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LABC and Oakland Ceasefire

by Rev. Jim Hopkins

One of the most important peace-making efforts of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church is our participation in a violence reduction effort called Ceasefire. Ceasefire is an evidence based, community centered program that brings good research, good law enforcement, good community organizing, good pastoring, good political leadership, good educational efforts and good employment opportunities to bear in the lives of those most likely to be involved in committing acts of violence. Ceasefire Oakland is part of a larger effort sponsored by the PICO National Network named "Lifelines to Healing." Lifelines is aimed at improving the life of communities of color across the United States.

Ceasefire was first implemented in Boston and is described by one of its founders, David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in his book Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, And The End of Violence In Inner-City America. It is an evidence based, community-centered approach to the violence which afflicts so many American cities. Kennedy writes, “The government is not conspiring to destroy the community, the police are not uncaring, oppressive, racist. The community does not like the drugs and violence. Gang members and drug dealers don’t want to die, don’t want to go to prison, don’t want – nearly all of them – to shoot people...They are all doing profoundly destructive things without fully understanding what they do. There is on all sides malice, craziness and evil. But not much, it turns out, not much at all. There is, on all sides, a deep reservoir of core human decency."

There are many components to Ceasefire, community walks, street outreach workers, advocacy for needed funding, and community interpretation of the effort. While members of LABC are involved in all of these our most visible involvement comes when we host what is termed a call-in. At a call-in young men (to this date they have all been young men) identified by the police and probation departments as having the potential to commit violent crime or having influence in groups, cliques or affiliations known to be involved in violent activity, are invited to sit at the table with community leaders (clergy, law enforcement, District Attorney’s office, U.S. Attorney’s office, victims of violent crime, representatives of recovery and job training programs, potential employers and others) and hear the message that they are valued members of our community, that there are positive alternative available to them but that the shooting and other violent acts that their gangs have been part of need to stop. The call-ins end with an invitation to the young men to come back into the community, to avail themselves of the resources for change being offered, to accept the opportunities to take a different course, and a catered meal.

The  hope of our congregation is that as we sit at the table with the young men our discussion will tap in all of us, Baptist preachers included, the reservoir of core human decency that Professor Kennedy writes  about. It is our belief that the tapping of this reservoir is the very essence  of peace making. There is profound theology at work in Ceasefire, the theology of original blessing, the recognition of persistent sin. There is the reminder that each person at the table is created in the image of God and that each one of us wants to travel safely home with real opportunities to make our city a sanctuary, a place of  peace.

Since Ceasefire has been implemented the annual homicide rate in Oakland, a city of 450,000, has dropped from 130 to 90. Other violent crime as also decreased. The Ceasefire Partners are constantly working to improve our message, widen our outreach and document our achievements. The next call-in is set for July 30. 2015. The most recent call-in was held on March 26, 2015. A follow up report on that gathering from the City of Oakland's Office of Ceasefire Management notes that 15 young men turned in 15 contact forms bringing to 30 the number of call-in clients actively receiving services.

Of those 30:
22 are receiving employment and job training
20 social and community support
14 legal services
7 involved in safe community work
2 educational opportunities
2 health services
2 family/relationship services
1 housing and shelter
1 financial counsel

We appreciate the support, prayers and understanding of the BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz for our efforts and encourage advocacy for similar efforts all our communities.

Rev. Dr. Jim Hopkins is the pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, CA. For more information on this story, contact him at [email protected] or 510-893-2484.

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