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Event seeks to bring law enforcement and East Oakland community together

Oakland city officials, non-profit organizations and local residents joined together last Saturday in an effort to forge better relationships between law enforcement and the East Oakland community.

For a Safe Town was held Oct. 24 in Verdese Carter Park and was the second event of its kind. Youth Uprising, a non-profit community outreach and youth leadership organization, sponsored the event in partnership with Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland Police Department.

The day featured live music by local artists, including Oakland-born rapper Too $hort, Mistah FAB, Erk Tha Jerk and DoDAT as well as free food, games for children and informational booths. To gain admittance into the park attendees were required to visit three informational booths outside the event and get stamps at each. These booths included information about employment opportunities and vocations, quitting smoking, youth programs and counseling. When the event began organizers were hoping for 3,000 attendees.

Jacky Johnson, the outreach and events coordinator for Youth Uprising, was among the youth who helped design the Youth Uprising center during its founding in 1997. She worked at the event on Saturday.

“It’s about helping residents access resources and employment opportunities and letting them know what’s out there,” said Johnson.

Johnson also explained that Youth Uprising partnered with many different community organizations to make the event happen. “That’s what it takes to have a true impact,” she said.

The groups involved ranged from the Oakland Fire Department to the Oakland Police Activities League. The motorcycle club Wise Guys helped provide security.

The event was held to bring awareness to the goal of peace in Oakland by providing an opportunity for the community to interact with police in a fun, safe environment.

“It’s about bringing everybody together,” said Johnson, stressing the importance of building stronger police-community relationships.

Olis Simmons, executive director of Youth Uprising, said they were expecting another successful outcome of this year’s event. She said partnering with the Oakland Police Department is crucial in maintaining safe neighborhoods in Oakland. “We’re really proud of the relationship we’ve built with police,” said Simmons.

Simmons also expressed what she called a “sense of responsibility” of Oakland communities to be proactive in dealing with crime. She said the goal of the event was to make sure everyone had a shared vision for safety in East Oakland, by opening communication and getting information to aid communities at risk.

“It’s not just fun and food… there’s also resources,” said Simmons.

Deputy Police Chief Jeffery Israel watched a basketball game at the park’s basketball court, which involved members of the Oakland Police Department.

Israel said events that facilitate communication between the police and the Oakland community work to build understanding between the frequently opposed groups and can lead to less violence.

“We latch on to things that work, and this works,” said Israel.

For a Safe Town is one event among others that seek to bring young people and police together. Another program in the works is called Code 33,  a program which was had success in previous years and is being renewed now, and is focused on “getting cops and youth together in the same room to facilitate discussions,” said Israel. In the program officers will sit down with youth aged 24 years and younger to for dialogue.

“The goal is to get at least 400 cops through and at least 600 youth,” Israel said. He also said the 400 police officers are the “core group” of officers that deal with most calls.

Israel said the Code 33 program has $70,000 in funds through donations, the California Endowment and the Kellog’s Fund. Israel said it was the goal of the program for police and youth to see each other as people. He explained how profiling can begin if there is only negative encounters between a group of people.

“If we sit down with people long enough we like them,” said Israel.

Simmons spoke highly of the work Israel has done to promote peace between Oakland residents and police officers.

“It really is his vision that we can change relationships,” she said, adding that his approach is something of an innovation within the department.

If police and youth could sit in discussion and understand one another, “it would change literally the culture of young people in our community,” said Simmons.