polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

The Oakland Crosses

by Natalia Echeverri

St. Columba is a Catholic church on San Pablo and 64th street in Oakland, California. Like most churches it is a place of ritual, gathering and community building. However, sitting near one of the most violent neighborhoods in Oakland, it has created an interesting mechanism of awareness. On the front lawn there are several white wooden crosses that represent the homicides in Oakland. Throughout the year these crosses accumulate, as mostly young men become victims of violence. At the end of the year the crosses are taken down and the lawn is made ready for another year.

I pass by St Columba almost every day on my way to work and can't help but stare and count the crosses. When I started my commute in February I counted four, then six, twelve and today I noticed twenty. It is shocking that it is only April, but last year there were 110 and the year before 124.

Father Jayson who is also Oakland's police chaplain began this practice six years ago. I met him last year while doing a research project on San Pablo Avenue. He told us in an interview how he and fellow pastor Rawn Harbor started: "Rawn had the thought that there should be some place in Oakland where victims from homicides are memorialized or at least recognized. There just wasn’t a place in Oakland where this happened. So we decided to go ahead and dedicate a yard to remember each of the homicide victims for the last few years. That’s increased awareness on our own parishioner side trying to find ways to ameliorate the homicides at least trying to make a difference. So far parishioners whose sons were of that demographics and of that age, though thank God not victims of violence, felt that they had to get involved so their kids won’t or at least find a way to stop other kids from being involved.

San Francisco Chronicle, The Oakland Tribune and a website called Not just a Number, use similar mechanism of awareness by using maps and photographs of the deceased.

Credits: Image of Oakland Crosses from Natalia Echeverri. Map of Murders in 2009 from the Oakland Tribune.