Oakland Homicides Hit A Similar Inflection Point A Decade Ago — Then Violence Plummeted. Can It Happen Again

It was the final City Council meeting of a violent and difficult year, and the people and politicians of Oakland were worked up — about where to build a dog park.

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On Dec. 18, 2012, more than five dozen residents signed up to speak about a convoluted journey to bring a play area for furry companions to Lakeview Park, an issue that didn’t get resolved that night, even after a 90-minute discussion that featured three deadlocked votes and council members raising their voices about civic duty.

Despite Oakland reaching 126 criminal homicides that year (two more than police recorded in 2021), no one in attendance remarked on the toll until Hour Eight, when a few patient religious leaders took turns at the podium to urge investment in a promising anti-violence program.

It was called Operation Ceasefire, and it would be credited for a sharp reduction in violence in the years to come.

“We wanted and needed something here in the city of Oakland to curtail the gun violence,” recalled the Rev. Damita Davis-Howard, one of the pastors who pressed the city to adopt a Ceasefire program then and now serves as its director.

In some ways, 2012 stands as a funhouse mirror to 2021. The political discourse around policing is more charged today, but the problems facing the city are familiar. A decade ago, Oakland was still emerging from the Great Recession and dealing with a worse trajectory in violent crime. Then 2013 arrived and the number of homicides began a steady if staggered multiyear decline, reaching lows not seen since the turn of the millennium.

That stayed the case until the COVID-19 pandemic came and warped every aspect of society. With Oakland navigating a new year in the midst of a draining public health quagmire and an ongoing debate about public safety, the question is whether what quieted the gunshots a decade ago can do so again today.

Repeating a ‘miracle’

Like many local religious leaders at the time, Davis-Howard wanted to see the “Boston miracle” replicated out West.

That was the nickname given to a dramatic decline in youth homicides in the Massachusetts capital during the late 1990s, when a working group of researchers, city officials and residents tested the hypothesis that most violence can be traced to a small group of people in neglected and over-policed communities, and that the way to address it was through unified anti-violence messaging, assistance for those who wanted out of the life and focused law enforcement attention for those who didn’t.

Click here to read the full article at the San Francisco Chronicle


  1. Focus on the true causes of crime is, and has been, a political football kicked or passed to any that allow the current focus group to point to others as those not doing their jobs. The above example allowed the identification of the specific individuals and groups causing the majority of the crime. Then those identified were given choices. The result was many got out of those areas and were assisted to overcome the reasons for being there. Those that did not chose that option were placed under close scrutiny to stop the criminal behavior and/or develop strategies that would help the persons there understand that continuing the criminal behavior would lead to action they would not like, i.e. they were held responsible for being the perpetrator of the crime, aiding and abetting or being negligent, such as parents who exerted no control over their children. Those persons could be penalized in many ways, many of which the liberals call prejudice but are actually applied to all who exhibit the behavior with awareness of prior offenses.

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