Honoring Oakland’s fallen officers

I struggled mightily last night trying to decide what to write about today. I remain dumbstruck over the tragic events of Saturday afternoon.

Should I return to my normal subject matter? It seems callous and wrong to turn around so quickly and write about policy as if nothing had happened. But what more is there for me to say about the slaying of four Oakland policemen in the course of their work? While the deaths are a terrible municipal tragedy, one surely felt deeply by many members of our community, myself included, I can’t help but feel that by saying anything at all, I’m intruding on the intensely private and unimaginable grief the families and friends of the fallen officers must be experiencing. After all, what do I know of their loss? It seems indecent and presumptuous, and belittling to their pain to go on about how all this makes me feel.

So as I struggled to write something, trying to come up with a topic that was neither selfish nor dismissive, beginning and discarding at least a dozen drafts, I found myself turning, as I often do when I find myself in need of comfort and counsel, to ancient Greece. Specifically to the funeral oration given by Pericles in honor of Athens’s fallen soldiers in book 2 of Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. It made me feel at least a little bit better, and I hope it will have a similar effect on at least some of you.

Pericles begins his speech by talking about he doesn’t want to say anything about the fallen soldiers, feeling, like me, that his words would be inadequate (“Then the reputation of many would not have been imperiled on the eloquence or want of eloquence of one, and their virtues believed or not as he spoke well or ill.”). But he soldiers on and ends up delivering like, the greatest speech ever, which is mostly not about the dead at all, but about the greatness of Athens, and how we best honor their sacrifice by honoring and serving the city they died fighting for.

The speech is pretty long, so I won’t copy the whole thing here, although I highly recommend reading it in its entirety. But I’ll share my favorite part with you below:

Such was the end of these men; they were worthy of Athens, and the living need not desire to have a more heroic spirit, although they may pray for a less fatal issue. The value of such a spirit is not to be expressed in words. Any one can discourse to you for ever about the advantages of a Pave defense, which you know already. But instead of listening to him I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonor always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast.

The sacrifice which they collectively made was individually repaid to them; for they received again each one for himself a praise which grows not old, and the noblest of all tombs–I speak not of that in which their remains are laid, but of that in which their glory survives, and is proclaimed always and on every fitting occasion both in word and deed. For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. Make them your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war. The unfortunate who has no hope of a change for the better has less reason to throw away his life than the prosperous who, if he survive, is always liable to a change for the worse, and to whom any accidental fall makes the most serious difference. To a man of spirit, cowardice and disaster coming together are far more bitter than death striking him unperceived at a time when he is full of courage and animated by the general hope.

Wherefore I do not now pity the parents of the dead who stand here; I would rather comfort them. You know that your dead have passed away amid manifold vicissitudes; and that they may be deemed fortunate who have gained their utmost honor, whether an honorable death like theirs, or an honorable sorrow like yours, and whose share of happiness has been so ordered that the term of their happiness is likewise the term of their life. I know how hard it is to make you feel this, when the good fortune of others will too often remind you of the gladness which once lightened your hearts. And sorrow is felt at the want of those blessings, not which a man never knew, but which were a part of his life before they were taken from him.

The picture Pericles paints of Athens in his speech is no doubt an idealized one, but to fault him for ignoring the city’s many simmering problems would be to miss the point entirely. It’s an exhortation to service, meant to remind citizens of what a great place Athens can and should be and inspire them to work to make that ideal real. Which is exactly how one should deal with great civic loss and pain, and I think, exactly the response Oakland needs right now.

So ahead and mourn the loss of our officers – make your donations, bring your flowers to the police station, go write in the condolence book at City Hall today, attend the vigil tomorrow night (PDF) and the funeral. Then once you’ve done all that, don’t just move on or forget. Honor their memories and the city they died serving by going out and figuring out what you yourself can do to create a better Oakland.

Showing your support

  • Sending condolences: A condolence book will be available in the main lobby of City Hall downtown on Monday from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM. You can also communicate your sympathies online with the Trib’s online memory book: Mark Dunakin, John Hege, Erv Romans, Dan Sakai Additionally, you can drop off condolence cards at any Oakland public library.

  • Tuesday vigil: Join the Mayor and City Council Tuesday at 6 PM at 74th and MacArthur, the site of the shootings, for a vigil to honor the four officers who were killed.

  • Memorial service: I heard a service is being planned for Friday at the Coliseum, but I have nothing solid on that so far. I’ll update when I do.

  • Financial assistance: The OPOA has established trust funds for the families of the fallen officers. Information is available on their website. To contribute:

    Individual Checks made out to families and mailed to
    c/o OPOA:

    Attn: Rennee Hassna
    555 5th Street
    Oakland Ca, 94607

    Make checks out to the following:
    “Dunakin Children’s Family Trust”
    “Romans Children’s Family Trust”
    “Sakai Family Trust”

    Wire transfers directly to Merrill Lynch Accounts…
    “Dunakin Children’s Family Trust” a/c #204-04065
    “Romans Children’s Family Trust” a/c #204-04066
    “Sakai Family Trust” a/c #204-04064

    You may also want to consider giving to the 100 Club of Alameda, an organization that provides immediate financial support to the families of police officers and fire fighters killed in the line of duty in Alameda County.

  • Funeral: March 27, 2009 11:00 AM at the Oracle Arena.

22 thoughts on “Honoring Oakland’s fallen officers

  1. Becks

    V – I’ve also been struggling with how to write about this tragedy and went through many similar internal debates.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post. It’s so easy to get trapped in mourning mode and to forget about what these officers were truly working towards – a better Oakland. Thanks for reminding us that positive action can arise from such a tragedy.

  2. Ken O

    What about the Oakland Police Foundation? What is their stance on this, and are they still active? I have met with one of their board previously but that was over a year ago.

  3. oaklandhappenings

    V and everyone else here, we obviously won’t get this out of our minds, yet I know that Oakland can move on. This is more than a blip on the radar screen, but Oakland has been making progress in many areas so far in ’09, including several types of violent crime being down overall–aside from Saturday. Whatever bloggers are saying on some news network sites that make Oakland seem to be the place to avoid, leave, etc. I will have a change of heart and let them voice their opinion without firing back. If they have little else on their minds at the moment, to say things like that, regardless how negative-sounding towards Oakland’s reputation, that is their choice. That is beyond my control, and I can only control what I feel. I say this, in reference to a post I made on the last blog entry, which I will very belatedly take back (V, you may delete it if you wish–it was written out of frustration).
    Pardon the tangent there, folks, but for those of us who still believe Oakland is the place to still enjoy living and working in, let us remember that the police want to help us keep it that way. Therefore, as the entry title says, do honor them, by being respectful as often as possible. That in itself, can help make this ‘a better Oakland’.

  4. RDC

    I’m sorry but I have some anger to get out about this. While its great and all that we need to remind everyone that Oakland is not all bad and that we like living here and blah blah blah. 4 COPS WERE KILLED WITH AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON. There are many many words that should follow that. On the news those words courtesy of OAKLAND residents were……….
    “F##K the Police”
    “They had it comin’”
    “Glad their dead”
    “He was driven to this”

    Yes these cops were working for a better oakland. Working in the worst part of the city trying to get through to people who inherently dont trust them yet they continued their work everyday. It honestly feels like this is the acceptable in Oakland. That there will be no outrage about East Oakland and their scumbag inhabitants. That this will just be considered something that happens in the hood. end of story. You will see many of our 800+ officers transfer if this is not met with outrage and strong words from the community.

    Stop worrying about if people think Oakland is an f’d up and dangerous place. IT IS. open your eyes. 4 Cops just got gunned down and all we have is people wanting to remind everyone that Oakland is a GREAT place to live work and raise a family. This is not time to move on. This is a time to fight back and take a hard line with all these thugs and morons who terrorize the streets.

    Not sure if I’m alone on this but after seeing all those interviews near the shootout I am very afraid of going down there for the vigil tomorrow night. The tone of even the Uhuru Movement people was, “dont come down here and place flowers and memorials, this is not your neighborhood, it’s ours.” F em, make sure everyone you know goes to it. They don’t own the streets.

  5. Ken O

    Wish i could have made it to the vigil. if you went, how was it?

    I would have asked the neighbors what they wanted out of life, out of living in oakland in the southerly flats. this is precisely my response to similar incidents in my old neighborhood, where violence erupted that happened to be between different races/classes. (white homeowner vs black section 8 OHA.) the POVs were always different… mostly based on what class people were.

    what are their long-term plans, goals, dreams? i believe that ppl in “ghetto” areas take care of each other and are probably as compassionate as the next person, as their situation allows. i also know that america (and oakland) is an uneven terrain of haves and have nots. some including in the bible say this will never change.

    well, cannot a community come together and rise to the occasion? this should be a time to put our heads together and make big changes which all sides can agree would lead to positive social progress.

    wars for hearts and minds aren’t won with weapons or endless subsidy. so then?

    in the us, we have the rich, upper class and lower class. there is no more middle class. and very likely not in east oakland’s pockets of poverty. i think that is one of the root causes of this type of violence. lack of foundational economic stability.

  6. Ken O

    Can all stakeholders in east oakland’s pockets of poverty actually come together in a room and map out what every ‘side’ wants and needs? i think that would be healing and constructive.

  7. ConcernedOakFF

    The vigil is today…come out and show your support. The message needs to be load and clear who is in charge in Oakland, the people, not the rapist thugs.

  8. Christopher

    The fourth officer, John Hege, was taken off life support Monday night. His name is not listed on the OPOA website, but I hope it will be soon.

  9. Ken O

    Uhuru also helped Jane Brunner campaign for district one city council to beat Patrick McCullough, last year. Uhuru smeared and libeled Patrick by calling him a “vigilante” and “child murderer”. Jane Brunner said nothing in public to call out this obvious smear campaign.

  10. Ralph

    Christopher, in my many years of walking this earth, I have never been as appalled as I was after clicking through on those links. If Uhuru ever had any credibility, it is certainly lost now.

  11. Frankie D

    Ralph, for the record Uhuru has never had credibility, at least not with anybody who was not smoking crack.

  12. oaklandhappenings

    RDC, where you say “Oakland is an f’d up and dangerous place” this is an example of city blanketing. If it is really that way, why was I able to walk from Lake Merritt BART alone last night at 11:30 PM, over half a mile to my apt near the downtown core, without a single person who drove by–or walking within a few hundred feet–bother me? It’s been that way for me for over a 2-year period now, knock-on-wood, including almost nightly last summer. I’m among dozens if not hundreds in Oakland who do this perhaps less regularly, including riding their bikes at that hour.
    Your anger is felt and understood, yet I feel the above quote doesn’t accurately reflect what happens 24/7 for this city of over 50 square miles and 400k residents. I know that I cannot change your mind about _certain_ neighborhoods of Oakland, and honestly, I can agree with you. It would scare me to visit some of them too…even the almost ghostly-quiet Highland Heights neighborhood in the daytime, with almost house after house having bars on their doors and windows; I walked that one about 10 days ago on the way back towards downtown.
    Anyway, I’m mentioning this as something to kindly keep in mind– especially as a way to relate with other Oaklanders in this city who could end up being someone’s alert, watchful neighbor. Or, in the case of the good person who tried to save the life of one of the officers Saturday via CPR (if it got that far…I forget).
    Food for thought. Thanks for reading. :-)

  13. Max Allstadt

    Frankie D,

    Right you are about Uhuru. To elaborate, Wendy Snyder, who writes that blog, is a loud aggresive woman who has been ejected from Council Chambers more than once for screaming out of turn after her speaker time had elapsed. She is also a 40 something white woman with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and an elite school in Paris who complains about the white gentrification of her neighborhood. The last one I saw her in person, however, she was buying a latte at an all white-run Peets in Temescal. The last time she shot he mouth off and offended me with her divisive rhetoric, I googled her and discovered her friendster profile was publicly viewable. It isn’t any more, but at the time, it listed her hobbies. They included “erotica” and “being lavished”. Voice of the people?

  14. nfalls75

    You want a real solution to the problem? Because, most people don’t want to hear it. But, it’s time for some imminent domain. On a massive scale. It’s time to start displacing some people. It’s time to hand East and West Oakland over to developers. And, let’s start by bulldozing the ACORN. Let the scum move to Hayward.

  15. Raiderz1

    Israel has their West Bank Barrier. Maybe now is the time for a “West Oakland Barrier”.

    If West Oaklanders don’t want Oakland PD “invading” their neighborhoods, maybe their wish should be granted. I’m sure West Oakland would be much safer.

  16. Chris Kidd

    When did SFGate commenters start invading ABO? Anyone want to set an over/under on comments until godwin’s law is invoked?

    Seriously, let’s have some civil discourse with some actual ideas.

  17. Jennifer

    Uhuru did help Brunner get elected, which is one (of many) reasons she has no credibility — she did not stand up to their tired, divisive, inexplicable rhetoric. I was also disgusted with a clueless quote form Brunner in the paper the other day about how she didn’t want our police officers outgunned. Maybe her entire quote was truncated and that’s why it seemed so clueless — where has this woman been? Officers have been outgunned for years. Brunner, Quan and others on the Oakland City Council are just totally and completely out to lunch and provide absolutely no new ideas or leadership. The residents of Oakland need to demand better from our leaders, and I really think we are at the point where people are waking up.

    RIP to the officers, and condolences to their families. My father was a police officer for a number of years in a large city during a dangerous time, and I know that my mother was afraid every day he left for work, wondering if he would ever come home. These four officers didn’t. We need change.

  18. SF2OAK

    How about that Oakland crime show that HBO want to film right here in our crime infested back yard. HBO- the publicity doesn’t get better than this.

    The reality is is that we must put more cops on the streets- ya think recruitment might be a little tough now?

    I am just appalled by the defense of Mixon by his family, neighbors and uhuru- that to me is the problem.

    It really is too bad I don’t see a leader emerging from this- anybody who’s thinking of running for mayor should be able to get more than 1000 (but don’t hold the rally in that neighborhood.) Jerry Brown has been good – getting lots fo good press. Mayor fuzzy has receded into the woodwork.