Articles by Michael Holland

Michael Holland

About Michael Holland
Michael Holland is a 39 year-old slightly disabled man with a checkered past. “Remove all that,” Michael says, “and I am just your average, brutally honest Black man. I also am somewhat of a God ‘freak,’ although I don’t formally belong to a church!”

Health of the Hood: Lockwood-Tevis Dump Site

Jehovah’s Witnesses walking past trash dumped on Tevis St. near 62nd ave. Photo: Michael Hollland/Oakland Voices

By Michael Holland

Me being a true Generation X child, it’s no surprise that I liken every aspect of my life to rap music. Other age groups might think it is ridiculous but to me it makes perfect sense.

For instance the song “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five put forth the image of what my area of East Oakland has become.

For those not familiar with the song, it was released in 1982 (I was 10) and is one of the many profound rap songs that came out in the 80s. The song has a lyric that says “Broken glass everywhere / People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care.”

As harsh as that may sound, it is exactly what East Oakland has become. When I leave my house I am never surprised to see the trash that gets dumped overnight.

This mattress has been laying on Tevis near 62nd. since last Christmas. Photo: Michael Holland/Oakland Voices

It’s as if a bunch of trash-bearing elves come over to my neighborhood at night and sprinkle trash up and down the blocks. Furniture dumping is the norm in my area. The corner of 61st ave. and Tevis  - near my home – has seen a rash of dumping. I know everyone on my block, and the chances of one of them dropping off one of those pee-stained mattresses are slim.

A friend of mine told me that I could report it to the city and the city would come and pick up the trash. So I went to the City of Oakland website and found the city’s page for illegal dumping.

That search led to a phone number for  The Department of Public Works –  (510) 615-5566. Unfortunately, I was put on hold over and over again just to have my call dropped after holding for 20 minutes.

Mattress and motor oil dumped on 61st ave. and Tevis. Photo: Michael Holland/Oakland Voices

Unsatisfied with the results of my calls, I found the number to Waste Management and called them only to be referred back to the call center for illegal dumping.

So I dug deep inside myself to find some good old fashioned Christian morals. Not too many morals, just enough to make me stack the trash in an orderly fashion.

When I approached the first pile of trash I gagged at the smell of urine and worse. That immediately sent my cleaning mission into abort.


Besides, if someone would have seen me messing with the stuff they would probably try to report me to the city.

Clothing with foul order strewn about on Tevis between 61st.  and 62nd Aves. Photo: Michael Holland/Oakland Voices

They would be undoubtedly put on hold, for a while!When I think about the overall health of my hood, I must say that I feel it is being contaminated by people who don’t care about the inhabitants.I wonder where those magical trash-dumping elves live? I would like to go dump some crapola in front of their house! They should be helping some cobbler repair shoes somewhere.

I’d go track them down if I had the time. But I’m still on hold with the call center.





Yep you guessed it: more trash from Tevis between 61st. and 62nd Aves. Photo: Michael Holland/Oakland Voices

Restitution & Reparations


By Michael Holland

In 1934 Henry C. Williams was born in Helen, Alabama on a sharecropper’s plantation. That would explain why he has spent the greater part of his life fighting for a cause that is very near and dear to his heart: reparations for all black people.

As a black man going thru financial ups and downs, that sounds very good to me.

But there is more to his story and his plight. Over the years, he has compiled an onslaught of paperwork – documents that he enjoys sharing with anyone willing to listen and look for a minute. Papers like The Slavery Era Insurance Proclamation, and a whole file of claims made by the Freedman’s Bureau.

He also has numerous clips and snippets from his life as an activist and community leader, as well as a VHS tape of him conducting numerous interviews throughout his life.

He speaks in serious tones as he goes through the papers and produces a document that reads like a giant receipt. But it’s way more than that. It’s a bill of sale for his grandfather.

Some of the Onslaught of paperwork for Bishop Williams case.

I had always heard about the Willie Lynch Letter, slavery, and the Middle Passage. But seeing this document really brought home the business of buying and trading humans who are kept in bondage. In the document, his grandfather was repeatedly referred to as “the stud.” His grandfather fetched a whopping $250 – a small fortune at that time.

Most of the papers were photocopied or printouts from the web. Still, some of the documents had that ancient scroll feel – used and worn like that – undoubtedly from the numerous times he has presented them when telling his story, and making his case.

Williams’ argument for reparations centers mainly around the mid 1860s, when the debate over slavery came to a head with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the final battles of the Civil War, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and the beginning of Reconstruction.

When Lincoln declared slaves free in 1863, Williams alleges, the president also said that each of them was to receive $300. He showed me a document that proved that, from the Freedman’s Bureau – a federal organization set up after the Civil War to help emancipated slaves transition to lives as free Americans. Blacks never got that money, Williams says.

I can sense the animosity in his tone as he goes on to claim that Congress also allocated additional funds for freed blacks, but that they did not receive any of it.

Williams’ Seven Ways – the bishop’s family gospel group.

As a result, Williams says his movement is asking for “$21 billion per year from Congress each year from now on to build and rebuild for us homes, businesses, schools and all the things we need throughout the community.” That is a tall order!

Williams says his bold reparation package would “put thousands of people to work.” He then shows me a box filled with letters from supporters.

But it isn’t all reparations and postbellum US history with Williams. He’s got lots of other things in that pile of papers. He pulls out a picture of him and his six children, posing as Williams’ Seven Ways. He explains proudly that it’s the gospel group they once had together. Williams brought up all of his kids in the church – “the only way to raise them,” he says.

Bishop Williams is a man with a cause and he has a lifetime of stories to tell. I was very honored to have met a black man like him.

If you would like to learn more about Henry C. Williams’ case for reparations, contact him at (510)507-3424 0r He would love to hear from you.

GUNS Part III: Protection 2012

Recently, two Oakland Voices writers – Debora Gordon and Michael Holland – offered very different views on whether owning guns is a bad idea for Oakland and people in general, or just common sense preparedness for life in a tough town. But it didn’t stop there. They read each other’s piece, and replied.

Teenager walks past the scene of Oakland’s 100th homicide this year, on 57th Ave and Hilton St. Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012

By Michael Holland

As the Ides of October came and went and everyone began thinking even more about Election 2012, all I’m thinking about is Protection 2012.

As rational adults we have to take our safety very seriously. We can’t ignore what’s going on outside our doors. If you live in The Town, you have probably at least heard about the crime that has been well documented by the Tribune and other news media. If you have not witnessed the crime or its unmistakeable aftermath, just wait. You will. Never before has there been more of a need to arm ourselves than now.

My Oakland Voices colleague wrote a piece citing reasons why society should be gun-free. Although I agreed with some of the points presented, I strongly disagree with the thought of disarming US citizens. The right to protect life, liberty, and property is non-negotiable.

Both presidential candidates have expressed support for the core right to bear arms. A bi-partisan agreement speaks to the fact that Americans would much rather point a gun at an intruder than a house cat. Meow!

Home invasions, armed robberies and senseless shootings are a constant in the news. Knowing that, we as adults must do our part to curb crime. At least in our homes. I do not approve of  open carry. Guns in public would undoubtedly lead to even more senseless killings. But in your homes, you should feel safe, which comes from knowing that you and your family are protected.

As a convicted felon, I am not allowed to have guns in my place. But not only do I support everyone else’s right to have at least one gun in the home, I strongly encourage it.

Too many of us delegate the task of keeping our homes safe to the police. After all, that’s their job. But OPD cannot be everywhere at all times. Thus leaving citizens to defend their own. If all the would-be robbers knew that each house on the block had at least 6 rounds to dump back at them, they would probably reconsider running up in your house. Home invasions might decrease.

Forbes recently listed Oakland as the 3rd most dangerous city in America, based on FBI crime statistics. Just before that story ran, Oakland reached a sad milestone: our 100th homicide. When I learned of that shooting on Hilton Street – less than a mile from my house – I had to go look at the scene because I’ve always thought of that street as being quiet.

When I reached the scene 8 hours later, there were no markings of murder – no police tape, investigators, or memorial. I gathered that no one had time to leave candles or photos on the curb for yet another senseless killing. Or maybe no one cared. I spoke with a young man named Issac at the corner of 57th and Hilton as he walked home from school. “The green and white house near the corner has had a lot of police coming by lately,” he told me. I thought to myself, “Not enough cops came, obviously.”

KTVU reported last week that Oakland leads the nation in violent robberies. Knowing that, we as parents and people should arm ourselves.

I wish we could magically make all of the bad guys’ guns vanish. But since we can’t, I say to all of you – arm up!

I applaud all the people marching in Oakland trying to “Stop The Violence.” Good Luck with that! I have a saying. “You can march and protest, ’til your blue in the face. You’ll all turn into Smurfs with the time that you waste!”

Links in this series:

Debora Gordon’s original piece

Michael Holland’s original piece

Debora Gordon’s 2nd piece – a reply to Holland’s first story

Modern Day Manifest Destiny, or Just Plain Old Getting The Hell Out Of Dodge

Teenager walks past the scene of the 100th homicide of this year on 57th and Hilton. Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012

This story has language that may offend some readers.

By Michael Holland

Recently I just lost another friend and neighbor. Not to violence or anything else newsworthy. I lost another friend to Contra Costa County. The promise of cleaner streets and more square footage was too much for my friend. He gave in. He completely uprooted his family and moved to Antioch.

He’s not the only one. I’m sure you the reader have lost someone to Contra Costa County. If you haven’t, that means you must have just moved here. In that case, don’t unpack. Leave. Go northeast, young man.

I know, I know –  that might not be the best way to welcome new comers, but the spiritual side of me wants to help whenever I can. Even if it means offending a few loyalists to The Town.

This city used to be the preferred destination for people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. I was raised by my great grandparents, who came to the Bay in 1944. War time. They were part of The Great Migration. Back in those times, the Bay Area was booming in ship building and other manufacturing.

Now the only industry gas lighting the economy is computer software down in Silicon Valley, and if you don’t have the credentials to work in that field you are ass out. Oakland used to be a blue collar type town. We built things here. Now it is a ghost town for industry. Jobs are scarce.

Before my friend moved, we talked a lot about his new place, and one of the best reasons for moving: the street walkers. They still frequent the block that his family used to live on. He said, “There are no spots for hoes where we at now!”

Living in such close proximity to prostitution is also starting to take its toll on me. It is all over Oakland. My friend has daughters like me, and he cited the street walkers by his old house (47th ave. near International Blvd.) as the main thing that pushed him out to Antioch.

I joked with him that “20 years ago, we would have loved to live on the hoe strip!” We laughed, but it really wasn’t funny. I’m a father and the thought of my girls being exploited makes me cringe.

He also cited the shootings in East Oakland as a reason for his move to the scorched City of Antioch. Oakland has made national headlines within the last few years. From Oscar Grant to the three toddlers shot and killed. People have even been shot through walls. Emergency vehicles are always speeding to some crime scene. Sirens wind and roar in the background even as I type!

The sound of Crown Victoria cop cruisers can often be heard racing through the streets after shots are fired. Every few minutes, cars drive by with tremendous beat – Harley Davidsons with loud pipes – and all the gunshots.

Antioch is starting to look better and better!

With East Oakland seemingly spiraling out of control and a fiance reminding me that our child cannot grow up in Oakland and be safe, I decided to do a little research.

Currently, we are renting a 2-bedroom house for $1325 a month. In Oakley, there is a house  - 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a 2 car garage – for 1375 a month.

“Honey, it’s time to pack!”

The whole concept of uprooting my family and moving to an unfamiliar place is intimidating. But why? The Southern migrants of the Greatest Generation did it, and many of them prospered.

Maybe in time Antioch will be the new Oakland. Given The Town’s rep right now, I’m sure the good people of the Oakley/Brentwood area aren’t too thrilled about Oakland’s undeniable presence in their city. Because, by now, don’t we all know someone up in there?


GUNS Part I: When in Rome… Stay Strapped!

Gun violence is rocking our city. But at Oakland Voices, not everyone agrees on whether or not owning them creates or feeds a culture of violence, or if it’s just smart self-defense. Two of our correspondents have very different perspectives on the need for guns in our homes and society. Here, one has his say. Click here for Part II by Debora Gordon.

The 1100 block of 84th Ave, where an Oakland resident was pistol whipped during a home invasion robbery last July. I’m sure the victims wish they had been strapped that fateful morning! Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012

By Michael Holland

With gun-related crimes in the news nightly, it might seem hard to understand why someone would support the Second Amendment. But I do.

Living in Oakland I have seen many crime scenes. When the yellow crime tape comes down, the make-shift memorials sprout up. Time and time again The Tribune has been the bearer of the bad news.  If you live in East Oakland, like me, you have probably heard or seen gunshots. Sometimes not just ordinary gunfire, but bursts from semi-automatic weapons. Spooky stuff.

A run-in with an assault rifle in 1999 convinced me it was time to get strapped.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day, I was doing a side job in Oakland through a temp agency. I reconnected with an old childhood friend from Bayview-Hunters Point. It was good to be in Oakland and see one of my old Police Athletic League pals.

We worked together at a construction site and when the day was through, I followed him in my truck to his crib where we planned to knock back a few beers. He drove a Benz with dealer plates. When we reached his house on 88th and Hillside I couldn’t help but notice he had a matching Mercedes wagon.

I asked why he was working for a temp agency, doing mindless menial labor, when he had two sweet rides. He changed the subject and led me into a barely furnished house. As he opened the fridge, I noticed that he had no food. Just a brown paper grocery bag and a 24-pack of beer. He pulled out two and we started catching up. He and I had some good times playing Little League.

On the counter I observed numerous boxes of baking soda.

Uh oh.

Now, I’m no Babe in the Woods. Baking soda, Benzes – where I’m from, those equal dope dealing. I tried to play it cool and act like I wasn’t a three strikes candidate, which I was and still am.

I began wrapping up the walk down memory lane when all of a sudden the front door burst open with the loudest thud I have ever heard. My mind thought police, but my eyes saw something much worse: two unmasked black men who seemed to be ten feet tall with the door crashing down under their feet.

My mind and body froze. I wish I could tell you that I was dashing and daring as I fended off the burly bears, but it didn’t go down like that. All I could do was fix my lips to say “Please, my brother.”

“Lay down!,” a voice yelled out from behind the two. He was a smaller black guy, also unmasked. The implications of unmasked robbers was this: they had no intentions of leaving witnesses.

The smaller of the three did all the talking. And rightfully so. He he had an assault rifle the size of tricycle. I later found out that it was an AR-15.

“Where’s it at?,” he demanded. My friend balked and remained silent. As we lay on the floor the one standing over me walked to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and inspected that brown bag. He gestured to the others. I’m guessed that he’d found what they were looking for. They stepped over us and the door before stealing away into the afternoon.

Nearby Castlemont High had just let out and I could hear numerous voices outside. We stayed on the floor in awkward silence for what seemed like an hour.

Looking back on the entire situation I realize that the feeling of helplessness is what made me so scared. Like most men I would like to fancy myself to be a quick moving, strong bodied, fighting machine. But when that door crashed open, I was like a damsel in distress!

“If only I’d had a gun” is a thought that has run through my mind from time to time since the invasion. Maybe I could have been all heroic and defended the honor of The Bayview Junior Giants.

Or maybe the intruders would have seen the gun and gotten trigger happy. Maybe I could have wounded them and held them until the cops came.

So many possible scenarios. But one thing is for sure:  guns speak volumes! Having one trumps not having one every time.

Soon after that invasion, I convinced my girlfriend at the time to go to a gun store in San Leandro and purchase a pistol for the house. She didn’t have a record so in a short period of time we were the proud owners of a brand new Glock .40. We cared for it like it was a luxury car.

Thinking about my Glock now, I’m seeing another possible scenario had it been with me the day those guys came by for a visit. Maybe I would have lost the shootout – costing both me and my friend our lives. Or they might have just seen my gun and shot me in the head, leaving all my thoughts on the floor of the stash house.

But it would have been worth the risk, just to have the power to try defending myself. I can’t stress enough how powerless I felt cowering on the floor.
But after we got back from the gun store, having a rocket in the house made me feel like like Charles Bronson. I felt like all of the drama from The Murda Dubs – the area around 23rd Ave. in East Oakland – couldn’t affect us.

That is a good feeling.

Now, you may say my buddy had it coming to him. When you play the game, sometimes you lose. That’s true. But my point is, in Oakland – as in many other cities – the drama can come to you even when your hands are completely clean. And I’d rather have something in mine to defend myself when the drama comes.

Because today, doors are still being kicked in. Not all of the doors being kicked in are stash houses. Some of those doors have hard working everyday people on the other side – people who are trying to protect their family and their property.

Adding to the problem is the recent rash of home invasions. And trust me when I tell you that the people committing these crimes are armed. Strapped.  And nothing can put the fear of God in you more than a burner being stuck in your face.

Although I haven’t been in prison for nearly twenty years, I still can’t own or posses any weapon of any form. But living in Oakland you can bet your bottom dollar that my house is protected (wink wink). And judging by the shots fired every New Year’s Eve, I’m surrounded by a whole lot of guns.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in East Oakland, when your door gets kicked in, wouldn’t you rather rely on your own aim than the Police response time?

Thought so.

When in The East, do as the Oaklanders do: stay strapped!

Click here to read Debora Gordon’s case against guns.

Right Around The Corner From It

Although Picardy Avenue is in the “flat lands,” the street is always well paved and clean. The residents put on a spectacular Christmas light show every year. Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

Navigating through East Oakland, you will see two types of blocks. Some streets are well-paved. Those are usually lined with trees that bear fruit and nuts, and some that give color according to the season.

The tree-lined, well-paved streets didn’t just get that way. They have been that way for years and they seem to be the only streets that stay well-kept.

Streets like Picardy Ave. (off of 55th Avenue)and Yuba Ave. are always free of potholes, and those two streets are in East Oakland’s so-called flat lands – an area often thought of as one filled with busted sidewalks and sagging homes.

The streets up in the Oakland Hills are often pristine, as well. That area boasts some of the most spectacular views of the Bay Area. The hills also have numerous species of plant and tree life. Squirrels can often be seen gnawing on acorns giving the hills a quaint, TV Land type of feeling. The murder, prostitution, and drug dealing that have put Oakland in the national spotlight must seem a world away.

But they’re not.

Yuba Ave. epitomizes the kind of quiet, clean blocks found throughout East Oakland. Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

Some of those are right around the corner, on the other type of blocks. Those are inhabited by people who are mostly just like those living in the more crisp neighborhoods. Often, the only differences are location and income.

For example, here in the flat sections of The Town, there is an abundance of trees, just like in the more affluent parts of town. But if these trees could talk they would speak about bloody murder. Some murder that made the evening news, and some that didn’t. Murder that has not discriminated because of race. Of the 77 killings that occurred between New Year’s Day and late August, the majority of them were in the east – in the flat and foothill sections of the town, to be exact.

Schools have been declared Drug Free Zones. But when the sun goes down, those areas tend to take on a whole different attitude. Here are some so-called Drug Free Zones that double as dope spots: 23rd Ave. (from E. 19th to E. 27th Streets), 82nd Ave. (almost every block from MacArthur to International Blvds.), Walnut ave. (between 101st and 102nd Aves.), 48th Ave. , and the list goes on, and is expanding at an awful rate. All these spots are in walking distance of schools such as Fremont High, St. Louis Bertrand, and St. Anthony. These are only a few.

Sadly, my 5 year-old’s new school, Green Leaf Elementary,  seems to be around the corner from some questionable characters. After dropping her off at school one morning, I witnessed what I perceived to be a prostitute getting out of a John’s car on 64th and International.

Maybe she was coming from a video shoot. Maybe she wasn’t a hooker?  Nah. I’ve been in the world long enough to know what a “street worker” looks like!

The corner of 48th Ave. and Foothill Blvd. was the scene of an early morning homicide late last month. The crime scene was in a “Drug Free Zone” around the corner from Fremont High and a residential area. Photo: Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

Oakland Police have a difficult job. I am usually very critical of them, but with all the violence during the summer of 2012, I actually applaud their attempt to curb the killings. Sadly the makeshift memorials scattered around Oakland are a sign that more crime prevention is needed.

And they seem to be trying. OPD has stepped up patrols in some of the troubled areas – Jean Quan’s 100 Block Plan in action – but more are still needed.

Living on a block that is well-paved and lined with trees seems like the ideal setting for a peaceful life. But if you live in this city and you’ve got a home on one of those sorts of streets, you aren’t far from the potholes, dope houses, and blood shed that make life hard in some of your fellow Oaklanders.

In fact, you are right around the corner from it.

The food stamp cash-in: East Bay businesses capitalize on EBT

Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Ave.

The Pizza Hut on Fruitvale Avenue now accepts EBT cards. But the two-inch thick bulletproof glass and absence of dine-in seating make it very unwelcoming. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

Alameda County residents who are receiving food stamps, cash and other forms of public assistance as an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) can now purchase prepared meals at Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker – two establishments that didn’t accept them a month ago. But they have to be elderly, disabled, or homeless.

August 1st was the first day that Pizza Hut  began capitalizing on EBT. With two participating locations in Oakland and seven more throughout the East Bay, Pizza Hut should see an increase in sales.

But those increases in sales could also lead to an increase in the obesity rate as well as the rate of diabetes in the inner city. Dr. Kenneth Matsamura of the West Oakland Health Center said, “a lot of my overweight patients got that way by eating comfort foods like pizza in excess.”

The Mayo Clinic’s “Living with diabetes blog” published a very unfavorable report on the relationship between pizza and diabetes in 2009. Although pizza can at times be rich in protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates, it has also been linked to obesity and bad cholesterol. The best things that Pizza Hut have to offer are hot wings, deep dish pizza, and sodas galore. Not good.

Dorsey’s Locker has been in business since 1941. Their menu is comprised of soul food with a New Orleans theme. The food is delicious. It is also very fried and very sweet – rich in sodium, sugar, and fat.

I personally grew up eating soul food. Today, I am slightly overweight and I am also a diabetic. I attribute my diabetes to the diet I grew up on – soul food. The traditional, Down South type of deep-fried dinners that are served at Dorsey’s are what many black families still eat. Like I said, the food is delicious. But all that flavor comes with a price. A lifetime of eating such foods can lead to a lifetime of health problems.

The food at Dorsey’s Locker is also slightly overpriced for someone trying to survive off of the meager allotment of food stamps they receive. The average meal and drink at Dorsey’s runs about twenty dollars. At those prices, a recipient can only afford to eat for maybe a week.

The benefit amount varies, but according to the Alameda County Social Services website, the average applicant receives $73 a month in food stamps. If the person is head of a household the size of one they can receive up to $200.  

In the 1990s, Subway sandwich shops accepted food stamps in Oakland. They no longer do. Subway might be at least a slightly healthier option than pizza or soul food (although some of their food is also high in sodium ad fat). But health has nothing to do with the bottom line. Pizza Hut and Dorsey’s Locker did not start accepting food stamps to promote health. It seems to me like they accept stamps now to increase profit. That unhealthy food isn’t helping anyone but themselves.

Programs like CalFresh (once officially, and sometimes still, known as Food Stamps), and General Assistance were put in place to help those in need feed themselves until they get on their feet. If those in need are eventually diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or other illnesses as a result of poor diets, state and federal governments may find themselves spending heavily on healthcare in the near future.

Fast food and soul food are parts of American culture. Knowing that, these two establishments have made a choice to capitalize on the EBT market.

The business end of a bullet: My not-so-blind gun violence survey

Will my 5 year-old Micalynn (middle) and her friends know someone who has been shot by the time they’re teenagers? By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

I decided to do my own survey. A “man-on-the-street” sample. No margin of error, no questionnaires, no statistics. Just one simple question that gets right at the heart of some pain going on in The Town right now.

I asked almost fifty East Oakland youths from the ages of 13 to 17,”Do you know anybody personally that has been shot?” Most of them didn’t want to talk about it. At least, not to me.

But, ten teens did speak up. The results were interesting.

First off, I’m in East Oakland, so the majority of the population is Black or Hispanic. Although I had originally planned to ask 100 teens, only 10 were willing to even speak to this random community corespondent.

The first participants were two Hispanic male teens standing at the bus stop on the corner of Seminary Road and International Blvd. They both had on red caps and red Nike shoes. Being Hispanic and wearing a lot of red can easily be read as you showing your allegiance to The Northern Structure, but these two young men didn’t look like gang members.

When I asked my survey question,  the taller of the two spoke. “My brother got shot in San Jose. He didn’t die.” The other young man added another name. “Gabriel Martinez – the 5 year old that got shot and killed by the taco truck earlier this year – was my cousin.” Both of the young men were 16 years old.

Next, I approached a group of 3 young Black men standing in front of Hamilton’s Barbershop at 60th Ave. and International Blvd. Their ages ranged from 13 to 15. They could hardly hold back their laughter as the youngest, yet the tallest, answered, “in February, our friend Keevon Davis got shot in the leg inside The Village.”

They all began to laugh, as though something was funny about Keevon being shot. I never did figure out what was amusing about Keevon catching a bullet. Maybe he walks funny now.

Or maybe it’s that guns are treated so casually that getting shot today is like when we got chased by the neighbor’s dog when we ran through his yard as kids. The slow one always got chomped in the backside. That was funny. For me, I don’t think a bullet ever will be.

As they chuckled, a group of three young Black girls exited the cigarette store two doors down from the barber shop. 

I asked the group of girls if they knew anyone who had been shot. One of them chimed in and said that her 18 year-old boyfriend Charles Willis was shot on International and 82nd Ave. The other two nodded their heads in agreement. The girls did not wish to give their ages, but they could not have been any older than 16 years old. The girlfriend’s voice rang with what sounded almost like pride as she described how the Willis didn’t cooperate with OPD, even though he knew the shooter.

Inside Hamilton’s Barber Shop, two Black 17 year-old boys were waiting for their turns at the barber’s chair. Again, I surveyed. But my answer this time was a wordless one. Instead, one of the young men simply rolled up his shirt sleeve to reveal a memorial tattoo on his forearm.


Both teens went to school and grew up with Jabari, who was shot in Richmond following a high school basketball game last year. They are going to be seniors at Fremont High this year. Jabari was set to graduate this year.

The youngster’s tattoo looked freshly done. Twenty years ago, an RIP tattoo on a 17 year old’s arm would have been frowned upon. But we are living in a time where the average teenager is exposed to as much violence as a John Singleton movie.

The teens that didn’t participate in my survey chose not to speak to a stranger. You can’t fault them for that. Had they participated the results might have been even more revealing. Maybe they all too would have personal relationships with shooting victims.

As of July 26th, there were 65 gun-related killings in Oakland. All of the teens I spoke to answered yes. That is only a micro-microcosm of the bigger picture. The fact that they all knew someone on the business end of a bullet is disturbing.

Innocence Lost: East Oakland teen shot twice for his iPod

When T was shot, the bullet passed through his abdomen, and exited his lower back. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

By Michael Holland

To protect his identity, the shooting victim’s name has been changed.

On Saturday June 30th, a young man was shot on 50th Avenue and International Boulevard. The fact that someone was shot on the infamous streets of East Oakland was not too surprising. Lately, people seem to get shot in Oakland almost everyday, at all times of the day.

Like many residents, I watch the local news and read the Tribune to find out what crimes happened overnight. So when I found out about the shooting on 50th Ave., I had no idea that the victim was someone I knew. No one involved had their names released. The story was, as usual, a bunch of nameless, faceless people involved in another shooting.

Later that day, I found out that the victim was a young man named T, whose family I know through my in-laws. He comes from a solid and stable home, and has never been involved with gun play. His family has a long record of charity and service to the city of Oakland. I know him to be an athletic and intelligent teenager with excellent manners.

Finding out T had been hurt made me reflect back to earlier in the year. He and I helped a near and dear friend move some things around in a storage locker. He struck me as a bright-eyed, almost innocent young lad.

I monitored his recovery through my stepdaughter, who is very close to his family. He underwent surgery after surgery. The doctors at Highland Hospital’s trauma unit worked on him around the clock.

As time went by information surfaced about the shooting. It was a robbery attempt. T was on his way home when two young black  men approached him, demanding his iPod. One of them pointed a gun at T’s stomach, firing two rounds which struck his large intestine and his bladder before exiting through T’s lower back.

I wanted to check in to see how he was healing, and I wanted to hear from him more about the assault. So last week, I met with him at a family home in East Oakland. The house was well furnished and the padded carpet was so clean, I thought I should take my shoes off.

My eyes wandered around the living room, and landed on T, whom I saw through his bedroom doorway sitting with a  computer on his lap. He looked surprisingly well. He’d even grown a bit – at least 3 to 4 inches since I last saw him.

He moved to greet me, and before I could say “You don’t have to get up,” he was already standing and shaking my hand. But as he went to sit back down, I witnessed his face cringe with pain. I asked him how he was doing and he said, “I’m getting better.”

For someone who had been attacked and shot, T seemed pretty calm, and we spoke casually about the incident. He told me that the would-be robbers did not get his iPod. We laughed. But as we laughed, T grimaced. He was hurting bad.

“I couldn’t believe I was shot. Twice at that,” he said. T didn’t remember being taken to the hospital. “I think some passerby called 911.”

He then lifted his shirt to reveal entry wounds. When I saw the scars at his front lower abdomen, the thought crossed me mind that the shooter may have been trying to kill him.

T imagined what he would do different in the future to try to avoid something like this. ”I have to watch were I go from now on.”

For now, he’s taking things day by day. The experience has forced T to change his routine. Things he used to do with ease, like playing sports and participating in school, are now almost impossible. He plans to be home schooled next year. His intestinal health has been at risk since the botched robbery. I pray that he has a speedy recovery.

As we spoke, I didn’t notice any animosity in T’s speech toward the shooter. It was almost as if he had already forgiven them. Besides, there are no suspects in the case, and in a city like this one you have to get killed to create a buzz.

Like many of our Oakland youths, he has been forced into a situation that is beyond his control. He was headed to the safety of home when he was shot. His iPod made him a victim. Times are tough now, and apparently people are willing to commit attempted murder for the resale value of a little digital audio player. In east Oakland there isn’t an abundance of industry, and jobs are scarce. People have been left with no alternative other than creating their own income, doing what they can to survive, even at the risk of another’s life.

When those two guys confronted T, all they seemed to be going for was his $200 iPod. Although they didn’t get it, they took a lot more. A kind, energetic kid has been robbed of the chance to make his last two teenage years healthy ones.

Now he has under his belt the experience of being a shooting victim. A young man with so much life already wrapped up in something so deadly.


Polite Policing

By Michael Holland

Oakland Police watch me as I watch them. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

East Oakland’s Lockwood Gardens – also known as 65th Village – has undergone a metamorphosis. The landscape seems suddenly well kept.  The maintenance crews ride golf carts from building to building.

From the 1970s through the 90s, the spot I am standing on was known for drugs and murder. But thanks to remodeling and heavy policing, this area has gotten somewhat better. Oakland Housing Authority and the Oakland Police Department have established themselves firmly in the complex. I am not saying they have done away with all of the crime. But they have made themselves known, and their presence is a strong deterrent.

So, here’s what happened one day to make me question the real value in having all these cops around. A man pedaled towards me on a bike that was towing behind it a big green garbage can – the kind you use for yard waste and food scraps.

He saw me pull out my camera, and asked, ”Why you taking pictures?”

“I don’t need no permit to take no pictures,” I reminded him. We both laughed it off. Seeing that I’d broken the ice, I asked him about his rigged bike. He told me his name was Bobby, that he’d been living in the area for 30 years, and that this was his “scraper bike.”

Just as we began talking, two police cars pulled up – a Housing Authority car alongside an OPD cruiser. Bobby said, almost like a warning, in a tone that was cautionary, “They rolling,” he said, and then sped off on his bike.

The officers got out of their cars, and stood about ten feet away. They looked in my direction. I felt awkward, but nodded anyway, and said, “Mornin.”

They both looked at me but, saying nothing, they walked past me on their way to the Housing Authority office inside the complex.

I felt disrespected, and retaliated by taking a picture of them both. They gave me the evil eye. Them being upset made me feel very good.

Bobby pedals through 65th Village with a trash bin hitched to his scraper bike. By Michael Holland, Oakland Voices 2012.

That exchange made me think back to Bobby’s warning. “They rollin.” Why would he warn me? I am not doing anything illegal.

But sometimes that seems to be beside the point for the law officers who patrol our neighborhoods. They have a way of making us residents feel as if we’re doing something wrong, like standing in our own communities and talking with our neighbors makes us suspicious.

Law enforcement gets criticized often for its hard tactics in our communities, and the criticism sometimes is right on. Occasionally, police may need to be aggressive in East Oakland. I get that, too. But the officers who patrol these areas should be approachable. A little polite policing wouldn’t hurt.

That’s especially true because the police need our help to solve – and prevent – crimes. I remember that  a young man named Tyrell Smith was just shot to death on April 19th while pushing his 1 year old son in a toy stroller here in the Lockwood Gardens.

My heart goes out to the family of that young man, especially since his murder remains unsolved. And with rude, detached officers like the ones I encountered, the crime will probably remain unsolved.