By Kyung Lah and Chandelis Duster, CNN
Oakland, California (CNN) — After 60-year-old retiree David Schneider was shot and killed here while trimming a tree in his yard, his neighbor, Toni Bird, said she retreated indoors.
“People aren’t feeling safe out of their house,” she said. “It makes sense that you would want to protect your house then, right? You would barricade it.”
Bird, who moved to Oakland 2 1/2 years ago, said she took their advice to heart. She now has three air horns and five security cameras around her home.
“The types of crime that we’re seeing feel much more violent and the consequences feel much more severe,” she said. “And it feels like the people that are being targeted are people who are vulnerable.”
Oakland residents say they are unnerved and considering fleeing the state because of the rise in violent crime that has community activists, including the local NAACP, demanding urgent action from city officials.
In a letter released in late July, NAACP Oakland Branch President Cynthia Adams and Oakland pastor Bishop Bob Jackson demanded action from elected leaders to ensure public safety, especially in predominately Black neighborhoods.
“African Americans are disproportionately hit the hardest by crime in East Oakland and other parts of the city. But residents from all parts of the city report that they do not feel safe,” they said in the letter.
The statement went on to accuse “failed leadership” of creating “a heyday for Oakland criminals.”
“We call on all elected leaders to unite and declare a state of emergency and bring together massive resources to address our public safety crisis,” the letter said.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office refuted the NAACP’s characterization of the city official’s efforts to stop the crime surge.
“We are disappointed that a great African American pastor and a great African American organization would take a false narrative on such an important matter,” the office said in a statement.
While the sides appear to disagree on how the narrative is framed, one truth appears undeniable: Oakland is buckling under a rise in crime.
Although homicides are down 14% in the last year, burglaries have increased by 41% and robberies by more than 20%, according to data from the city’s police department.
Darren Allison, interim chief of the Oakland Police Department, said he’s aware the rise in crime is putting a strain on the quality of life for residents and tourists.
That is why, he said, his department is focusing on sustainable solutions for prevention, in addition to enforcing the laws.
But according to the union representing Oakland police officers, the city needs more officers on the street.
The Oakland Police Department currently has 715 officers on staff, Allison told CNN.
Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, said the union believes the number of officers in the city should be closer to 1,200, based on the volume of calls and the size of the population.
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said she is committed to working with partners in the community to find ways to prevent crimes and hold those who commit them accountable.
“As a City, we’ve worked hard to make it safer,” she said in a statement. But, she conceded, “we know we need to do more.”
The upswing in crime has forced some Oakland residents, including Kristin Cook, to flee to other states. Cook watched with tears in her eyes as a moving pod packed with all her family’s belongings was loaded onto a flatbed truck.
Although she’s lived in Oakland her whole life, Cook said she’s now moving to Texas for the sake of her son.
“I love Oakland. … I can’t take it anymore,” she said. “I got to the point I was too scared to leave my house.”
She said the rise in carjackings has made her scared to take drives at night, a pastime she once enjoyed.
“My son is about to start driving. … I’m terrified my son is gonna be killed at a stop sign because he’s driving an Impala, and I just can’t, I can’t risk it.”
Bird said she chooses to stay because she is optimistic that things will change. She noted the surge in crime has also made her closer to her neighbors.
“This is my home, I’ve made it my home and I don’t want to abandon a home,” she said.
“I’m not looking for the perfect safe place. I’m looking for a place where the elderly, [and] women with children aren’t targeted. Right? I think we can all agree that that needs to change.”
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