Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

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June 25, 1998
Mayor-Elect Jerry Brown,
Looking for a place to live after college, and listening to your brave words, I want to believe in Oakland.

In a heated housing market, my girlfriend Amy and I recently found a fabulous place. The house itself reflects the kind of artistic elegance that I thought was impossible for young people to afford. One large room with a separate bedroom and toilet; there's a metric ton of light all day from three skylights. A tall slender tree and a small plant with rubbery leaves grow from a dirt patch in the center of our concrete floor. Outside, spare bamboo groves render neat patterns on the walls.

The four walls are ours. A loft promises to be a good space for painting. There's an old fashioned bathtub placed with delightful whimsey in the center of a bathroom antechamber. The house was advertised as "an urban oasis;" located in West Oakland, it is conveniently near both the freeway and West Oakland Bart stop.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to live here, and though my lawyer Mom called regularly with alarming crime statistics, we thought we could make it. We were sensitive folks, politically aware, students or just recently students, and we made a point of at least saying "Hi" to our neighbors, and passersby on the street. Both of us had lived in bad neighborhoods before without incident, and the house seemed safe enough. We thought that much fear of crime is racially coded, and with some hope and a good attitude, you can make a beautiful thing in some rough territory.

Everything seemed to be going fine - little LL who shares our block regularly peppered me with questions. People seemed neighborly, if a bit reserved. My sister and her kids came over and played outside on our driveway past dinnertime.

And then June 23, my girlfriend and I, we were held up at gunpoint, coming home on the last Bart train, as young folks enjoying their San Francisco friends are want to do. We left the station, just two blocks from our house, and we were soon accosted on a dark street by two young fellows in hooded sweatshirts. As we stood in a fenced-in vacant lot, with our hands in the air, a boy with a revolver and his buddy took away our backpacks, which had both of our old laptop computers in them. In an instant, gone were our movie scripts, and web site drafts, and notes and diaries, letters and projects. I'm a writer - my laptop is my livelihood, and in many ways my connection to the world beyond West Oakland.

Fortunately we are honoured by friends and family who have been wonderful about helping us get back on our feet so soon after we had stood up. But I think we must move! How can we stay in good faith? If anything was to happen to us after this incident, another theft, or heaven forbid, some bodily harm, we would be the worst fools for permitting for it to happen here. Two days before, my girlfriend's car died a permanent mechanical death, and our proximity to Bart seemed our salvation. But if I can not take public transportation home at night without fear for my livelihood, I would either be a hermit or a slave to the road, and neither scenario suits my dreams of West Oakland dwelling.

A horrible thing has happened to me, something i'm not too familiar with - i'm afraid. Afraid to talk to people on my street, afraid to stay out after dark. The policemen who visited us were of the opinion that our neighbors had likely been responsible - "i can throw a rock and hit a parolee" and he listed the offenses typical of the area - murder, drugs, larceny. It was a disheartening lecture - "do you see anyone else like you around here?"

I have heard about other young (white) folks moving into the area - properties with razorwire fences and remote control gated driveways so they are never exposed to the sidewalk. Or rough and ready anarchists who could perhaps fight their way out of a mugging, or would likely not present such ripe targets. Is it possible to live here as a young internet professional, who doesn't crave a BMW but would enjoy a barbeque with his neighbors?

What do I say to economic diversity, cross-racial alliances and fearless independent youth enjoying pleasant cohabitation in Oakland? I can't invite friends over for dinner anymore in good faith, I would hate to have this happen to them.

But you are welcome to come over! Or drop me a line if you have any suggestions. Either way, I think we're spending next week house hunting in the Rockridge area.

My hopes are with your administration,


Justin Hall

oakland | san frisco | life

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