by Pastor Jim Hopkins
It is with sadness that I write about another vigil on Mandana Green. In mid-July our neighborhood gathered at the “Know Justice, Know Peace Memorial” after it had been vandalized. We gathered in order to rededicate it, as well as ourselves, to its call for justice.
On August 10th we came together to mourn the murder of Darius Brazell and to recommit ourselves to ending the scourge of gun violence in our city. Darius, a fifty-five-year-old handyman, was sitting at the bus stop across the street from the Chevron station on Saturday evening August 8th when, at 5:56, he was shot and killed. A suspected assailant was seen running from the scene.
The most recent vigil was important for several reasons. Every human life is significant. In theological language, each and every one of us is created in the image of God, imbued with breath, love, and eternal significance. As such, every death deprives the human family of a valued member.
An act of violence so close to home, a murder at a familiar bus stop, a homicide so near a park where children play, a killing in front of a memorial to those who have been killed shocks us. How hardened, how heartless we have become if it does not.
Ceasefire, an evidence-based community program has been effective in reducing the number of homicides and acts of gun violence in Oakland. This summer we have witnessed a disturbing increase in both. There is a need for the expanded implementation of this successful program. It requires continued public support.
One of the important components of Ceasefire are gatherings known as call-ins. Since 2013, Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church has hosted the call-ins. At the call-ins clergy, police, representatives of the District Attorney and the Department of Justice, community leaders, service providers, employers, and young men who have been identified as possible participants in the commission of acts of violence gather around a rectangle of tables in the church hall.
After I give a brief welcome, The Reverend Dr. George Cummings, Pastor of Imani Community Church and Executive Director of Faith in Action East Bay, will say something like this:
Young brothers, our society has failed you. We spend more money building prisons to hold you than we do funding your schools. You are far more likely to die from gun violence than any segment of our society. Homicide is the leading cause of death for young men of color aged 18-25. If you have been shot once, you are likely to be shot again. If you have been to prison, the likelihood of you being shot increases greatly. This matters to me, it matters to the people gathered in this room, and we hope it matters to you, but it seems not to matter to the majority of the people in the United States. To them you are often portrayed as nothing more than a fear-inducing inconvenience.
As the presentations continue the young men are urged to put down their guns and come back into society. They are asked to avail themselves of life-coaching, education, recovery, and job-training opportunities. They are assured that if they will take a step toward the community, the community will take a step toward them. In the eight years of Ceasefire almost 400 young men have been invited to the table. Less than 20% of them have had any subsequent engagement with law enforcement.
As part of the presentation on reducing gun violence during the Democratic Party’s National Convention, Deandra Dycus, the mother of a thirteen-year-old son left a non-verbal quadriplegic by a gunshot wound, said, “Too many families know the damage a bullet can do.” Her words ring true all over the United States, all over Oakland, and in our neighborhood. We must commit ourselves to changing this.
Pastor Jim Hopkins is in his thirty-second year as the Senior Pastor at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church. He is the Co-chair of the Board of Directors of Faith in Action East Bay, Vice-president of the Interfaith Council of Alameda County, and President of the Lakeshore Avenue Business Improvement District Board. He is past Chair of the Board of the American Baptist Seminary of the West.