The red-tipped bullet pierces skin and melts into it, says Javier Velasquez Lopez. The green-tipped bullet penetrates armored vests. The hollow-tipped bullet expands as it tears through bodies. At 19, Velasquez Lopez knows a lot about ammunition because many of his friends own guns. They carry to defend themselves in East Oakland, where metal bars protect shop windows and churches stand behind tall, chain-link fences.
Some people hide AR-15-style assault weapons down their pants legs. emergency room visits for firearm injuries among children doubled during the pandemic. “It doesn’t feel safe. Wherever you’re at, you’re always anxious,” said Velasquez Lopez. “You’re always wondering what’s going to happen.” Last year, two gunmen in ski masks stormed his high school, killing a school district carpenter and injuring five other adults, including two students, reports KFF Health News on CNN.
Oakland won acclaim a few years ago as a national model for gun violence prevention, in part by bringing police and community groups together to target the small number of people suspected of driving the gun violence. Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, businesses, and critical social services nationwide, leaving many low-income people isolated and desperate — facing the loss of their jobs, homes, or both. The same year, police murdered George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, which released pent-up fury over racial discrimination by law enforcement, education, and other institutions. James Jackson, CEO of the Alameda Health System, says Wilma Chan Highland Hospital Campus has an opportunity to help break the cycle of violence. Jackson is among a growing chorus of health experts who describe gun violence as a public health crisis that disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic residents in poor neighborhoods. While the pandemic has retreated, gun violence has not. Oaklanders are overwhelmingly upset about the rise in violent crime — the shootings, thefts, and other street crimes. At town halls, City Council meetings, and protests, residents say they no longer feel safe. Programs that worked a few years ago don’t seem to be making a dent now. City leaders are spending millions to hire more police officers and fund dozens of community initiatives, such as placing violence prevention teams at high schools to steer kids away from guns and crime.