Saturday, March 19, 2011
On a Saturday two years ago, a man shot and killed four Oakland police officers. One of those officers was my friend Dan. The gunman first shot two police officers during a routine traffic stop. He then fled to and hid in his sister's apartment. A SWAT team entered the apartment and the gunman killed two more officers. Dan was one of those two.
I don't know why I wanted to visit the apartment today. It certainly wasn't for closure or anything like that.
For the longest time, I was afraid to go there. I was afraid because I thought the area was dangerous. I was also afraid of interacting with the people I might see there-- either residents or friends and acquaintances who are also making the pilgrimage there. Finally, I was afraid I didn't know how I was going to react.
I needed to find out if the area was safe. A local crime reporter told me the area is fine but that I should be aware of news vans and spectators if I go on the anniversary date. An Oakland cop acquaintance told me that it's not the best area but I should be fine if I go during the day.
I had a fitful night of sleep. It was filled with the same violent, gun-themed nightmares I had on a regular basis in the weeks and months after the shootings. This morning, I subconsciously performed my morning rituals slowly, so as to procrastinate and delay the inevitable. I get on the freeway-- a freeway I have traveled thousands of times-- and I miss my turnoff twice. On the radio, there is a report on the issue of gun control.
I decide to buy a Diet Pepsi for Dan at a gas station. It was his drink of choice. I pay the young Nepalese man behind the bulletproof glass.
I finally exit the freeway. The neighborhood is definitely rough, but I've been to worse in L.A., D.C., and even other parts of Oakland. Residents with nicer cars park them on their short driveways, enclosed with five-foot high metal fences. A few houses look abandoned. There are more than a couple of "contractor's specials".
And suddenly, I'm there. The apartment building looks innocent enough. It's on a narrow, one-way street. In the cold morning rain, two men are loading junk into an orange pick-up truck. Otherwise, the street is quiet. Peaceful. And benign.
I snap a few pictures and leave the Diet Pepsi on the threshold. I walk around the block.
I wonder how the neighbors feel about the shootings.
I turn right. In front of me is a huge McDonald's, with an even bigger ad for its unreasonably cheap Angus burger.
I turn right again. In one short block, there is a pawn shop, a paycheck advance place, and at least three tax preparation offices. These tax preparers prey on the poor. They don't make their money by preparing the taxes. Rather, they pay their customers an advance on their anticipated tax refunds but take a large, almost usurious, cut on the loan. On the window of one of these tax places, there's a large poster of a smiling Obama with the word Hope. It feels sleazy and manipulative.
I make another right, and I am back where I started from.
I feel numb. And I feel frustrated-- because being here did not make me feel any better or worse, or angry or relieved. And again, I don't have any answers.
As I drive away, I see two Islamic centers. One proudly touts itself as anti-Zionist. There are billboards, in English and Spanish, for a Catholic radio station. Apparently, Judgment Day is coming this May 21.