This city's ascension into the nationwide Top 10 of murder is blamed on heavy drug trafficking in a handful of neighborhoods where residents are getting fed up with the continued violence.
Authorities hope that the shock of seeing the mostly safe city ranked No. 10 in per-capita murders nationwide may serve as a catalyst to drive people out their front doors to "reclaim" their neighborhoods.
In 1986, the FBI reported, Oakland's homicide rate of 34.8 per 100,000 people ranked it 10th among major U.S. cities. Detroit topped the list with a rate of 59.
Deadliest by Far
Los Angeles and San Francisco reported more homicides but, based on population, Oakland was by far the deadliest big city in California.
The statistics are drug-tainted, officials and residents agree.
Oakland Police Lt. James Hahn, chief of the homicide division, said drugs were indisputably behind at least 45% of the homicides, and were thought to be somehow linked to a vast majority.
The FBI report was no surprise, Hahn said, but he hopes it would wake people up.
"What (the report) does," Hahn said, "is emphasize that we have to come to grips with the problem."
Fewer Deaths in 1987
Hahn said there have been 42 homicides so far in 1987, and while that was 11 fewer than at this time in 1986, the continued seriousness of the drug problem gave him no reason to look forward to a drop in trips to the morgue.
Efforts by church and community groups to "reclaim the streets" were a positive sign, Hahn added, but cautioned, "It's too soon to tell" whether dealers could be scared away.
Oakland residents should take pride in the city's good points and view the alarming murder statistics as a call to arms, one prominent resident said.
"I was shocked," Pamela Wright, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, said upon reading the FBI report. "I mean, Oakland overall is not a major crime city. It's not like you step out your door in the morning and get gunned down."
Wright said it was up to individuals in Oakland to join together to wipe out the drug problem, and thereby reduce the murder rate.
'Takes Lots of People'
"You can't always depend on the city, the Chamber (of Commerce), the police to kill the drug problem without any help," she said. "It's got to be a uniform effort; it takes lots of people."
Wright also complained that Oakland's poor reputation perpetuates a dismal self-image.
"This city isn't half as bad as it thinks it is," she said.
One of the individuals working the hardest to clean up his neighborhood is the Rev. E. L. Williams, pastor of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in West Oakland, where open drug trafficking is a fact of life--and death.
Williams and Marion Sims, director of the Oakland Boy's Club, staged a "Reclaim the Streets" block party in May that attracted 1,500 people.
Williams said he hopes to hold four or five more rallies this year and every year until the drug dealers "realize they aren't wanted here."
'Want to Clean It Up'
"We would like to have the community back the way it was before," he said. "Nowadays, when we have prayer meetings, we have to lock the doors. Our parishioners are scared to get out of their cars. We want to clean it up."
Williams said that drugs have robbed the young people in his virtually all-black area of their will to live.
"It used to be, people would get old and just give up living," he said. "Now, it's the young people. They get trapped with these drugs."
He said the rally had an immediate, but sadly short-lived, effect on the neighborhood. The dealers simply made themselves scarce for a while, then returned and resumed business.
"It's going to take a while," he said. "When they see that we mean business, we'll get direct results.
"I've lost too many young men to drugs."