Violence, Trauma, Grief, & Loss: Understanding the impact to Urban Males
City of Oakland homicide rates have been a perplexing and daunting conundrum for the past 25 years. However, there is a critical familial nuance and subtle shift that must be considered for deeper analysis and reflection. Crack cocaine flooded American inner-city streets, near the approximate epoch of 1985. In California, during that time, gang activity skyrocketed in Los Angeles, resulting in increased homicides, drug/gang/turf wars, incarceration, and police aggression. Within the same period, new dynamics of a drug culture were developing in the Bay Area, with greater lethality and intensity in Oakland (primarily – East & West Oakland). In 1986, Oakland annual homicides began the trend of blasting past the 100 barrier.
During the phase of 1985-1993, the streets of Oakland saw significant changes, while the urban areas of San Francisco were slowly developing with similar, but not as frequent patterns. From 1985-1993, portions of the Oakland flatlands shifted to crack-infested, hood-rich territories. The city of Oakland is one of the most historic, cultural, political, and talent-rich cities in the world, but the devastating impact of crack cocaine and violence upon its Black and Brown community, cannot be denied.
Coupled with the new drug culture, crack cocaine instantly produced fast money, fancy cars, jewelry, expensive clothes, and the temptation to be like a baller. In trying to follow the alluring example of adult crack dealers, some teenagers, were dropping out of school – newly driving Caprice Classics, old school El Caminos, Cougars, Mustangs, Chevy Step-Side trucks, Impalas, etc., — with thousands of dollars in their pocket and safe or shoebox at home. This narrative, analysis, and depiction is not designed to pathologize a community or culture, yet through the newly created crack-induced cultural shift (starting in 1985), the African American family suffered and is still in a process of familial, psychological, and spiritual recovery.
It seemed that over-night, the African American family was found in a different type of crisis. During that time, African American and inner-city males (and females, to a lesser degree) were tempted to join the narcotics industry for monetary gain, while other family members became the victims of crack cocaine addiction. In the blink of an eye, some sober and supportive homes were occupied with a crack addicted parent/guardian or sibling, and a drug selling adult or teenager. It happened without warning, and its onset did not include a solutions pamphlet. Because of the new community and familial conditions that were created during the crack cocaine influx, many children were left fatherless, due to death, incarceration, or a lack of fatherhood intentionality from the start. In the worst of cases, fathers were dead or in jail, and mothers were on crack; leaving grandparents to parent — again. Of course this was not the case for every inner-city family, but the predictable data, patterns, and trends were visible and institutionally cyclical.
During the years of 1992-1993, Oakland saw its largest homicide totals in city history. However, after 1993, homicides and new drug enforcement laws (mandatory sentencing), left many inner-city African American males dead, incarcerated, drug addicted, or on probation/parole. Because of the approach and reaction to the federal fight against crime and drugs in inner-cities, homicides remained in a state of decline for 10 years. During this phase, few to none, were holistically discussing or addressing the reality of inner city trauma and its manifestations. Critical to the analysis is that, during those pivotal years of drugs, fast money, and cars — many babies were conceived without the goal or true intent of establishing a family. The result is hammering us today — fatherless homes and unconsciously angry boys, girls, teenagers, and young adults. Mothers are now left without the supportive anchor of a husband and/or father for their children.
Shockingly, in 2006, the Oakland homicide total leaped to 148. It had not been that high since 1990-1991. What was happening? The climate and tone of the homicides in the new millennium were and are different. The gun-related deaths of the 1990’s were about drug wars, kilos of cocaine, car jackings, and pounds of marijuana. During the drug drought seasons of the 1990’s, home/apartment invasions were frequent by jackers, looking for a quick score, based upon the assumption that a safe with $10,000-$30,000 was inside.
Despite the horror and criminality of the slayings of the 1990’s, there were rules to the drug sub-culture. Today, homicides are lawless – victims are being shot for perceived disrespect, cell phones, backpacks, headphones, etc. In addition, the onset age of those guilty of homicide is younger than in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This is not to simplify the analysis, but the age range of the killers today, fall within the timeframe of the fatherless children born (in-part), during the 1990’s. Who has helped our Black and Brown young people deal with family loss and the current street trauma witnessed daily? Urban schools are forced to deal with this reality every day, and are ill-informed about the management of student trauma within the school building and classroom. The other feature that adds to the renewed elevation of the Oakland homicide dynamics is that it is no longer a Black-on-Black reality; it is also Brown-on-Brown. Many Oakland turfs that were primarily African American in the 1990’s are now Latino/Latina.
The pattern has returned, but this time the root-cause is not holistically poverty, drugs, and money; it is trauma, dehumanization, self-hate, a lack of knowledge, and broken families. This lack of regard for life has also infiltrated the minds of some police officers (creating heightened levels of fear/anxiety), resulting in the unnecessary shootings of Black and Brown residents.
Considering the fact that Oakland ended with 131 homicides in the year 2012 (92 in 2013), much consideration needs to be given to the multiplicity of stressors that have led to the various forms of trauma that have impacted and continues to impact the lives of students, families, and communities. Across the nation, relevant, organic, clinical, and psycho-educational approaches/solutions, must be developed, keeping the historicity of the malady in full perspective; inclusive of the phenomena related to race, culture, economics, family, institutional racism, education, and zip code.