It is a problem that appears without a solution. The number of murders in Oakland, which University of California criminal justice professor Franklin Zimring says are lower now than they were in the 90s and early 2000s, is still unacceptably high. Plagued by a rising crime rate since the 1960s, Oakland has been rated by Forbes Magazine as the third most violent city in the United States thus far in 2013. In contrast, the real estate business website, NeighborhoodScout, ranks Oakland as the 13th most violent city (with populations of 25,000 or more) in its poll of 100 of the most dangerous cities in America.
The rankings may vary according to the factors taken into consideration such as population size, local economy and housing, but Oakland still has an alarming high rate of violent crime. Urban poverty has been associated with a high crime rates across the country as the loss of jobs and the slow turnaround of the recession has led to some to some desperate and violent solutions to the loss of income, According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, Oakland’s residents are less prosperous than those living in San Francisco and San Jose, with 20% of the population (most of whom reside in the “flatlands” of West and East Oakland) living below the federal poverty line.
However, the recent upturn in the crime rate seems to be puzzling to government officials like Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, who stated in the previously cited Wall Street Journal article that, “We have a large number of people that are involved in personal conflicts that are causing a lot of violence—shootings, murders and robberies,”, which creates difficulties for those who are seeking to decrease the crime rate. How does any government agency or, for that matter, non-profit organizations, stop personal arguments and vendettas that end in bloodshed? Resolutions to complex such emotional and social issues are not easily solved by governmental policies or even the efforts of organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty.
There are, however, cases of violent deaths that do not involve “personal conflicts” and have captured the attention of the national media and the Occupy movement, most notably, the shootings of Oscar Grant by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer Johannes Mehserle and Alan Blueford by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso. Both incidents were very controversial, creating a swarm of mass protests and re-igniting long standing tensions between the community and those sworn to protect them.
However, many homicides remain unsolved. Witnesses, perhaps fearing retaliation, are reluctant to come forward with information while the perpetrators seemingly vanish into the community undetected. This appears to be the case in the shooting death of a 21 year old Laney College student and mother of a four year old son, Donitra Henderson. The young lady was at the corner of 54th Street and Shattuck Avenue in North Oakland with her son when she was fatally shot. Frank Somerville, a reporter with KTVU 2 News, has written passionately about her murder on his Facebook account, and posted this after he attended Ms. Henderson’s funeral on May 2, 2013:
Her little boy was not there.
He still doesn’t know that his mommy is dead.
He thinks she hurt her knees and that’s why she fell to the ground.
The service was heartbreaking.
But besides all the tears, there was also an overwhelming feeling from everyone that all this killing has got to stop. That NO ONE is winning.
I hope the killer knows how much heartache he has caused.
In the book, Paris Talks, a collection of talks given Abdu’l-Baha’s during His visit to France in 1912, He outlined some of Baha’u’llah’s eleven principles for mankind’s spiritual advancement for the people gathered to hear him speak. The Seventh Principle is titled “Equality of Men” in which He explained to His audience, explained how crime will be eliminated if this principle is followed:
The Laws of God are not imposition of will, or of power, or pleasure, but the resolutions of truth, reason and justice.’
All men are equal before the law, which must reign absolutely.
The object of punishment is not vengeance, but the prevention of crime.
Kings must rule with wisdom and justice; prince, peer and peasant alike have equal rights to just treatment, there must be no favour shown to individuals. A judge must be no ‘respecter of persons’, but administer the law with strict impartiality in every case brought before him.
If a person commit a crime against you, you have not the right to forgive him; but the law must punish him in order to prevent a repetition of that same crime by others, as the pain of the individual is unimportant beside the general welfare of the people.
When perfect justice reigns in every country of the Eastern and Western World, then will the earth become a place of beauty. The dignity and equality of every servant of God will be acknowledged; the ideal of the solidarity of the human race, the true brotherhood of man, will be realized; and the glorious light of the Sun of Truth will illumine the souls of all men.
Members of the Oakland Community of Baha’is has consulted with the Local Spiritual Assembly, and together they have decided to host a series of devotions (prayers) dedicated to help end the cycle violence in Oakland, and to call upon Divine Assistance as a source of healing for the families and friends suffering from the loss of those whose lives have been so callously ended. These devotional meetings are held at the Oakland Baha’i Center, 1434 35th Avenue, on the second Sunday of each month, beginning at 9:30 a.m. All are invited to attend. For more information, call the Center at (510) 534-3883 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org .