Monday, March 23, 2009

Changing Priorities

On Saturday afternoon, driving home from a victorious but bone-chilling softball game in Alameda with my eleven year old daughter, we stopped in the Dimond District of Oakland at our favorite bakery, La Farine. We used to live just over the border from this neighborhood, which is centered around MacArthur Avenue, and had a love/hate relationship with it. So much retail potential, so marginally dangerous, with lots of crap blowing around on the streets and shootings/thefts that you read about the next day in the paper. But the last few years have been good to the Dimond, with La Farine and Peets moving in, a great new organic supermarket, and a funky sushi bar.

We were just pulling away with our chocolatinas and sourdough bread when we heard the scream of police sirens - sounded like hundreds of them. The cop cars were all blazing south down 580, which is just a few hundred yards away, and I said to my kid, "Let's just get home."

By now we all know that the police response was for the shooting of two Oakland cops at a routine traffic stop that was taking place about 2 miles away, and that two SWAT team cops were killed by the same shooter a couple of hours later. It was the worst violence against police in the state in 40 years, and Oakland is in a state of shock. How can a city with so much going for it process yet another incident that garners headlines around the country for what a pit of despair Oakland can be?

My minister lives in East Oakland, about 2 blocks from the apartment where the second shooting took place. He gave the most beautiful sermon yesterday, somehow turning the hours he spent on lockdown in his home while his neighborhood was crawling with OPD officers into a reflection about the opportunity that this tragic shooting brings to us. "You can ask God to take violence away, but that's not how God works," he said. "It's a call for us to change priorities, to hold up the problem and engage in it and figure out what we ourselves can do to prevent it from happening again." I was suddenly comforted by the knowledge that Beyond Emancipation, the program to which my latest Giving Circle collection will be directed, also provides assistance to young parolees, people like the shooter in this incident. It's a start, but I'm going to see if there are ways that I can do more via B:E to help.

Then this morning FaceBook made me cry. I joined a group to protest the closing of the Parkway Speakeasy theater, and there was a rally yesterday. The group leader sent a message which said, in part:
Today's tribute to the Parkway Speakeasy was a huge success. To sum it up to one word- Love.

And yet, today was a sad day for Oakland. Four police officers lost their lives Saturday. It was the deadliest police shooting in the history of the city. The man who shot them has died as well. We said farewell to an old friend, The Parkway Speakeasy Theater. Our city is hurting, our communities are hurting, and our people are hurting. And amidst all of this I watched hundreds upon hundreds of people gather together today in Oakland, and they laughed, and hugged, and introduced themselves to one another. I watched a community that was offered a choice between turning its back to its hardships and facing them with both feet forward choose to say out loud- We Love Oakland. I witnessed the birth of a new community.

We are offered this choice every day. All of us. Not just those of us in the East Lake Community or in Oakland but those of us in the bay area and California and all over the country. What sets us apart, what tears us apart; that is not what we are about in this community. We are about what brings us together. And so this is bigger than a movie theater though we will fight to bring it back. It's bigger than one block, and it is bigger than each of us as individuals. But it is with each of us that the choice begins.
Years ago, when I first moved to Oakland, I was exiting the freeway at Grand Ave. I came to a stop behind a car and when I read the bumper sticker on that car a sense of relief came over me. I was reminded of it today and the reason why I still believe in what it said-

I won't give up if you don't.

So that's the thought for the day.

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