Officer Tuan Le

The more things (don’t) change

By Ken Katz

On Wednesday, January 10, Officer Tuan Le was laid to rest after a memorial service at Three Crosses Church in Castro Valley. The service was broadcast live and videotaped. As an indication of the impact his tragic death has had on people from all walks of life, 254,000 people have viewed it to date. Watching the live stream video that morning, I couldn’t help but recall a similar memorial at the Coliseum in 2009 — as is likely the case for anyone who resided in Oakland at the time. This is what I had to say then in the March 25 emailed newsletter.

“Today’s newsletter is bordered in black in memory of the five lives that were tragically cut short this past Saturday. The murder of four Oakland police officers in the line of duty has torn families asunder and left a gaping hole in their hearts. It is an unbearable pain shared by their fellow officers, the Mayor, the City Council and people from all walks of life here and throughout the United States.

It may be difficult for us to similarly mourn for Lovelle Mixon, the young man responsible for this senseless mayhem — particularly since he has also been implicated in a drug-related murder and the rape of a 12-year-old girl. If we can’t mourn for Lovelle Mixon, we should at least mourn for all the other young people, products of dysfunctional families and a dysfunctional society, who are battling rage and experiencing hopelessness. While we’d like to think of this as an isolated event, one image that sticks in my mind is generated by reports that a group of people surrounded the initial murder scene taunting police.

What is impossible to fathom is how all this can transpire just over six miles from the park that inspired and anchors this newsletter. It is the venue for a farmers’ market each Saturday that seems worlds apart. The music, the prepared foods, the produce vendors, the artists and craftspeople, and most importantly, the market patrons all reflect the cultural and racial diversity in which Oakland takes such pride. If we have differences, on Saturdays we put them aside.

In the best of all worlds, we should be able to transport that magic to all those neighborhoods where, for some, violence and despair are a fact of life or alternatively, bring the afflicted here. Unfortunately, this is not the best of all worlds and solutions are invariably long-term and far too complex. For the present, a healing process has begun…”

What I have to say now is that mostly I’m at a loss for words. This was different! Probably due to the fact that I knew Tuan Le personally, if only very slightly. We talked briefly at the November Grand Lake Neighbors meeting and six weeks later, he was gone. So abruptly and at so young an age.

The other reason I’m at a loss for words is that I can’t help thinking about what I wrote 15 years ago. Have lives since improved? Are families and society just as dysfunctional … or maybe more? As for OPD’s status in the community, have relations improved? The Riders are gone and we keep seeing more and more officers who look like the Oakland residents they’re sworn to serve.  To what extent has that made a difference? Officer Le’s murder is especially tragic given that, as a Resource Officer, community outreach is what he did best. What we can do in his honor is help foster a world that’s safer and more just.