I'm a fan of the Ceasefire violence-prevention model and an Oaklander hoping for real change. But it is premature to celebrate or make conclusions over the city's homicide number for 2013, which is that rarity since the early 1970s: fewer than 100.
Maybe this is the beginning of a change that will be permanent. No question, it will have been a far better year for the city than 2012. But no one has ever told me how or when we will know that we genuinely have shed our murderous character as a city.
It's important to remember that the homicide numbers have fallen below 100 before, that politicians have touted those numbers as progress every time and that eventually -- usually quite quickly -- the numbers have surmounted 100 again, sometimes by a lot. As recently as 2010, there were 95 homicides. Then in 2011, there were 110. In 2012, 131.
And anyway, the human urge to squeeze the trigger never checks the calendar. Perhaps grasping for hope when they're down, or out of morbid shock when they're up, we tend to pay too much attention to the daily and weekly violent crime numbers in Oakland. We assign them too much meaning. Certainly politicians and the newspapers do. During the last mayoral campaign, then-candidate Jean Quan reacted defensively when I suggested to her that violence should be a priority of the next mayor.
"We've brought the murder rate down," she said. That was in June 2010. There had been 37 homicides in the city, six fewer than by June 2009, and a more seemingly significant 24 fewer than June 2008. Indeed, the calendar year 2010 ended with fewer homicides than the year before. But what does it indicate that in the 12-month period following Quan's objection to my suggestion -- mid-June 2010 to mid-June 2011 -- there were more than 100 homicides, at least six more than between mid-June 2009 and mid-June 2010? What does it mean?
Nevertheless, in daily news reports of homicides, habitually reporters insert the current year's number of killings-so-far alongside the total from "this time last year." These specific numbers shouldn't bring readers too much hope, as in 2013, or, in the case of 2012, when we had already suffered over 130 homicides, deeper despair.
I hope the 40 fewer homicides from 2012 to 2013 really is the result of police reorganization, or Ceasefire, or whatever else the politicians will tell us has turned the tide. But it will take time, it will take years, possibly even generations, to know if we have gained some peace. There were five homicides as the calendar turned from 2013 to 2014, including the killing of a 13-year-old boy.
Jim O'Brien is a writer in Oakland and the author of the Amazon Kindle Single "Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story" on violence and healing in Oakland.