Last Monday, Carlos Fernandez Nava, a three-year old child, was gunned down in the middle of the day. Carlitos, as he was known to family and friends, was with his mother on the way to a store on International Boulevard in Oakland. Drive-by shootings are nothing new in Oakland, but this murder of innocent child was too much.
Family and friends were devastated by this tragic loss. But unlike many other killings in Oakland, this senseless act brought people together. Hundreds of people gathered the next night at the site of the killing to construct an all-too-familiar sight – a sidewalk memorial to another fallen young victim.
Politicians and the police joined with community members at the vigil. The media reported the city officials’ words of hope that the violence would end, some calling for more police and more police control over the place that to many has become a war zone. Soon after they claimed to have caught the shooter and disappeared back into their world.
However the community cannot leave. Many in the community have also suffered losses of loved ones to the violence of the streets. The community feels the pain of unemployment, poverty, the lack of good affordable housing, social services and programs for kids. All of this contributes to gangs, drugs and violence. But the politicians and police do not address these realities.
No one could replace Carlitos for his parents or his eight-year-old brother and his eight-month-old sister, who will grow up with no memory of her brother. But the community mobilized to support the family. Individuals and community groups took up donations and provided food and other help. Family and friends organized a car wash on the weekend to raise money. Over the two days, more than 100 people of all ages and backgrounds turned out to wash cars and collect donations. They showed that a community does exist – one that is ready to stand together and support one another. Some people joined in to wash their own car. Some got their car washed and returned to help.
Everyone knows that such an outpouring of love and support is not enough to change this situation. But it did bring people together in one place at one time and sometimes turning International Boulevard into a parking lot of cars waiting to get washed or stopping to give donations.
Once the funeral is over and the pressures of day-to-day life resume, many of the hundreds of people who have been involved this past week will return to their normal lives. Of course for the family, the tragedy will be ongoing and they need continued support – to meet funeral expenses and keep up with bills while they have to miss work. They hopefully will receive counseling. We can all continue to provide support for them as best we can.
People facing this situation often see no choice other than to look for individual solutions – to try to move away from crime-filled neighborhoods, or just to try to protect themselves as best they can. But it is possible to try to go beyond these individual solutions. This past weekend showed us that there are hundreds of people who are sick and tired of the violence. Many of them are not ready to do something right now, but there are people who are.
These conditions impact us all, no matter where we live. A dozen determined people could begin to come up with a response that could involve more people in taking the steps to protect themselves and defend their neighborhood. This community and others could mobilize, not simply around the question of violence but for jobs, decent housing, schools, social services and a better life for all who live there. It is not fast or easy work. But what is our choice? Our lives are at stake and the lives of our children depend on what we decide to do.
Contributions to the family can be made through the Carlitos Nava Fund at Wells Fargo’s San Leandro Marina branch, account number 3981855954. For information or to get involved, email OaklandStreetsFund@gmail.com