March 27, 2009

Drove past the makeshift memorial for the slain Oakland officers Friday afternoon; What more is there to say?

Maybe, a bit.

I took my son to the Oakland Airport Friday afternoon so that he could board a plane to have spring break fun with his aunt and uncle in San Diego.

Driving down Interstate 880 to the airport just before 2 p.m., we passed the Oracle Arena, where the service for the four slain Oakland officers was taking place. I asked my son if he minded if we listened via car radio to the live coverage of the services. My son, 10, said, no, he didn't mind. He was curious about what happened and also wanted to hear what people had to say about the officers.

On our drive, we heard co-workers and family members on both KCBS and KGO810 talking about Sgt. Mark Dunakin of Castro Valley; Officer John Hege of Concord; Sgt. Erv Romans of Danville; and Sgt. Dan Sakai of Castro Valley. Through the voices and memories of these people who got to know these men better. In fact, they, well, they came "alive" for us--even though my son and I both knew we were hearing about these men because they were dead.

It was a somber afternoon, even though it was warm and spring-like out--and even though my son, still thoughtful about listening to the radio broadcast of the memorial, had other things on his mind. He was nervous about getting his bag checked, getting his various electronics through security, and getting to his plane on time. But, in addition to being nervous, he was also excited.

VACATION! For him, freedom from school and from his usual routine for one week, and he would be the honored guest of an aunt and uncle who adore having him come to stay.

His plane was delayed. I accompanied him to the gate because he, 10 turning 11, still qualifies as an "unaccompanied minor." So, we hung out at Gate 28, reading books for about an hour. Finally, after his plan lifted off at 5:14 p.m., I left the airport.

I was mood to wander, even through some of those parts of Oakland that white suburbanites like myself might usually avoid. I drove east on 98th Avenue up to the edge of the hills, then turned left on MacArthur Boulevard. I thought, okay, I'll go see the infamous stretch of the East Oakland street where the first two of the four officers were gunned down last week. I drove the 20 blocks or so north, winding along the base of the hills, past old apartment buildings from a range of eras, as well as markets, hair salons, and liquor stores. I saw guys hanging out in parking lots. Some shirtless. I saw girls, too. It was a warm spring evening, and everyone seemed to be in a sociable mood.

To the left, a few blocks south of the 7400 block of MacDonald Boulevard, where the deadly traffic stop with gunman Lovelle Mixon took place, I saw what appeared to the headquarters for the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement.

This group held a vigil Wednesday night for Lovelle Mixon, the parolee who first gunned down two officers, then fled to his sister's nearby apartment. At this apartment, he hid in a closet and opened fire on officers entering to arrest him, killing two SWAT team members in the process.

Since Mixon's deadly rampage last week, he has since been tied to a 2007 drug murder and to the rape of a neighborhood 12-year-old girl and possibly the sexual assaults of other women in the neighborhood.

What a character, to say the least. Hardly, the martyr of police repression that the Uhuru Movement folks were trying to make him out to be.

So, I passed the Uhuru headquarters and continued driving. As I came into the 7400 block of MacArthur Boulevard, I looked to my right.

And there I saw it. The makeshift memorial for the four officers. A display of their photos, and bouquets of flowers piled several feet high. I had cars behind me, so I couldn't stop and gaze at it and appreciate it more carefully.

But it lifted my spirits to see it, and I kept driving.

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