By The Rev. Ben McBride, Oakland Tribune My Word, 1/15/14

As we enter 2014, it is important to recognize some important progress in the ongoing fight to eliminate the scourge of violent crime in Oakland.

From 2012 to 2013, Oakland’s homicide rate dropped by 28 percent. While we are still far from our goal of zero homicides, 39 fewer lives lost is worth celebrating. At the same time, to effectively build upon this progress, it is critically important that we understand what has brought us to this point.

In October 2012, the city of Oakland relaunched a model violence prevention strategy called Ceasefire. Thus far, this effort has focused on a select number of our most violent areas of East Oakland and, in 2013, resulted in a 50 percent decrease in homicides in the targeted neighborhoods (a critical factor in the overall city decrease of 28 percent).

As the men and women who bury the dead, comfort the bereaved, counsel young people, and operate myriad programs for our most vulnerable residents, we, the Oakland clergy, have a vested interest in creating a peaceful city.

Having witnessed a prior version of Oakland Ceasefire fail in past years — due in large part to OPD’s attempt to implement it without significant input or leadership from the community — we have insisted upon taking a more active role in helping to shape this latest effort.

Starting in 2010, 15 to 20 clergy from Oakland began meeting monthly to plan and implement a more collaborative version of Ceasefire.

By 2012, the East and West Oakland clergy, Oakland Community Organizations, and the Lifelines to Healing campaign, pressed the city to adopt a revised version of the strategy.

In August 2012, we convened a highly publicized formal relaunch of Ceasefire at Allen Temple Baptist Church with more than 500 people representing a broad coalition of churches, synagogues and temples; various community-based organizations like Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere, City Team Ministries, and Healthy Oakland; and dozens of government officials, community leaders and activists.

Since then, Oakland clergy have been engaged in a two-pronged effort to effectively reduce violence in our city, accounting for well over $200,000 of in-kind services and volunteer efforts.

First, we have kept up the ongoing work with youth and families that we have done for years and worked more collaboratively among ourselves to connect our various efforts and ministries (for example, clergy and community members from different ministries have joined together to conduct Friday night walks in our most dangerous neighborhoods on a weekly basis for over a year).

Second, despite personnel changes within the mayor’s office and police department — including three different police chiefs in the last year — the faith community has played a strong advocacy role in ensuring that, even among the churn of city and police leadership, that Oakland stay committed to Ceasefire and that community voices help to shape its implementation.

We believe our civic and law enforcement leaders must be more committed to message the leadership of clergy and community leaders, leaning toward their voices to shape the strategy and narrative of restoring Oakland back to a safe city for all.

We do not believe our efforts to be an ancillary role, as evidenced in continued media representations and an underdeveloped framing from our civic and law enforcement leaders.

We must not shy away from the moral voices that continue to articulate the vision for a renewed city and future. As faith leaders, this is our call, and we remain committed in our efforts to collaboratively lead this movement.

The Rev. Ben McBride is director of CityTeam Ministries Oakland. He writes on behalf of Ceasefire clergy leaders Rev. Billy Dixon Jr, pastor of At Thy Word Ministries C.O.G.I.C., Rev. Debra Avery, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, Rev. Dr. George Cummings, pastor of Imani Community Church, Rev. Lucy Kolin, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church, Rev. Curtis O. Robinson, Sr., pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Rabbi Andrew Straus of Temple Sinai, Rev. Matt Prinz, pastor of Ygnacio Valley Presbyterian Church, Rev. Jim Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, Rabbi David J. Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue, Moses Harris, a minister at The Way Christian Center, and Rev. Michael McBride, the director of the PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing Campaign.