‘He COULD Have Done It, But I Don’t Think He Did’

By Debora Gordon

Lam offered me contact information for his attorney, David Kelvin, who agreed to speak with me in last October. I felt limited in my knowledge of the criminal justice system, even though I’d taught American government. I’d had no first-hand experience with the law beyond the very occasional moving violation, and a couple of acts of civil disobedience that were never charged 25 years ago. What I knew was mostly from television and movies.

I asked Kelvin to explain the specific charges against Lam and how he was identified and later arrested.

I learned that Lam was charged with 4 counts of  187-664. That’s attempted murder. Plus, assault with a deadly weapon, a 245. And a 246 – shooting into an occupied vehicle.  He was arrested when one of the female passengers in the car, who had been a middle school classmate, implicated him.

I asked about the notorious Oakland “no snitching” street imperative, but Kelvin was dismissive of this.  “People snitch all the time,” he told me. “The D.A. comes. They bring them down to court. They put them on the witness stand. They usually talk.”

The Oakland Tribune reported in a story about Lam’s sentencing that he was a “gang leader.” But Kelvin scoffed. “It’s not like they have a board of directors.”

One this was for sure, Kelvin said: “His friends are gangsters. (The police) searched his house, they got a warrant, there were photographs of him holding a gun, flashing gang signs.”

“There is no question that he was in a gang.”

When I first read about Lam in the Oakland Tribune, I initially thought that his no contest plea was equivalent to admission of guilt, but Kelvin felt that Lam was pressured by the judge into pleading. Although it was a strong case for the prosecution, Kelvin said that he let Lam know that he had a chance for a different outcome if the case went to trial. “I told him it was his choice. I told him if he went to trial and lost, it would be a disaster for him.”

But Kelvin assured Lam that he had a triable case – one with evidence on both sides. So, Lam had something that was fairly atypical: a fighting chance.

But on the day the trial was set to begin, Kelvin recalled, “the judge talked to Lam. He was of the opinion that we should settle the case (by pleading), so (Lam) did.”

Lam opted for a no contest plea, Kelvin said, because he was uneasy about a nuance in the law. “There was one witness who claimed to have seen him in the rear view mirror. Lam felt that even though there were (other) witnesses that might have supported him not being the shooter. He was worried about the ‘gang clause’ – that the crime was committed for the benefit of the gang.”

To convict Lam, prosecutors would not only want to show that Lam was in a gang, but also “horrible things other people in the gang did” – even things that happened before Lam was born.

“The list of crimes committed by gang members can be brought before the jury,” which would then be presented with this line of reasoning: “the gang has committed horrible crimes. He was a member of the gang. Therefore he committed horrible crimes.” And then, there was all that evidence of Lam’s gang connections.

Despite Lam’s affiliations, Kelvin isn’t convinced he pulled that trigger. “He was at the scene when these shots were fired, no one is disputing that. It was his neighborhood, he lived there. He didn’t have an alibi.”

Kelvin also felt the district attorney’s witnesses were not credible, that they may have been high at the time of the crime, and that they changed their stories.

However, Lam still chose to take the plea with its guarantee of a maximum of 25 years, rather than risk the possibility of getting a life sentence if he went in front of a jury.

Although Kelvin has represented other accused gang members, he thought Lam was different. “He wasn’t a typical gang member. He was more educated, more thoughtful, more of an intellectual.”

This doesn’t mean he’s denying Lam’s potential to have done something violently illegal. “In the right moment, he might have committed a crime. But he didn’t commit this one. And that’s supposed to be the issue.”

So how did Lam get here? Kelvin takes a long view, pointing to the legacy of the Vietnam War. “It was American policy in Indochina that put (Lam’s mother) and her family in this situation. They never would have come here if we hadn’t blown up their country.  They come over here, they can’t speak the language, so they have no money, they do the best they can.”

That chain reaction lead Lam to become “involved with violent people. It’s a disaster, a tragedy of the first magnitude.”

Next: Contradictions in the Court Transcript and the Judge’s Advice to Lam

Education is My Weapon of Choice

By Debora Gordon

Since the Newtown school shootings, there has been talk among some, such as John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” calling for teachers and other school staff to carry guns. Their perspective is that, as National Rifle Association Executive VP Wayne LaPierre put it, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

As a 25-year veteran of the classroom, mostly in Oakland, I respond to this with an emphatic NO. That is not the only way, nor even the best way. And it is certainly not the way most educators would choose, or even consider. Never once during the many school shootings that have taken place before and since I first stepped into a classroom as an educator, have I ever thought, “what teachers need are guns.”

Logistics aside – whether I would be able to access a firearm quickly in case of a threat on campus, or whether teacher professional development would now include target practice – it is simply not an effective solution, and actually is really a disaster waiting to happen. It is not that difficult to envision the gun being used against the teacher and students, or the teacher wounding or killing a student by accident, as well as other potential calamities.

One of the great challenges educators always face is how to fix the problems of the now while creating solutions for the long-term. As shocking as the Newtown shootings have been, I remain unshaken in my absolute conviction that the only way to stop all shooters, is through love, education, understanding, and compassion.

I know that some will dismiss this as unrealistic, but it seems to me no less realistic than continuing to build up an armed society, to the point where everyone is prepared to shoot and every misunderstanding becomes potentially explosive.

In the schools, we need to present a structured, articulated course of conflict resolution, non-violent communication, and anger management. Students need instruction on the impact on society, families, victims and perpetrators when lives are lost.

The massacre in Newtown happened to take place on one day. But there has been no less of a massacre in Oakland, where, as of this writing, there have been 124 homicides this year alone, with 5 days to go. Despite having been spread out over time, this is no less tragic, no less hurtful to or destructive of the communities than the violence in Newtown. Oakland does not get the same outpouring of grief and support, but needs it no less.

As teachers, our job is to educate – not just in the core curriculum, but how to be contributing parts of the society. That – not more guns – is the only way to stop violence.  The pen, the word, and the lesson – in the long run, these are still mightier than the gun.

PHOTOS: Health of the Hood – Cleveland Heights

By Sabirah Mustafa

Cleveland Heights has a lot of natural beauty, but requires diligent maintenance. Otherwise, leaves back up storm drains, and tree branches block out street lights and sidewalks.

Blight and vandalism, while not extensive throughout the neighborhood, appear in pockets around the commercial areas.  The residential areas are generally well-maintained.


VIDEO – ‘Tis the Season: Laurel Neighborhood Harmonizes to Help Others in Need

Valerie Brown-Troutt, community member and artist, captures the beauty and diversity of the Laurel neighborhood on the street banners installed this winter. Photo: Katherine Brown

By Katherine Brown

Is harmony and unity possible in East Oakland? The Laurel Merchant and Laurel District Association strive to prove that it does.

The second annual Laurel Holiday Stroll and Donation Drive is just one of over 20 events held in the Laurel District geared towards strengthening relationships between the community and local business.

This year’s event focused on helping those in need. Donations of food, gently used coats, toys, and pet supplies were collected for distribution by the Oakland Fire Department (High Street Station), One Warm Coat, and the Oakland Pet Shelter.

During the event, participants had the opportunity to mix and mingle with other community members at different business along MacArthur Avenue – between Loma Vista and High streets. You could participate in the paper snowflake cutting workshop. Or take in a production of “Annie,” held at the Kids and Dance studio. You could also dine on $1 and $2 food options at the local restaurants and lounges.

Like each snowflake created – the Laurel district is a wealth of uniqueness and diversity. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.

Thomas Wong, 39, is the Executive Director of the Oakland Business Improvement District and has lived in the Allendale neighborhood for 7 years.

To Wong, the Holiday Stroll is not only a grassroots effort that fosters collaboration between community members and local businesses for opportunities to give back to East Oakland communities. It is also a chance to chip away at the fear and worry that some may feel in East Oakland. For event participants, Wong feels there is “a sense of safety in a proactive way by coming out and supporting the community.”

As a community member that lives relatively close to this neighborhood, it was nice to see events like this in East Oakland. We tend to see gatherings like these in North and Downtown Oakland, but rarely in the East. East Oakland has a culture and a richness that is not often tapped into, so I’m happy to see events like the Holiday Stroll thrive.

Other East Oakland residents and event participants share their perspectives on what events like these mean to East Oakland.


Joanna Gritz, 36, is an East Oakland native – she talks about how this event helps the community.


Luan Stauss is a Laurel District business owner – she talks about what the event means to her and East Oakland.


Valerie Brown-Troutt is an artist, and has lived in this East Oakland Neighborhood for 30 years. She shares her perspective about the uniqueness and diversity of the Laurel neighborhood:


Eric Richardsen, 24, is an Oakland native. He talks about why it is important for East Oakland to have events like these.


Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan, talks about the importance of buying local and how it helps the Town.



Name it, Oakland!

By Sabirah Mustafa

Growing up in Oakland I used to imagine I was the mayor. Playgrounds and basketball courts would stay open 24 hours if I had my way.  Big wheels and dirt bikes would be the official mode of transportation. Ice cream trucks would be posted on ev

ery street corner so my friends and I wouldn’t have to chase them down the block.

In this fantasy dream world I’d create in my mind, I’d change the name from Oakland to Kidland.

I may have outgrown my desire to be mayor, but not the inclination to create names.

Every trip through Oakland’s cosmopolitan neighborhoods conjures up a desire to name it with the same earnest fervor I had as a child. It’s my way of proudly claiming Oakland as my hometown, while embracing this melting pot.

Thinking others might feel the same, I traveled through East Oakland with my fellow Oakland Voices correspondent Katrina Davis, to inquire if residents knew the names of their neighborhoods.  We asked  residents if they would call it something else, and why?

“Quiet Park” is what Robeson Berry, 37, would name Maxwell Park because “it’s pretty much quiet all the time.”

“I can’t give it a name,” says Chris Jones, 41, when first asked to name 62nd Avenue Havenscourt/Picardy area. When pressed, he said, “we’ll we call it the planet because it’s a melting pot over there. It’s a lot of  mixed interracial relations over there, black and Hispanics over there.”

In the Dimond District, Kife Sorenson, 42, a resident of twelve years says the neighborhood was questionable when he first moved there, but “it’s nice now,” he says, “I’d keep it the Dimond.”

In the 23rd Avenue district, Emma Apodaca, 38, carried groceries and closely held the  hand of her 4 year-old son Cruz.  She said the neighborhood is called “Murder Dubs” because of the area’s homicide rate.

But, she said, “we still survive.” Despite the area’s reputation, “we look out for each other.”

“Bossland” is the “common old name” neighbors use for 96th and Birch, said Julian Damone, 20, of his neighborhood in Elmhurst,

He’d prefer to call it “Ujamaa Village” – the Tanzanian concept of people working in a collective community. The name, Damone says, is a great way to get blacks “into sustaining villages or neighborhoods in a green environment.”

Chailinda Starnes, 20, who lives in the 60′s, believed that her neighborhood is officially called Avenal. But in her neighborhood they like to call it “Purple City,” she said, because they “float purple on the street.”  I’m guessing she was referring to either marijuana or a mix of cough syrup or codeine – a popular narcotic on the streets.

She would rename her neighborhood “God’s Gift,” because she said “There’s a lot of talented people (here).” 

Oakland is known for it’s diversity and culture –  many cultures intermixed in the commercial shopping districts and residential areas. “We got just about everything here,” said Simone Brown, 45, of the Fairfax District. “Diverse Beyond” is how she’d described it. “A whole lot of different races all in the same neighborhood.  Some get along and you see some that just don’t.”

Leo Elias, 36, and his friend Gabby shared a common theme for their neighborhood.  “The Plaza” is what Elias would rename the Fruitvale District, because he says it ”unites families together.” Gabby, likes the “Spanish District” as its new name because “it is family,” he says emphatically.

For Paula Johnson, 42, of Cleveland Heights, it is a no-brainer that she describes the area that borders Lake Merritt as “The Lake Neighborhood.” Smiling, she said, “it’s all about the lake, and that’s why so many people live, exercise and walk around it.”

In the end, I realized that Oakland isn’t so easy to label or define.  Natural beauty surrounded by concrete and steel. Foreclosures alongside model homes. World class arts and entertainment within blocks of escalating crime.

What name would explain the crime, unemployment, and local politics which govern some of our neighborhoods, but barely impact others?

I believe a child can imagine anything if they just believe. Maybe we can all take a cue, and if the reality of your neighborhood isn’t what you want it to be, take a deep breath, and just name it.

Women Politicians Lead East Oakland Rally Against Social Security Cuts

Rosie Camancho of the Labor Council (center) spoke at an Oakland rally against social security cuts, along with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (left) and Mayor Jean Quan. Photo: Howard Dyckoff/HD Photography

By Howard Dyckoff

More than 50 rallied last week in East Oakland to oppose any cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

Protesters joined Congressional Rep. Barbara Lee, Assembly Member Nancy Skinner, and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan at Eastmont Mall’s Social Security office to oppose reductions in Oakland’s senior services.

Lee asked the audience to “stand firm” and to be vocal, adding that there was a resistance movement of progressive Congress members that would also resist major cuts. Mayor Quan, and Josie Camancho of the Alameda Labor Council also spoke on the issue of preventing cuts in services that older Americans depend on.

The mood was upbeat but all were concerned that some members of Congress would seek significant cuts in these services for seniors. Skinner said that the less fortunate among us should not have to bear a loss in essential services when the more fortunate have had major tax breaks for over a decade.

Retiree Liz Kimura, a former BART worker, explained how even small cuts to Medicare and Social Security would negatively impact her her limited standard of living.

A staff member at Eastmont’s Social Security office, Car-lette Hughey, explained that daily hours had been cut and now the office closes at 3 pm. She expressed concern that further cuts would lead to the office being open 4 hours or less a day, leaving many Oaklanders under served.

Although a male former machinist also spoke against any cuts to seniors, it was the women political officials who lead the rally and got the media attention.  That’s as it should be, since women live longer than men but usually have smaller savings for retirement.  They are often more dependent on Social Security and Medicare than male counter parts and will have more to loose if cuts come down from Washington. And such cuts will also fall most heavily on low-income seniors in East and West Oakland.

We should all speak out to protect the older members of our communities.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee was the lead speaker at the rally. Photo: Howard Dyckoff/HD Photography

Follow this link for the full photo album from the event.



Photos & Story By Katrina Davis

BART is usually seen as just a way to get around the Bay Area. You get on, put your ticket in (or swipe your Clipper card), take a ride and, bam! you’re on your way.

But BART can also be a break. A mini-vacation from whatever is going on in your day. A moment to sit down and breathe. It can even be a source of entertainment depending on who you’re riding with. And with the beautiful scenery of the Bay’s cities and towns – some feeling just like the countryside - BART is a way to get away, and have a moment for yourself, while also dropping you off promptly for your daily grind.


A Message to Oakland: Love’s in Need of Love Today

How deep is your love for the Town? Photo: Katherine Brown.

By Katherine Brown

Good morn or evening friends

Here’s your friendly announcer

I have some serious news to pass on to everybody

What I’m about to say

Could mean the worlds disaster

Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain

-Love is in Need of Love Today – Stevie Wonder, 1976

Stevie could not have penned words any more true than the lyrics of this song. I’d like to believe that Stevie must have been thinking about – or at least foreseen things in – my city when he wrote this. With the senseless acts of crime and violence that occur in The Town almost everyday, the heartache and pain that lies in its wake dim the light of hope, positivity, and love of the community and the folks in it.

Even though this light is weak – it still has life. As a long time resident of this city, my belief is that this flame will never die. But in order for this light to shine strong and brilliant, it will need the love and support of its communities. Everyone that lives, works, or plays in Oakland will need to unify to keep this light alive.

But is there any love left in The Town? If we look at the homicide rate of 2012 alone, one might say that love is impossible, if not non-existent.

But I beg to differ. I see the love here. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ambivalent to pain and sorrow caused by the acts of hate that occur. However, I do see positive efforts that community members are making to counter these attacks on the heart and soul of this city.

To see if love in the Town exists, I spoke to several community members to find out what their definition of love is, and how it is exhibited in the city.

I spoke to 27 year-old Zelmi Acevedo, who has lived in East Oakland for 15 years. She and her parents immigrated from El Salvador with the hopes for a better life.  Love “is a big word – but I don’t think it exists in this city anymore,” Acevedo says. “When I came here, it was different – no crime, no danger. Walking down the street was nice, but not any more. I feel scared.”

It’s that love’s in need of love today

Don’t delay

Send yours in right away

Hate’s goin’ round

Breaking many hearts

Stop it please

Before it goes to far…

The power of love of love in Oakland shines bright. As a community, we cannot let this love fade into the sunset. Photo: Katherine Brown

From Acevedo’s perspective, the love in Oakland is almost extinguished. But there are some who are fanning the embers to keep this love alive.

Marisa Manriquez, 28, is a self-proclaimed radical peacemaker, and has lived in Oakland for 3 ½ years. She sees love as being, “a divine principle. In a very human way, love is the way we get to catch a glimpse of the wonders of God’s creations. The human connections and relationships. It’s a deep knowing.”

Manriquez says that she sees love in the people of Oakland. “In the way people make great efforts to sustain the community. How they give so much of themselves for the youth of Oakland.”

But she does acknowledge the barriers that prevent this love from flourishing. “We have mistaken what love is. Finding love in a pure form is difficult. It requires a deep need of recognition that healing is necessary.”

Manriquez views love as a practice. “When that is recognized, the healing can begin. When you make a conscious effort to heal your life, you love yourself more, and then you love others.”

We all must take

Precautionary measures

If love and peace you treasure

Then you’ll hear me when I say…

Other definitions of love include those of 17 year-old Asha Webb, an Oakland native who believes, “love is eternal. Someone that will never leave your side – not breaking your bond.” Or that of Alex Paige, 61, a homeless man that has spent much of his life in the Oakland/Bay Area. He sees love as being, “a friend, lover. It’s steadfast. It’s protection and understanding.”

Then there is the perspective of artist and Oakland native Jim Copes, 61, who feels that “love is unconditional, (it’s) affection. It feels like warmth. Love is Oakland!”

Copes believes that The Town’s residents have the ability to foster love amongst one another, specifically because of Oakland’s diversity. “People come from all over. It’s kind of like a gold rush,” says Copes. “People are discovering Oakland. They see unlimited possibility and opportunity.”

Copes says that in Oakland, “We have the potential to build and grow. The time to do something is now. We are love and we have to express that.”

It’s that

Love’s in need of love today

Don’t delay

Send yours in right away…

Through volunteerism, East Oakland community member, Marco Lindsey, is committed to keeping love in The Town alive. Photo: Katherine Brown

East Oakland native Marco Lindsey, 34, defines love as, “the outward showing of an inward feeling of positivity. The willingness to sacrifice for others.”

The father of five admits that, as a youth, his definition of love was much different. At one point it meant to die for something – a person, neighborhood, or thing. “I abandoned that definition because it wasn’t real love. I realized that to die for something is quite easy, and to live for love is more difficult and exemplifying.”

Lindsey shows his love for The Town through his volunteerism and advocacy, which he says happens a lot more in Oakland than we think or see.

“Love is all over, but you have to have your eyes open. People come in (to Oakland) with the idea that there is hate. But people are in the community working to improve it,” Lindsey says. “There is a lot of love in East Oakland, but it is overshadowed by hate.”

What the world needs now

Is L-O-V-E love

L-O-V-E love…

For Lindsey, love is something that is taught, and there needs to be more opportunities for youth in particular to express love in a more positive way. However, some that exemplify love, he says, “no longer feel comfortable in the community and leave, which creates a vacuum. Once these people leave, the community is left with people that don’t know how to exemplify love, and the fire goes out.”

My hope is that for The Town – for my town – we have not gone that far.

PHOTOS: Health of the Hood – Maxwell Park

Story & Photos By Katrina Davis

The things that make Maxwell Park unhealthy are few and far between, but there nonetheless. Recently a store promoting lower prices replaced a grocery store on MacArthur. Even though the prices are better, the quality of the food has also gone down.Sometimes if you aren’t careful you can pick up a batch of moldy strawberries, or in my case a slab of moldy cheese.

There’s also debris that can be found sometimes. It can range from small pieces of trash, or big things like mattresses, TV sets, dressers and other cast offs that people have decided they no longer want in their homes. The big debris can sometimes block the street and create a hazard for people walking around.

In nearby neighborhoods there are a few bars where every so often you can see people fighting out front. And there are fast food restaurants that serve unhealthy food.

 Another issue that my neighborhood has are stray animals. There are a lot of feral cats, and sometimes the more intimidating stray dogs walking unattended through the neighborhood. Unfortunately, with stray animals comes animal waste on the sidewalks and sometimes in yards.

In my neighborhood, and nearby neighborhoods, there are many things that you can find that keep it healthy. One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is that we continue to implement modern practices that help to keep the neighborhood thriving and up to date, while at the same time still practicing the old school methods of being a close knit community through different events throughout the year. Events like street festivals and community art shows.

A big thing I’ve noticed is the installment of bike routes and how more and more people are utilizing them. Which in turn helps people exercise and cuts air pollution.

We also have various mom and pop markets selling fresh fruits and vegetables, construction workers that continue to make much needed improvements to our streets, and a Yahoo! Group that keeps neighbors updated on things happening in the  in the area. It’s practically a cyber neighborhood watch. The group is also a space for people to share their opinions on  different things going on in Oakland.

There are the different types of gyms throughout the street. Having all these things in the same community helps to keep things close knit and continue to make the neighborhood a healthier place to live.










PHOTOS: Health of the Hood – Eastlake, Toxic & Under Construction

By Edward Cervantes

Lake Merritt has four main residential areas: the Lakeside Apartments District, in the area around Jackson and Madison Streets; Adams Point/Grand Lake, off Grand Avenue and behind the Grand Lake Theater; Haddon Hill/Cleveland Heights, off Lakeshore Avenue; and the area below 18th Street, on the southeast side of the Lake.

For my first ‘Health of the Hood’ piece, I wrote of 18th Street being a dividing line between a relatively affluent neighborhood and one that seems more depressed.

Since then, I’ve moved from the wealthier side, across the tracks.

Hidden behind the currently abandoned Kaiser Convention Center, the crumbly Oakland Unified School District headquarters, and in stark contrast to the luxurious condominiums at 1200 Lakeshore, blight is more common on this, the sometimes more odorous drain end of the Lake.

But it has been a focus of city funding and redevelopment efforts.  Along with the Lake Merritt BART Station Area Plan, work to open the Lake to the Estuary and Bay, and efforts to improve business opportunities along International Boulevard, Eastlake is also the site of the future Oakland Unified School District’s Downtown Educational Complex.

It’s also a space for toxic excavation and removal. Days after moving into the neighborhood, the Department of Toxic Substances Control sent a work notice informing us of the toxic removal that would begin on October 15, 2012.

For two months, I have been fascinated by the machinery and destruction. When home, I bring my camera out with me on every cigarette break so I can snap photos of the ongoing process.