In Oakland during the last few weeks there have been a string of violent incidents. Seven people were killed within seven days’ time. This is the worst string of violent incidents in five years. With a body count like that, it makes you wonder which is safer – the streets of Oakland or the streets of Baghdad. Either way it is clear – a war is happening in the United States, and this war has its own casualties.
Many of the victims were young people who had their whole future ahead of them. The youngest victim, 15-year old Hadari Askari, was shot in an East Oakland housing complex. Tommy Lacy III, only 18 years old, was killed in West Oakland. Another victim was a 19-year old girl killed early in the morning on Macarthur Boulevard. And another victim, Joel Pervoe, Jr. was just 20 years old.
The media is quick to point out the links between the youth of the victims and their violent deaths. It is true, violence claims the lives of too many young people. But they are not the only victims. Another incident in the last weeks involved two men, aged 67 and 70 who got into an argument which resulted in a violent outburst and one death.
Overall, the Bay Area has seen an increase in violence over the past few years. This year alone there have been 63 people killed in Oakland. That is the same number that were killed in 2011, and we can be sure the number will climb higher.
If there’s one thing that links all of these killings, it is who the victims are not – none of them are wealthy. They lived in Oakland, Richmond or Hayward. None of them lived in upscale neighborhoods in the hills. Poor and working class people, both old and young, are the ones who are suffering this wave of violence.
Is it any surprise that we have seen the level of violence in this society increase during the last few years? Since the economic crisis of 2008, we have seen wave after wave of layoffs, home foreclosures, and families struggling to survive. And at the same time we have seen budget cuts to schools and social programs which provide food, health care, and other vital necessities to poor families. People feel hopeless, and with hopelessness comes violence.
You only need to look at the news headlines to understand why people feel hopeless. Last week San Bernadino announced that the city is filing for bankruptcy. And San Bernadino is the third city in California to file for bankruptcy in the last two weeks, along with Stockton and Mammoth Lake.
What happens when a city declares bankruptcy? The first thing it does is put in place severe cuts to any workers in the city. San Bernadino has reduced the city workforce by 20 percent, and workers have been forced to take ten million dollars in concessions in their union contracts.
Of course the result of these cuts is drastic reduction in services, from fire fighters to school teachers. City streets and public parks will fall into disrepair. Children will be crammed together into bigger and bigger classes with fewer teachers. This is on top of the state budget cuts which decrease state-level funding for schools and social programs. The overall picture is horrible, and offers little hope.
And this is no natural disaster. Why are these cities bankrupt? Because of an economic crisis engineered by the big banks and corporations. During the last decade many city governments invested public funds in the banks and financial firms that promised to deliver big profits on investments. With the economic crisis, these funds have disappeared. On top of this, city governments rely on property taxes. With the crash in housing prices, city governments receive far less money. The federal government has bailed out the banks with $13 trillion. Has any of that money gone to replace the missing city funds? No. The banks have taken the money and run.
The real cure for our cities, and our society is to put a stop to the hopelessness and the lack of opportunities being created by the crisis of this system. Without hope, it is no wonder that people fall into despair and the level of violence in this society increases. But we can’t wait for a change to happen. We’ve seen the options if we wait and see. Year after year it gets worse, whether the Democrats or Republicans are in office. If we are looking for hope it will only come from us, organizing together to change this hopeless situation.