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Mar 2009
Oakland - It's Time to Back the Badge

The deaths of four Oakland police officers gunned down in the line of duty Saturday afternoon are undisputable, immutable, irrevocable proof of the chaotic level of predatory violence on the streets of this city.

Even as crime dipped in the first three months of the year, gun violence has continued largely unabated - and now it has claimed the lives of four police officers.

The shootings of Sgt. Mark Dunakin and Officer John Hege during a seemingly routine traffic stop in East Oakland, and Sgts. Daniel Sakai and Ervin Romans two hours later as they burst into an apartment looking for the killer, will have lasting repercussions for a city already regarded as one of the most violent in the country.

It can't help but worsen already sky-high tensions between police and people who live in the city's toughest neighborhoods. Officers will be more wary than ever in dealing with everyday confrontations and routine incidents, like traffic stops - and that raises the danger level for everyone involved.

In recognition of the pressure, grief and chaos created by the shootings, every Oakland officer on duty at the time was given Sunday off to be with family and friends and come to terms with their frustration and anger. Unfortunately, that anger is sure to be ratcheted up by anti-police rumblings that have followed the shootings.

By late afternoon Saturday, a group of about 50 people lined 73rd Avenue, a block from where Dunakin and Hege were shot. Some shouted obscenities aimed at police. Others said the officers' deaths were retribution for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant, the unarmed Hayward man killed by a BART police officer on an Oakland train platform New Year's Day. Shouts of, "They had it comin!' " were heard in the crowd.

Uhuru House, an activist group that dates back to the 1970s, held an East Oakland rally at which some members said the killings were a foreseeable reaction to years of police brutality in disenfranchised communities. If the members of Uhuru House and the so-called activists who took to the streets of Oakland in January to protest the Grant shooting have any real notion of what social justice means, they will surely stand with the community now in denouncing Saturday's killings.

Otherwise, nothing they have said or done to seek justice for Grant will amount to a hill of beans. If an infinitesimal segment of the city's population lacks the maturity or compassion to mourn the loss of any human life - including those of police officers who risk their lives for ours - I say it's time for decent folks, us "99 percenters," to show them how we feel.

City officials are asking all residents to attend a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 74th Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard, where the first act of Saturday's tragedy played out. That's a proper sentiment, but it's not enough.

If the killings of four Oakland police officers don't evoke moral outrage in every single resident in this city, then I fear we may be too far gone to fight back. The city should declare an official day of mourning and ask residents to wear a black armband - and put a badge on it - so everyone knows where we stand.

In the city's most troubled communities, it's clearer than ever that the fear of retaliatory violence has cowed law-abiding citizens and left the police standing alone against the bad guys.

It's time for every Oakland resident who can lift a sign, shout a slogan - or use a pair of binoculars in a neighborhood watch program - to do so. Because if we don't all come together to put an end this madness, what happened Saturday may turn out to be not just one of the worst days in Oakland's history, but a sad harbinger of its future.



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