Oakland families of homicide victims say police add to trauma
Lorrain Taylor was paralyzed by despair after her twin sons were fatally shot in an Oakland parking lot in 2000.
But after burying her 22-year-old children, the mother of three set out on a mission to learn more about how they were killed as well as the investigation into their deaths. Her questions were met with silence from Oakland police, she said.
For the record:
6:40 PM, Jan. 26, 2020A previous version of this article misspelled Roxanna Altholz’s name in a few instances as Altholtz. Also, a photo caption misspelled Lorrain Taylor’s first name as Lorraine.
“I accused them, if there were animals killed, they would’ve found the killer,” she said. “But what about this double homicide?”
Taylor’s experience highlights a larger and more troubling trend: The needs of families of crime victims — especially minorities — are frequently not being met by law enforcement in a city where many violent crimes go unsolved, according to a study released last week by UC Berkeley’s International Human Rights Law Clinic.
In the last decade, about 76% of Oakland’s homicide victims were black, according to the study. During that same time, police made arrests in about 40% of homicides involving black victims and about 80% of homicides involving white victims. The Police Department has more than 2,000 cold cases involving homicides on its books, according to data provided in the study.
Despite these statistics, the study does not detail why homicide cases remain unsolved and instead delves into how this affects the lives of victims’ families. Research centers on the experiences of 15 Oakland families, most of which are black and Latino.
“What we found is that family members in Oakland, especially black families, bear the brunt of the phenomenon,” said Roxanna Altholz, the study’s author. “They don’t get access to necessary services to help them recover or help them along the road of recovery, and they’re left feeling stigma and alienation, like their loved one’s death means nothing to society.”
An Oakland Police Department spokesperson said the agency disagrees with the findings of the UC Berkeley report. The department pointed to another study, conducted by the Giffords Law Center last year, that found the city has had a “remarkable reduction in gun violence.”
“The department acknowledges that violent crime and homicides create trauma in our community, and OPD is committed to reducing that impact,” the department wrote in a prepared statement.
As part of the study, researchers interviewed a former detective from the Police Department’s homicide division, service providers in the district attorney’s office and about a dozen government victims service providers who work at the city, county and state level. The Oakland Police Department declined to participate in the study, Altholz said.
Victims’ families accuse law enforcement of being indifferent to them, often lacking compassion during the immediate notification of a death or neglecting to properly notify family members in the first place. In addition, follow-up action to provide mental health resources or relocation for those who wanted to move wasn’t easily accessible, researchers found.
“It’s almost like you’re crawling and walking on broken glass every day and the pain is never going to get better, you just have to get used to it,” said Richard Livingston Jr.
In 2015, Livingston learned six hours after the fact that his son, Richard Dejion Livingston III, was shot with his girlfriend, Alexis Randolph, while in the car outside an apartment in East Oakland. Family members flooded his cellphone with calls and text messages while he was at work.
The longtime social worker said he envisioned officers’ showing him detailed maps of the crime scene with information about the incident, listing people who were there when the shooting occurred and their attempts to contact them. But he struck out in getting any answers about why his son was shot.
Now, he’s trying to serve as the father figure to his 7-year-old grandson, who is starting to ask more questions about what happened to his dad.
“How do you wrap that around his little mind?”
The Berkeley study also examines how the failure to prosecute anyone for the death of a loved one fractures relationships between family members and law enforcement.
After her sons’ deaths, Taylor became so frustrated with the lack of answers that she barged into the Police Department’s headquarters, banged her fists on the counter and demanded to speak to the chief.
“How can our government be sophisticated to send a man to the moon, walk on the moon [and] have all kinds of intelligence to defend our nation from other nations, how can they continue to allow our children to just die in our streets and nobody seems to care?” Taylor said.
According to a July 2019 report from the San Francisco Chronicle, homicides in Oakland increased by 28% from the previous year.
California was the first state to establish a crime victims compensation program, something that all states now employ to assist family members of homicide victims. But the study found that most individuals were unaware of the services they were entitled to or were ineligible to receive financial assistance while on probation or involved in the criminal justice system.
“The neighborhoods in East and West Oakland with the highest rates of violence are also neighborhoods where mass incarceration has taken its biggest toll,” Altholz said.
Researchers made several recommendations for how Oakland police could change their policies to better serve victims’ families, including developing an official death notification protocol and expanding access to support services by conducting long-term and continuous outreach to families.
The report also suggests developing programs to help relocate family members of victims who feel unsafe in their homes.
“Oakland isn’t war-torn Guatemala or Colombia,” said Altholz, a human rights attorney whose clients have escaped the bloodshed in those countries. But in all areas where violence occurs, Altholz said — including Oakland, where she’s lived for more than two decades — she has witnessed the existence of “communities that feel that the police perceive them as not worthy of protection and respect and dignity.”
Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.
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