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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 6, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Use of new Roman Missal to begin Advent 2011
Cathedral Sunday set for Sept. 12 in Oakland Diocese
Congress urged to keep religious hiring rights
Parishes to join efforts
to curb violence

At an extraordinary Gang Crime Summit in Oakland Aug. 24-25, a broad array of federal and state law enforcement agencies met with Oakland’s police leadership and faith-based and community leaders to discuss a long-term model to reduce crime and gang violence. The model, successfully launched in Salinas in 2008, relies on law enforcement to suppress crime and community collaboration to intervene and prevent crime.

United States Attorney Melinda Haag convened the summit that brought together regional leaders from major federal bureaus, including the FBI and Secret Service. Oakland’s Mayor Ron Dellums and Police Chief Tony Batts gave keynote addresses and participated throughout the summit.

The summit began with an outline of what several presenters termed “a dire situation.” Oakland consistently averages over 100 murders a year, the highest homicide rate among large California cities. Forty percent of the murders are gang-related. Well over 50 percent of Oakland’s estimated 2000 gang members are Hispanic and they often proudly identify their gang affiliation.

Police Captain Ersie Joyner spoke of the department’s crime suppression efforts, including the successful dismantling of the north Oakland Acorn gang through court injunctions mandating curfews and activity restrictions against specific gang members. Arrests were made and, as the summit was taking place, an Acorn leader was convicted of murder.

Presentations were made throughout the day by community groups collaborating on crime intervention and prevention, including faith leaders, street outreach workers, crisis response groups, and adult and juvenile reentry service providers.

Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, Bishop Bob Jackson of the Acts Full Gospel Church and Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith of Allen Temple Baptist Church led a panel discussion about the vital role that faith-based communities are playing in violence prevention.

In kicking off that discussion, Police Captain Paul Figueroa told the audience that “Police gather data and use power, influence, skills and tools, but we must also collaborate with faith communities to be truly effective.

“You are a dominant force and have a thorough understanding of the social issues affecting people’s lives. You are the voice of moral authority, with the infrastructure to address real needs.”

Bishop Cordileone spoke about collaboration between East Oakland pastors, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), the police department and the diocesan school department. He said that St. Elizabeth Parish has hosted meetings with OCO to help broaden awareness about the problem of violence.

Several days after the gang summit, East Oakland pastors met with Captain Figueroa and set a date for parish and school staff training, which will be followed by meetings with parents and students.

The bishop also pointed to local Catholic Charities services, including the Measure Y-funded Crisis Response Support Network which provides in-home counseling and emotional support to the families of homicide victims.

“This summit shines a light on huge problems,” Bishop Cordileone said. “And our discussion here gives me great hope we will realize the potential our communities together can bring to bear on these problems.”

Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Oakland, and Debbie Snow, a St. Columba parishioner and OCO leader, spoke about success in developing community leadership from within school groups and in mobilizing large scale support for community policing and Measure Y funding. They emphasized the importance of getting out into the community to meet with all audiences, to listen intently to truly understand issues, and then to take action. “All together, we can be co-creators of a new city,” said Father Nieto-Ruiz.

Bishop Bob Jackson of the Acts Full Gospel Church characterized Oakland’s community collaboration as “the village coming together to raise a child.” Rev. Smith told the law enforcement audience that they are hearing from “the most enlightened faith communities in the country.”

A potential outcome from the summit meeting will be additional federal and state resources to aid Oakland’s efforts. Grant applications have been filed for federal money to fund new and continuing community-based intervention and prevention programs. And following the precedent set in Salinas, Oakland hopes to receive personnel resources on loan from federal agencies to assist in crime and gang suppression.

(Mike Brown is communications director for the Oakland Diocese.)

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