t get that all the time, not given my track record and my social standing. So while it was unsettling to read about this crazy thing that happened to me in the paper in this morning, I want to take this chance to reiterate my gratitude to Trevor for standing up for me in a time where that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Heaven knows the police weren’t going to do anything, but fuck the police. This is about Oakland sticking up for itself and for each other. While it feels like that Oakland has dwindled, it certainly isn’t gone, so we should be celebrating the people who still hold onto that ethos. I wouldn’t be who I am today if he hadn’t stood up for me.