Along with the Christmas trees and family gatherings, there’s another end-of-the-year ritual in Oakland – a candlelight vigil for the murdered. The San Francisco Chronicle says the body count is woven into the civic consciousness – a number chased by homicide inspectors, studied by criminologists, lamented in churches, reported by journalists. Every mayor leaves City Hall on broken promises to quell the violence, and the killings continue. An additional 115 have been killed this year, putting Oakland on pace for another gruesome record. In the last five years, 557 people were slain on the city’s streets. Most victims are young, black men who are dying in forgotten neighborhoods.
A handful of their killers, speaking from prison, describe an environment where violence is so woven into the culture that murder has become a symbol of manhood. The inmates say the only difference between these neighborhoods and prison is the absence of walls. Because witnesses won’t testify, certain Oakland neighborhoods have an abnormally high per capita rate of killers walking the streets. For this report, The Chronicle conducted prison and telephone interviews with five convicted Oakland killers, reviewed the court files of 60 murder trials, listened to police interrogation tapes and talked with homicide inspectors, district attorneys, family members, criminal defense lawyers, forensic therapists and criminologists. The inmates who spoke to The Chronicle hoped that their stories would dissuade younger generations from following in their footsteps. Their stories show that Oakland killers share many characteristics. They are young. Most killed before their 25th birthday.