Oakland School Shooting — This Society Cannot Keep Us Safe

On Wed. Sep. 27, Oakland, California became the site of the latest mass shooting on a school campus in the U.S. At the King Estates School Complex in Oakland, at least two gunmen got out of a car and started shooting. As of this writing, the gunmen have not been identified or located by the authorities.

It was a horrifying scene, with about 30 rounds of bullets fired. Some students ran from the buildings, others were trapped inside their classrooms. Six people were shot, including two students, a school counselor, a security guard, and two carpenters working at the facility. As of Friday morning, one of the victims remained in critical condition and another was in stable condition at a nearby hospital.

The schools at the complex closed following the shooting, and students, staff, and families are unsure when — if ever — they will feel ready to return to their school.

One of the schools at King Estates, Rudsdale High School, has a pathway for newcomer students which opened in 2017 specifically for unaccompanied migrants, mostly from Central America. Many of the students left their countries to escape poverty and violence, and arrived at the southern border seeking asylum. School was a place that provided a sense of community and safety where they could try to adjust to a new life. Now that feeling of safety has been shattered forever.

For many East Oakland residents, violence is a part of everyday life. In the week before this shooting, there were nine homicides in Oakland. According to police, homicide rates have fallen slightly since last year, but still remain high, at about 3.5 times the national average. Oakland’s Highland Hospital, a major trauma center in the area, has seen about twice as many patients with gunshot wounds in 2022 and 2021 than it did in the two previous years. So far this year, the hospital has seen about 500 gunshot wounds.

As a result of systemic racism, including racist housing policies, East Oakland is one of the poorest areas of Oakland, where about 90% of the population is Black or Latino, and 4% is Asian. The unemployment and poverty rates in East Oakland are usually about double the rest of the city, and about half of households earn less than $30,000 per year. About 30% of high school students don’t graduate.

Oakland schools have been severely underfunded for years. Many schools do not provide students access to a library or art classes, and have severely cut back on physical education programs. There are only 21 nurses for 37,000 students, and one counselor for every 600 students. What’s never acknowledged in any of the reports about the shooting is that tremendous violence has already been committed against students in Oakland by this entire system, both inside and outside of school.

Right now the media and some politicians are choosing to draw attention to the lack of armed police officers in the schools. In 2020, in the wake of protests against the police murder of George Floyd, the Oakland School Board voted to remove police officers from Oakland schools after several public protests.

But what did the school police really provide anyway? It wasn’t safety, but often harassment and violence. Young people would often be profiled as gang members because of the way they dressed or the way they looked or acted. This is why the community pressured the School Board to remove the armed officers and rely on unarmed security hired from within the community, referred to as “culture keepers.”

After tragic incidents like the shooting at King Estates, the politicians and other officials will talk about doing whatever it takes so that this can’t happen again. These are empty promises that only focus on the shootings, but never on the causes. Like other city officials across the country, they defend a system that has created and maintains the violence of poverty, desperation and hopelessness that surround people’s lives. They have presided over a school system that strips the hope of a decent future from many young people. And then they act shocked when violence like this shooting erupts.

As a start, more resources are definitely needed — but not to pay for more cops. What is needed are good paying jobs, fully funded schools, affordable housing, health care, guaranteed access to nutritious food, quality transportation, and many other basic social services.

For many young people, schools provide some shelter from the systemic violence that surrounds them. But schools are not a sanctuary, tucked away from the violence of this society. There is no sanctuary for the poor, only for the rich. The truth is, we live in a society that cannot keep us safe. It is the very conditions of society itself that drive this violence. And as long as these conditions continue, the violence of society will remain.