Law Enforcement Killed 90 Oakland Residents Since 2000, And 74 Percent Were Black 

Our writers look at the data behind officer-involved killings in the East Bay.

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Nearly all of these killings of Black men and women by cops occurred in the flatland communities in East and West Oakland, where a majority of residents are Black and Latino. These communities are the most heavily policed neighborhoods in Oakland, and have the highest rates of violent crimes.

They are also communities in flux, threatened by displacement due to the Bay Area's housing-affordability crisis. Since 2000, more than 25 percent of Oakland's Black population has moved out of the city. Low-income homeowners in the Flatlands are particularly susceptible to being priced-out of the East Bay, where advocates say lax rent-control regulations often fail to protect those who are the area's most vulnerable residents.

East Oaklanders, for example, have a life expectancy fourteen years shorter than the whiter and more affluent residents of nearby Oakland Hills, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. They are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as children. They are more likely to drop out of high school before graduation. More than two thirds of households earn less than $30,000 a year; and 85 percent of households are people of color.

Statistically, children born in these neighborhoods are more likely to have classmates or family members die in interactions with the police — or to become a victim of lethal force themselves.

click to enlarge Seventy out of ninety officer-involved killings occurred in East Oakland.
  • Seventy out of ninety officer-involved killings occurred in East Oakland.

'An Elephant in the Dark'

It was May 6, 2012, just after midnight, and a few weeks before Alan Blueford's graduation ceremony at Skyline High School. Oakland police officers spotted the Black 18-year-old and two friends near a corner store in deep East Oakland. Police said the teenagers were passing around an object, which they thought might be a weapon or drugs. That's when Officer Miguel Masso and his partner stopped the three teenagers and subjected them to pat-down searches.

As they frisked his friends, Blueford — who, unknown to police, was on probation for burglary in a different county — ran.

During the chase, Masso alleged that Blueford withdrew a firearm and pointed it at him several times.

Eventually, the teenager tripped and fell at a driveway. According to a witness, there was a gun twenty feet away from Blueford, but he made no attempt to retrieve it. As he tried to rise from the ground, Masso fired three times, fatally wounding him.

Immediately after the incident, media outlets erroneously reported that Blueford had fired at Masso. OPD later corrected the report and stated that Masso had fired a fourth shot, which hit himself in the foot, and that the pistol found at the scene was never fired.

Alan's mother, Jeralynn, told the Express that the killing rocked the community. "Throughout the entire family, the grandchildren, the cousins, the nieces, the schoolmates, the teachers — everybody that was involved in that person is hurting from that," she explained.

"It can possibly take a person's life with that kind of hurt. People die from that kind of pain."

Blueford's killing left a neighborhood reeling because of the growing number of unarmed Black men shot by police. It sparked protests in Oakland's streets and at city council meetings. Alan's family subsequently sued the city for wrongful death and received a settlement for $110,000.

In the last fifteen years, the city of Oakland has settled fourteen wrongful death suits worth more than $7.3 million in response to officer-involved fatalities.

And while it's true that Oakland's violent-crime rate has fallen during this period, the number of officer-involved killings has remained consistent year-to-year.

For more than thirty years, researchers have attempted to systematize these complex and fatal interactions between police and community. Despite the enormous public outcry against officer-involved fatalities since Michael Brown was fatally shot two years ago in Ferguson, experts say clear indicators of why encounters escalate to fatalities remain elusive.

"The data is kinda coarse," explained Steven Raphael, a UC Berkeley professor who has studied racial disparities in policing with the Center for Policing Equity.

"It's like sketching out an elephant in the dark."

Raphael explained that researchers are doing their best to source statistics and data from various departments to reach an improved understanding of officer-involved use of force nationwide. Their findings have sometimes challenged public perception.

Last month, for instance, Harvard University economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. published a study that found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings. The study examined a pool of incidents that included non-lethal shootings, in ten major departments across the country.

His study did, however, find that Black suspects were more likely to experience various other methods of force, including being touched, forced to the ground, pepper-sprayed, and Tasered by police.

Still, Raphael reaffirmed that researchers are far from arriving at definitive conclusions about these kinds of deadly encounters.

"It's a relatively thin body of research to draw conclusions on," he said. "Just collecting data, to some degree, is in its infancy for this particular outcome."

Additionally, some critics say that the data available relies too much on reports written by the officers themselves, who may try to justify their actions whether or not they're aware of bias.

The California Department of Justice requires that police agencies report all deaths that occur during the process of arrest. But Raphael published a report finding that this data set was less complete than the Fatal Encounters data that the Express analyzed for this story.

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