A Solution: Oakland Youth and The Man With The Gun

Always in the aftermath, there are the ensuing posts on social media which I generally try to ignore, but trying to deal myself with the trauma and tragedy of being at a party that got shot up, and now, days later, watching all my friends fall to pieces and half my community succumb to a collective, crushing depression, I have to wonder: what happens now?

I’m aware that it’s always trendy to say things like, “We need to have a community meeting!” or “The poor youth of Oakland! Let’s support them!” or “More gun control!”

But I’ve noticed that the people who call for community meetings aren’t really a part of the community that was there that night. Having been there, and having seen the posts on Facebook, I have to wonder: why is a community that is separate from ours trying to have a meeting to discuss our community and our actions? I’ll be honest: I’ve seen a few white people who aren’t from here jumping on the bandwagon to do something about. While I understand that the urge to help is noble, there’s a part of me that has a sneaking suspicion that half these people posting about community meetings are just opportunists vying for attention and laying claim on the title of community organizer just because they see other people are hurting. Maybe I’m cynical, but if you’re coming out of the wood works now to support a community that you didn’t really care about before this, then what were you doing before? And why now? To be very cynical: if you weren’t at that party, it’s probably because you weren’t invited, and you weren’t invited because you aren’t a part of the community.

People want to talk about supporting the youth of Oakland, but just to make something clear: the people who were at that party and who suffered the most are not necessarily the youth of Oakland. Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but the people at that party were 18-25 year olds from places like Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Alameda and Richmond. Which isn’t to say that people have missed the mark; the youth of Oakland definitely need all the love and support they can get. But the people who were there came to the party because, on some level, this is the lifestyle they have chosen. There has always been a social contract between people not from Oakland and life in Oakland; we come here because we want to, and we know it’s dangerous. It has always been dangerous. Despite any recent socioeconomic changes, we have never known Oakland to be any other way. So when I hear people referring to me and my friends as the “youth of Oakland” it kinda makes me realize that the people referring to us in that way are just older than us and perhaps out of touch with what’s going on here because, fuck, I’m almost thirty and I was there. I’m definitely not the youth of Oakland.

As usual, it’s natural for people to want to address the issue of gun violence in Oakland. This, too, is an age old issue. However, people always look to issues on gun control after gun violence, but talking about gun control in Oakland takes a different color because here we have to deal with unregistered guns as opposed to legislating a way to prevent registered guns from getting into people’s hands. There is an entire culture in Oakland surrounding guns, and, well, it’s really easy to get an unregistered gun. (Not that I know whether the guns used Saturday night were registered or not, but it seems like a salient point seeing as this is a part of our culture.) I have to admit that the recent law that passed in California that requires registration for the purchase of bullets is probably one of the best measures to aid in a case like this. Even if a gun is unregistered, the bullets can be traced back to a person.

So, for all you gun control fanatics out there, what is a better solution in the face of unregistered hand guns? I have to admit, I don’t want to see people being punished for possessing unregistered hand guns any more than they already are. This is the thing about people who always call for more gun control laws or harsher punishments on gun offenders: having conversations with these people in the real world, I find that very few of them have ever handled a gun, much less tried to purchase one, gone to a shooting range, or fired one themselves. Let’s be honest about the cultural paradigm of guns: it’s possible to own a gun – registered or not – and never wind up killing someone. But until you go through the process of shooting or buying a gun (whether it’s at a gun store or illegally), you’re never going to get in touch with the level of desperation that comes from needing to have a gun. You’ll never be familiar with what it takes to fire a gun, the mentality behind the recklessness, how crazy it feels to carry a loaded, concealed weapon with you everywhere you go.

If you have no experience with guns, then the lack of experience with the mentality that goes behind guns and gun ownership is going to lead to misinformed decisions. Having been in the Oakland party scene for a long time now, I know that at most of the parties I go to, there is probably someone with a loaded gun. Sometimes these people are looking for fights, but most often there is a deep sense of insecurity that goes along with taking a loaded gun with you out to a social event. Ultimately, there is a sense of fear, and that fear is so overwhelming (although generally unaddressed) that it makes sense to a person to carry a gun into a crowded room in order to feel safe. At which point you have to wonder: what is this person doing with his life that this is the only way to feel safe out in the world? Answer: definitely not sitting around on social media talking about community and tragedy. Having known the man at the bar with a loaded gun in his pants, I can attest to the fact that the things he is doing with his life are problems that need to be addressed way before we even begin a conversation about guns.

In lieu of trying to find constructive solutions for the people in my community, there are a few things I would like to ask for from the people who are posting on social media. First off, please stop trying to coopt our pain. It’s fucking insulting. If you want to help out, then you should reach out to the people who were there, who saw it happen, who are probably sitting in a room somewhere crying or drinking or trying to forget. You should stop posting on social media just so you can get likes and comments and pity, and instead show up and talk to the people who were there and who were involved. Not just today, but also next week. Also a month from now. A year from now. If you care, be a real friend. Just to be there, and just to talk. To bring flowers, or offer resources. To be a shoulder to cry on and not a social media account. If you can’t show up, then you can donate money. If you can’t donate money, then help work on a project that supports the people who are coping with this tragedy. Here are a few products and resources I would like to see in my community (but probably won’t):

  • Improved mental health services In the short term, I think it’s really important that we reach out to the people who were there, who knew the people who died, who witnessed the tragedy, who are now afraid and mourning. Offering free grief counselling and trauma counselling will help this community to heal faster. Beyond that, having immediate access to free grief counselling should be standard in this city because, hate to admit it, these things happen all the time.
  • Preventative mental health services I remember reading this Vice Article on the advent of PTSD in Oakland youth, and it seems that setting up readily available, free counselling for people throughout the Bay Area is much needed because, god damn, we have all seen some crazy stuff.
  • More resources to help create a self sustaining arts community We need the help of people who can help us support ourselves in our own spaces that are safe as we continue to try to put on events and be an artistic community. A lot of respect to East Bay Express for being so supportive of the local art community. But we are suffering in the face of gentrification, constantly being pushed out of the spaces that we want to claim as our own. Jobs and opportunities are constantly going to people who aren’t from here, and we can barely afford to live in a city that is at the same time slowly killing us. The more that we have the means to support ourselves the stronger this community will be. Sometimes that support is financial. Sometimes that support is older generations reaching out to young people and hooking us up with gigs and press and advice.
  • Equitable job opportunities If we all had the means to make enough money to live comfortably and safely in our homes, then it would be easier for us to bring in our friends who are more inclined to violent, criminal modes of income back from the fray. But it’s frustrating to look for a job where white people who aren’t from here, or people who aren’t from here but had the means with which to get a college education are always hired first. It’s hard to walk into a job on the first day of work and know you’re a diversity hire, and know that not fitting in is probably what’s going to get you fired. All this fighting hurts our self esteem, so if you have a normal job, you need to put us on to get us in and get us good jobs.
  • Better education We should give our teachers raises. Our classrooms should have more resources. The children in our school system should have the opportunity to learn from trained professionals who know how to deal with psychological dysfunction and trauma. School is hard, and often times school can be another nexus of rejection for youth who don’t excel academically. Our schools need to be havens that accommodate all youth from all walks of life so that they can build a fundamental sense of self esteem so that later in life they can ask for better jobs and more money and help rather than falling into the trap of a life where carrying a gun is the most logical way to feel good about walking around in the world.
  • Black Lives Matter More of this. I shouldn’t even have to say it.
  • Fuck The Police Also a reminder, policing and any sort of policing system put in place is Draconian and not of the people, not by the people, and not for the people. But, in lieu of this, for those who were not lucky enough to escape the wrath and the trap of the police: we still have to fight for prisoners’ rights.

As someone in this community who doesn’t have the means to accomplish all of this, consider this my cry for help. Anything less than this will most likely result in the disbandment of a part of my community in the name of fear and anxiety. If we don’t do this now, we’ll lose something beautiful, and it will be our fault alone. Please help us.

Here is a link to Terrence’s memorial campaign fund.