So far this year, there have been 109 victims of murder on the streets of Oakland. Today, I am sad to say that I witnessed one more.
It was the eve of this historic Veterans Day, 11/11/11. I was headed to "Oscar Grant Plaza" at 4:30 pm to catch up with veterans that have made the camp their home in the last month. They organized a march. I was expecting a party, announced by organizers to celebrate Occupy Oakland's one-month anniversary. Instead, there was pure chaos.
As I entered the plaza from Telegraph Avenue, a stampede of young teens ran past me screaming that someone had been shot, "Get away! Somebody's been shot!" On the plaza, I saw tonight's victim, a young black man, lying prone at the foot of a lamp post, his dreadlocks splayed on the pavement. His head rested in a pool of blood. His skinny, limp body was surrounded by a confused and increasingly agitated crowd. I now know from subsequent news reports that the young man was 22-year-old Alex, who had slept the past few nights at the encampment. As I saw him tonight, he was tiny and fragile. Broken in his jeans and t-shirt. The plaza was eerily quiet, save for a lone woman crying in the corner.
I screamed for someone to call 9-1-1, but was unable to get close to the injured man. At this point, there were still no visible police or medics on the scene. A few people formed a blockade around Alex and demanded that no one take photos. I was among many who called 9-1-1, demanding that an ambulance come immediately. After hanging up, I noticed several people gathered around Alex attempting to stop the bleeding and to perform CPR.
Despite the warnings, I took out my phone to video the event. Suddenly, three men surrounded me, shoved and punched me to the ground. One of the men grabbed my phone and threw it down on the paving stones. I would describe him as being 5'8", dark-skinned man with short hair. After shoving me, he turned to KGO-TV cameraman Randy Davis, joining a group of 20 others attacking him and forcing him over the railing of the 14th Street BART station. In the melee, my driver's license and credit card were lost.
As I stood alone, shaken and crying, a protester approached me and returned my phone, along with words of apology. A later interview with an Occupy camper revealed that the victim had only recently joined the encampment. He'd argued with another in the food line. The assailant apparently called his cousin and three others from the neighborhood and they came ready to kill. And they killed Alex.
When asked if the shooting was the responsibility of Occupy Oakland movement, I have to say "No." Yes, the men involved were eating and the victim was sleeping at the camp, but these individuals were not the advocates for political change and Wall Street accountability demanded by the Occupy Wall Street movement. They came to find food and shelter. And they brought everyday, inner-city desperation and violence to center stage.
One can only hope that our elected officials are able to refrain from further political opportunism and grandstanding to focus on the tragedy of Alex's short life. This murder, occurring mere steps from City Hall, was notable only because it happened downtown, far away from the poorest, darkest and most desperate corners of the city.
All city officials must take account and responsibility. Because there were no streetlights near the Plaza due to a "short out" on November 9, many occupiers reported an increase in drug dealing and crime after sundown. Because of the heavy-handed violence meted out by police, the tension increased. City Administrator Deborah Santana and Police Chief Harold Jordan must be held accountable.
The irony is that the media will give more attention to this murder than the hundred others. Will Alex's death be dismissed as "just another black youth in a gang-related incident?" We'd learn more by asking what pulled him to the Occupy Oakland encampment. We'd become a better community if we asked how can we break the cycle that leads a man to call his friends into a minor scuffle ready to kill.
The young man I watched die was someone's child. He was a child of Oakland. And he was part of the 99%. As we learn more about the details of the shooting, perhaps some meaning, some significance will emerge. In the meantime, we have more questions than answers. And another black youth lies dead, occupying an Oakland morgue like so many before him.
Aimee Allison is the author of "Army of None," the founder of OaklandSeen and co-executive Director of Roots Action. This is her first piece for OfftheBus. If you would like become engaged in citizen journalism with the Huffington Post, please sign up at www.offthebus.org.