The call was from one of my uncles, who informed me that his good friend had a son shot and killed in Oakland in the middle of the night. Hearing that the 18-year-old man had been gunned down by an Oakland police officer, my interest was immediately piqued.
“He was just a baby,” were words that echoed throughout the media, in reference to the death of Alan Blueford, as I scoured the Internet to look for any news of the shooting later that Sunday evening and early Monday afternoon between my busy work schedule and shuttling my kids to and from school.
Although I didn’t know Alan personally, and cannot even recall seeing him around town, I just couldn’t seem to take my mind off of the fact that this young man’s life had ended so abruptly and in such a horrible manner. I was curious to know what happened.
My family was born and raised in Oakland, in the 1960s and ’70s, and from what I know back then Oakland was a fairly decent place to live. It was a close-knit community, almost like Tracy, but bigger. Everybody knew everybody, and large families were common.
My family grew up in close proximity to the Blueford family, and on more than one occasion I have witnessed my mother, and a few of my uncles, run into their old childhood friend Adam Blueford around town here in Tracy. They would embrace each other and reminisce about those good old days in Oakland. They might even share a story or two about the happenings of their children.
Whenever I saw Mr. Blueford, he seemed nice enough, always with a smile on his face and saying positive things about his children.
Needless to say that hearing about the shooting death of one of his children made me sad. I wondered if the officer who fired his weapon at this young man really thought that his own life was in danger when he was hot on Alan’s heels during a pursuit. Did the police officer even for one minute think about the death of Oscar Grant, or Trayvon Martin, two young innocent men who were gunned down by zealous men with weapons, one a peace officer, and one a volunteer neighborhood watchdog?
Or was he thinking that the situation could turn out like that of Lovelle Mixon, who in March 2009 gunned down and fatally wounded three Oakland police officers after a routine traffic stop?
I wondered if Alan had ever been schooled in the proper protocol for being stopped by a police officer. Had he ever heard about the Grant shooting, or the Mixon shooting?
Although I am firm believer that police really are here to serve and protect the community, growing up in Oakland, I was taught differently. In the city by the Bay, where homicides are frequent and the death toll by gun violence is ridiculous, young people and even older people are afraid of the police. I was taught that you avoided the police at all costs, even if you were innocent, because they were above the law and you never knew what could happen if you were caught by one of the bad apples in the bunch.
Even as a married adult living in Tracy, I was scared to death the first time that I was pulled over on a routine traffic stop. I didn’t know what to expect — was I going to jail, would I be yelled at, harassed or tazered?
I was scared to death, but I followed the proper protocol and pulled over. I did not run, because I knew that the only thing I was guilty of was picking up my ringing cell after I had lost my earpiece. The officer who pulled me over turned out to be friendly. He explained why I had been pulled over and made small talk with me before asking for my license and registration and insurance. He went back to his vehicle, came back and, although he wrote me a ticket, I felt OK.
I know that comparing my minor run-in with Alan’s is like comparing apples to oranges, but I wonder if Alan and his friends wouldn’t have run from the police, would the outcome have been different?
I know that nothing will bring him back to the loving arms of his parents, and I know that there is no way to change the outcome of the situation. I am also not blaming him for running from the police, because his running does not justify being gunned down in the wee hours of the night in cold blood by those we hire to protect and serve us.
But I do feel that we should not let his death and his experience be in vain. I think children need to know that the role of our local law enforcement is to protect and serve. I think that teens and preteens need to know the proper protocol for dealing with the police. They must be taught never to run in any circumstance. They must know that any sudden movement can trigger a defensive response from police officers.
Children need to know that they have to face their fears head-on, and that running away will never solve the problem.
I wish that Alan had known that he should have stood his ground and answered any and all questions that the police threw his way. According to his family and friends, he wasn’t armed or dangerous — if only the police officer who shot him knew that.
It’s up to parents and the community to save our children from the perils of the streets. We cannot condone or accept bad behavior or violence from them. We cannot overlook petty crimes, including nonviolent burglaries and petty theft. When our kids have a problem, we need to turn to the community for help.
It’s too late for Alan, and my condolences are with his family. I do hope justice is served, but I hope we all learn something from this tragic incident. Let’s not let this young man’s death be in vain. Let’s train our children to be successful adults. Let’s teach them to stand their ground, know their rights and never to run.
• Kendra L. Willis is a financial broker and mother who has lived in Tracy since 2003.