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tv   KQED Newsroom  PBS  May 10, 2015 5:00pm-5:31pm PDT

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next on kqed "newsroom" surviving in east oakland -- >> the outside world looks at us as gangs and cliques. most of the time we look at them as family. >> they already got a guilty sign do you get what i'm saying? >> what happened in baltimore can happen here. people were tired of being tired. >> hello and welcome to kqed news room. earlier this week i interviewed three young people who grew up in east oakland in some of the bay area's poorest neighborhoods. they were all involved in street life at one time or another. what they told me was quite moving. later in the show, we're going to talk about crime and crime
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prevention strategies, but first i want you to hear from the young people i met. tell me about your childhood. what was it like? what has it been like growing up in east oakland? >> in one word -- deprived. we knew there was breakfast, lunch and dinner but i wasn't privileged to that all the time. not having a father around i always tried to believe the lie, which was i didn't care that he wasn't around. was but really, the truth was i always heard that he knew about me but still chose not to be around. >> my mom was gone. my dad was in the pen. i moved around from family to family for a while. my dad came back home. i moved with him. the penitentiary affected my dad in a lot of ways so a lot of
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his anger would come out towards our household. and we watched my step mom get beat beat. at times we got handled in ways that kids shouldn't have got handled. >> where was your biological mom? >> in the streets. the streets had her attention more than her kids did at the time. >> starting 13 on up it was definitely rough on me and it was all me. anything that i had from the clothes to the shoes to the money i had in my pocket was on me. >> i was wondering how to get money. i was 12 years old. i'm not old enough for a job. i can't get a work permit, but i need things. i don't eat three times a day. i'm hungry. i can walk down the street and i'm pretty sure i'm going to run into a liquor store and the first thing i might see is an opportunity. something that shows me comfort or relief. those people on the corner, those people -- there are a group of people that feel like i
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did. who came from nothing who created something between each other. it changes your priority level from applying stuff like, oh this is a bad situation to survival. >> why do you think that it's so easy to fall into the street life in oakland, as you put it? >> out here you're not living for next year. you're not living for when you turn 25. you're living for right now. if you're 13 14 years old, you want something you want it right now. in these streets you know you've got to go get it. >> is that because you don't know how much longer you'll live? >> exactly. growing up now, it's to the point where you could get killed by walking down the street and looking at somebody wrong. >> what do you say to people who may look at the situation and say lots of people come from bad circumstances but they don't go rob people they don't shoot at people. >> i would say come live oakland, california, life. have no parents. have your parents smoking crack, snorting heroin. and then come tell me that
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you're going okay can that and rise and get better and not rob somebody. it's not going to be that easy for you. >> do you consider yourself part of a gang or a clique? or were you ever involved with any of that? >> the outside world look at them as gangs and cliques. most of the time, we look at them as family. i grew up in a village, which you guys would consider, i guess projects, which is actually what gave me my stability. so i don't know -- i wouldn't consider it a gang. but the outside, the media, they would look at it as a gang. >> it's perceived as a gang or a clique, but any massive group with an objective should be considered a gang, if that's the case. if that's a gang, you can say sure i was in a gang. i was in a gang along with other people who were deprived of
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fathers, food, direction stability. >> at what age did you enter a clique? >> 13. >> 13. >> 13 years old. going to party, banging, walking around with straps, everything. straps meaning guns. i mean you know. >> at 13 years old, you were walking around with guns? >> come on man. it's east oakland, california. it happens every day. ain't got no choice. kill or be killed. >> my brother was killed by two oakland police officers in 2003 while he was in the house asleep. so it was life-changing. like he was who i leaned on. it was me and my brother against the world, because it was me and him going through the struggle that my mom was on drugs that she just abandoned us and he
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was just my rock. >> have you ever lost friends or family to violence? >> oh, yeah, definitely. a lot of friends, a couple family members. but you kind of like, just learn to deal with it after so many. >> you're trying to get out of the street life halfway. >> i mean, well, sort of to say. i mean, i would never want to step all the way away from it. thsz where my friends and my family -- i mean if i see a dead body on the ground right now, i look at it keep going home and go to sleep just fine. wake up the next morning like nothing happened. >> that doesn't bother you to see a dead body on the street? >> you see a lot of stuff out here. man, the police when people die the police leave them on the street for hours. >> have you ever been shot at? >> definitely. >> how many times? >> you know, i've been shot a couple of times. i've been shot at multiple. can't count. >> you just live with fear every
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day. >> not fear. no fear. not scared of anything. when the time comes, it's going to come and there's not going to be nothing i can do about it me or you. >> what was the turning point for you that made you decide i need to stop living the street life? >> i want to make my brother proud. i didn't want to be a victim to these streets. i've lost so many of my classmates to these streets. i lost so many family members to these streets. and it was just time for something new. >> i didn't expect to make it to 22. i had my son when i was about 20 years old. and i lost a cousin to violence. he was murdered on the way to my house. and it changed my life. it made me realize that choice matters. >> do you want to get out of the life completely 100%? >> no. i mean it's love man. and i mean, that's another thing that comes from not having a
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home. it's love. you see people that you love, people that really love you, that show you love, that got your back. >> when your brother passed away, what was that like for you? >> i held a lot of anger with oakland police for a long time because of that. it affected me as being on the street, as soon as i see an officer, my body was unconditionally start shaking. >> the police don't have nothing to do but sit up here and kind of push us around. i mean police shooting a black man everywhere they go because they're trained to shoot to kill. >> to me it's not about color. you're a product of that environment you're trying to stabilize, which means you're unstable. you're not even from east oakland, but you try to come to east oakland with an intent to intimidate, it's wrong already. >> but all you are are a gang with badges. you all running two to a car,
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you all drive around. everybody else is just on the streets. you get what i'm saying? it's just like gang banging. there's no difference. you all got a badge. you all shoot and kill people just like us. >> what happens in baltimore can happen here. people are tired of being tired. you can only be told no so much before you go see where you want to go see what yes is like. and martial law and having all kinds of armies and police ooefrtd around, i know what i would do. it would make me get even more rambunctious, because now you're giving me a reason to put my hands up. you're letting me know by with my hands up, you're getting afraid. ♪ somebody try to hold us back ♪ >> i think the statement that the people are trying to make is that we can get bigger than you guys. we can get stronger than you guys if we stand together. >> at the end of the day i don't blame the officers, i blame what's behind the
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officers. because i mean, if somebody gave me a gun and said i could shoot and wouldn't go to jail for the rest of my life i would be out here shooting people. >> is there something people might not already know about street life? >> they shouldn't be judged. just because they're sitting on that corner doesn't mean that they don't have someone at home that doesn't care for them. or they don't have anyone that they're living for. >> we raised tough. we ducking gunshots. we know when we hear gunshots, hit the ground. it's not our fault. it's generation after generation after generation after generation. it goes on. >> what are you fears about the future? >> my fear about the future is not to let my son become who i was. that's my only fear.
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>> make sure that everything that you go through, you realize that you get through. humble yourself. take pride within yourself. but don't let your pride kill you. >> what do you want for your son? >> i want him to be a baseball player. i want him just to live life without having to look over his shoulder, thinking that maybe a bullet may hit him because he's walking through a bus stop. or try to recruit him into a gang. >> do you want to take him out of east oakland? >> no. no. >> this is home at the end of the day. honestly, as you grow up, you realize it's not where you live it's how you live. and it's all about choices. >> incredible stories, that was kenneth munson tara mcgail and ron easley.
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now for a larger look at some of the issues they raised, here's scott sheaffer. joining me now rf the director of a nonprofit dr. angela wolf, director of justice strategies at the national council on crime and delinquency, and clinton thomas. he was released from prison in november after spending more than two decades behind bars for his involvement in a gang-related killing. welcome to all of you. thanks so much for being here. very powerful, so many insights. i want to ask each of you, starting with you clinton. what stood out for you? >> the despair and the lack of vision that comes with youth. they seemingly don't see the flip side of the poverty or the deprivation, as the young man
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said. he felt really deprived growing up. and come from where he comes from as a young person, i had that same lack of vision. but i was able to grow up and see there were people doing positive things, going to school, not hanging out on the corners. that provides one aspect of the drama going on in east oakland. >> are you saying the despair is a result of living there as something that can easily be overcome? or just a human reaction, normal reaction in some ways? >> it's a normal reaction. but the despire is a result of the dysfunction going on in those particular households. because there are homes in east oakland with two parents who are hardworking, tax paying citizens, law abiding and whose kids go to school and graduate and head to college and become positive members of society. those particular young people happen to have some tremendous
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dysfunction taking place in their households. and as a result the despair seeps in and you tend to look for ways in which you can feel empowered. >> do those young people remind you of the students that you see in high school? >> very much so. you talk about the despair. almost a sense of post traumatic stress. but not only the post traumatic stress but there's almost a pretraumatic stress when they look at the future. is it even possible to study that? that's what i took away from that video. >> so kind of a hopelessness. >> yes. yeah, looking forward and not feeling like there's anything there. >> angie, what are your thoughts about what you heard? >> at first, i was really happy to see that there was a woman represented in that panel. i think women and girls and their experience in these communities are so often neglected. and they grow up to be the mothers of children that are going to participate in this cycle. so it's really important that we provide them with resources.
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the trauma even in the two-parent households where everything is going pretty smoothly, just living in these communities it's a substantial amount of trauma every day. if that is a way of life, you can see the heightened level of arousal. just day to day life. it's exhausting. >> there was a lot of contempt expressed for the police department. did anything that you heard there surprise you? >> no it wasn't surprising for me, but i had a little different standpoint when i was viewing it because i was operating, watching it wearing two hats. one wearing as a black man born and raised and living in this community and one as a law enforcement professional. the despair the sense of hopelessness really resonated with me where i felt like there is something we need to do as a community, not just as a race, but as a community to instill more hope in our youth so that they don't have these feelings. hearing someone say that they didn't think they were going to live to 25 i just can't wrap my
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mind around that. when i was 25 years old, i didn't even really know what life was all about and i had much life ahead of me. >> did you grow up in circumstances similar to what those kids were describing? >> i grew up in circumstances in east oakland where the things they were describing were all around me as well. i was very fortunate to have two parents in my household that worked very hard. but yeah i was faced with having to make decisions in regards to doing good and doing bad. i made some bad decisions as a youth. i understand that. then my second half wearing as a law enforcement person i saw that -- when i look at law enforcement, there's deposits and withdrawals. and we've made a lot of withdrawals in this community and it's about making deposits now. >> what do you mean by withdrawals. >> meaning things that you see in the media, poor interactions by officers, things that we have done as oakland police officers where we hadn't held people accountable, or things happened in regards to tensions with
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contacts. what i mean by deposits is being able to actually have someone who can relate to individuals. when an individual is on there that were just interviewed, i actually sat down and had a one-on-one interview that was aired on a tv station in the bay area, and it's about making relationships and having contacts. >> you grew up in east oakland. you went to howard university. you graduated recently from uc berkeley with a journalism degree, i think. what made the difference for you? what did it take? how hard was it to get out of the situation that you grew up in, or the people around you, as these young folks described? >> optimism. optimism was the key, thinking that it was possible. looking around and seeing the environment and seeing how it impacted people around me namely there's a part in that video where the young lady talked about her mother being involved in the streets and the streets having a hold on her. it was evident with my sister. she's five years older than i a am. she got involved in the streets and how that impacted my mother,
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i didn't want to take that route. >> what gave you the optimism. was there a person or a mentor? >> my mother. ever optimistic. anything is possible. >> clinton, what about you? you joined a drug gang when you were 13? >> i joined a drug gang when i was 13. i first began selling drugs when i was 10. the first time i actually sold drugs in east oakland, i was 10 years old. and i wanted to fit in. there was peer pressure involved. it was based on my choices ultimately. i knew better and i knew right from wrong. i still chose to align myself with those who were hanging out because it still seemed exciting. around my 13th birthday, my mom was suffering from heart complications from heart disease. she spent approximately a year in the hospital before she pazed away. so i was living with my older siblings and i was, for lack of a better word, out of control. i started hanging out on the streets. >> did you have a father in your
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life? >> no, my father was living in texas and my mother was in oakland. and my stepfather and my mother had divorced years ago. approximately when i was around 10. but the fact of the matter is that i literally saw power in being able to make my own decisions. i saw relief from the shame and embarrassment, because i lived in a close-knit community right there in the brookfield community area where it's right off 98th avenue. and it seemed like everybody knew my business. as a young person everybody knew that i wasn't having three meals a day like the young man shared on the video. and everybody knew that my clothes weren't new because of my mother's struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction, in my mind. >> you said dealing drugs gave you a sense of power. how common is that? that getting involved in a gang or doing something like that gives somebody something that they don't feel they can get from another part of their life,
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including respect i imagine. >> as a young person, the most important thing in the world to me is my reputation. and how my peers perceive me. so if i'm perceived as poor, if i'm perceived as having less than others, i tend not to want to be around. so i skipped the entire seventh grade and was passed to the eighth right there in east oakland. i literally skipped the entire seventh grade was given my report card on the last day of school, became fearful because i knew my mother was going to demonstrate on me and i opened it up and it said you have been passed to the eighth. and at that point, i never really went back to school, i dropped out. >> we hear a lot about -- there's a lot of focus on young men. but you a moment ago alluded to girls. what are pressures girls face in a place like east oakland and how does the criminal justice system treat them differently? >> i think it's a complicated answer. but the woman that spoke talked about her parents being incarcerated incarcerated.
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and i think aun unsafe house hold is the primary reason girls join gangs to begin with. they're seeking out a different kind of family that will take care of them. they're often exploited within the gang. then when law enforcement and the criminal justice system gets involved they're often removed from their homes or their communities in order to protect girls. we're putting them in detention centers and place where is they're likely to be further abused in order to protect them. and really what girls are doing is seeking out a place to be safe. and all of the young people that were speaking today spoke about, you know, finding ways to fit in finding ways to succeed, finding ways to get power. and what we're overlooking in this conversation is everyone -- all of the resiliency. >> yeah, they're survivors in a lot of ways. >> if i can add i don't have the empirical data to support this. i have seen a large uptick in young women being involved in
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violent crime -- street robberies, shootings, driving cars involved in felonious acts. and we have seen this in the last few months there's a lot of work being done in east oakland, the youth uprising the youth development center. we even have a group doing a pageant every year called the oakland teen pageant. and their model is change the lives of young women, change the community. >> and you, of course, work with project cease-fire. tell us about that, how does it work? who's in it? is it carrots and sticks? mostly sticks? or what? >> a lot of people would like to lump cease-fire into the carrot/stick model but cease-fire is basically a data-driven strategy that's nationally recognized in regards to reducing violent crime. our model is simply this -- we want to reduce shootings and homicide, two reduce recidivism incarceration rates and three, increase our relationships with the community. so we focus on people who are at most risk of being shot or being the shooters. we then go to them and offer them resources a way out, for
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lack of a better word and offer them resources through services to stop doing what they're doing. if they continue in their acts of violence, we use all the methods necessary to hold them accountable. >> the young people you work with at your high school that you teach, would they be inclined -- how would they feel about a program like cease-fire do you think? >> i don't think i can speak generally about everybody in my high school. >> what's your impression? >> my impression is that a way out is what they want. some type of resource that provides economic empowerment, security, safety, optimism for their future. you talked about the hope of drug dealing or even the young women i'm familiar with in east oakland. a lot of them get into the second trafficking trade just as a way to make money make ends meet and get out of whatever situation they're in. i'll say that one thing that's really evident is the lack of resources that's in the community. that's what brings about this cyclical act of violence, where you know that your family was the drug-dealing family, so you fall in line with that line of
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work. this is the same thing that happens in the suburbs. if your father is the owner of i don't know name a business, you probably fall in that line of work that your father was in. >> so one of you mentioned resiliency. a lot of these young people and others like them have, which is great. but there's a price to that, too. you build up an ar nor, an emotional armor. >> sure. living in fear for a long period of time will do that to you. i think it also causes, when you have that armor, other service providers and people in the community react to a different way. we're doing a large study with girls involved in gangs from the state of california now. one of the scales that we gave them was on their perceptions of discrimination. and the ways in which girls perceive they're being discriminated in both on how they're behaving what they're putting out there and how they're responding. >> discriminated by? >> by everyone in their
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community and being labelled in schools. >> clinton, real quick, that emotional armor, i imagine you grew up with that as well. what was your epiphany. how did you realize that it was a problem for you? >> it was a problem for me that it allowed me to participate in homicide, the murder of a innocent person. and i was desensitized from witnessing acts of violence early on in the community and seeing numerous headlines in the community. and also, not to discredit the fact that we celebrate the gangster in this society, you know? i knew about al capone more than i knew about law-abiding citizens. and this armor is something that allowed me to just violate the rights of other people. >> how do you break that armor? >> maturity. and it comes with time. >> if you live that long. >> if you live long enough. maturity. and hopefully you will reach that tipping point. it's called the tipping point, to where you see there's something better for you. that's truly the benefit of cease-fire. in my day and age, i was told to do better but not shown how to do better. >> i want to ask each of you, what gives you -- there's so
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much despair. we could talk about that for a long time. but what do you see out there, if anything, that gives you hope. let me start with you. >> the thing that gives me hope is that in the classroom, there's always one student that doesn't want to participate and will do something simple, a brain teaser or something like that. and you'll see that lightbulb and they'll raise their hands or comment under their breath, something subtle that shows there's potential there. >> what about you? >> living in oakland, not one day goes by on or off duty that i don't see someone who's really good people in the city of oakland. i took this job because i wanted to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves and i'm motivated by that daily. growing up in my niebd, neighborhood, a bunch of parents said go to school so you can bring something back to this community. >> what gives you hope and optimism? >> these kids aren't one
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dimensional. they're not just gangsters they're not just bad kids. even the kids doing really heinous things have wonderful sides to them. the trick is to see those and get more of that out of them. >> last word. >> the returning citizens, the former return to life prisoners inside and outside coming back and adding a new insight to the struggle going on within the communities today. >> and you think that that's -- >> tremendously hopeful. >> very complicated topic. thanks so much for coming and helping us understand it. clinton thomas, captain ercy joyner joyner angie wolf and pen harshaw at bunch continuation high school. >> thanks for having us. >> that is all for tonight's show. for all kqed's coverage, please go to
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