Oakland is suffering through a plague of killings: Homicides spiked 57 percent last year. It took an audacious daytime hit on a downtown street last month to drive home the severity of the problem, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. An assassin with a shotgun cut down editor Chauncey Bailey as he walked to work at the Oakland Post. He was the city’s 72d homicide victim this year. Amid calls that he had failed to rise to the challenge, Ronald V. Dellums, the former congressman who became mayor of this city of 400,000 people in January, declared an emergency. He called in the California Highway Patrol to help his understaffed police department. “Crime and violence is at an epidemic level in this country,” Dellums, 71, said. “It has reached a crisis level here in Oakland.”
The ethnically diverse city recorded 148 killings last year, up from 94 the year before. Its rate of 37 homicides for every 100,000 residents was about one-third higher than the rate in Philadelphia, where 406 people were killed last year. Dellums has tried to cast Oakland’s local carnage in a national context. The mayor lamented that few presidential candidates had addressed the issue. “The tragedy is that we live in a society that has spent more time looking at Paris Hilton’s days in jail than really looking at the issue of crime and violence in a really substantive aspect,” he said. Even if violent crime is rooted in national cultural forces beyond his control, Dellums is confronting what local officials everywhere know well: When it comes to crime, the buck stops at City Hall.