Sick Of Death, Oakland Lives On

74th and Macarthur Streets in Oakland, Calif.

The corner on which four police officers were shot on March 21. Nate Hadden/Courtesy of Youth Radio hide caption

itoggle caption Nate Hadden/Courtesy of Youth Radio
King Anyi-Howell

King Anyi Howell is 25-year-old journalist and comedian, who's from Oakland, California and based in Los Angeles. Ayesha Walker hide caption

itoggle caption Ayesha Walker

My mother told me that even though she misses me, she's glad I'm away. I moved to Los Angeles from Oakland seven months ago, and ever since I left, my home city has been experiencing one tragedy after the next.

First, the economy crashed and while our nation was coming to terms with being in a recession, my thoughts were with those in Oakland who have always been struggling.

Then on New Year's Day, 22-year-old Oscar Grant III was shot in the back by a BART transit policeman ... while lying face down in front of a crowd of people. Bystander videos of the murder inspired rioting and protests against police brutality, unhealing a wound within the community that's been oozing for decades. Then, last weekend before the city could catch its breath, a wanted parolee, killed four Oakland Police officers. Can Oakland win for losing? Because winning isn't its strong suit.

Growing up as a black man in that city, I always felt vulnerable to thugs like police killer Lovelle Mixon, and to police officers like former transit cop Johannes Mehserle. Mixon preyed on Oakland residents before becoming a cop killer. He's been linked to carjacking, armed robbery, murder, and even the rape of a 12-year-old girl. All that before he killed four officers sworn to serve and protect. And Johannes Mehserle was one of those serve and protect guys who unprovoked, shot an unarmed black man. For me, the tension of being caught between such forces always caused uneasiness in my stomach, even just walking down the street.

Thugs act like it's like the wild wild west, and make regular people vulnerable to random violence. I'm lucky, the worst that's happened to me is being mugged on the street when I was 15. Three guys surrounded me and took my Jordans. I had to walk the rest of the way to my dad's house in my socks, and once I got there I didn't want to leave because I felt unsafe. I'm fully aware that what happened to me, is tame compared to the violence that some experience at the hands of thugs who celebrate our high murder rate like winning the Stanley Cup.

I cannot sympathize with Lovelle Mixon and I certainly wouldn't label him a "hero" or a martyr like some activist groups have. But before all the details filtered out about his long history of thuggery, my first instinct was to empathize with him as someone trying to turn his life around. He was pulled over for what police called a "routine traffic stop," and I too have been pulled over for the same reason, except most people I know call it DWB, short for driving while black.

I've even been pulled over on foot more times than I can count, for "fitting the description" of a suspect. Once I was walking down the street after work when an officer greeted me this way: "Are you on parole or probation or carrying any concealed weapons?" He made me feel less than human, and definitely less than American.

The most important victim in all of this is Oakland itself. Outsiders, trying to understand what's happening are writing the city off as a place not worth saving. I read message boards calling my city a "hell hole" and "wasteland."

With things as bad as they are right now, it's a good time for a divided Oakland to begin healing itself from the inside. We could start by acknowledging the things that most Oaklanders can agree on — like the fact that nearly everyone in the city is sick to death — of death.

King Anyi Howell is 25-year-old journalist and comedian, who's from Oakland, Calif., and based in Los Angeles.

Related NPR Stories

Web Resources



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.