by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
I have never written a story that was as close to me as this one. The murder of my younger cousin Eric Davis last Sunday at Lake Merritt in Oakland was a tragedy that has affected not only my family, but the whole city, which is apparent from the day to day media coverage on the crime.
We have watched police brass and Oakland politicians try to use my cousin’s murder to justify bringing more police into Oakland. We are NOT supporters of that.
We agree that Oakland has serious political, social and economic problems, but the question is whether Oakland politicians should attack the root of a problem, which is poverty, or a symptom created by the problem, which is crime. My answer is that Oakland needs to invest more money and resources into programs and employment for the impoverished Black, Brown and Asian youth of the town.
We will not let my cousin’s senseless murder be used as a public relations tool by police and lazy politicians calling for more uniformed thugs, while police terrorism over the last 20 years has rocked the town with numerous controversies, including the Riders Case, the Oakland police extortion of Black clubs downtown, the murder of Gary King, the Oscar Grant murder, the Celeste Guap molestation case and more. Apparently, that can be all overlooked if the victims are Black and Brown.
In terms of the crime, the question has to be asked, what makes a person risk their life and freedom to steal out of cars in broad daylight near the Lake on a weekend where close to a hundred people are at any given time? Then you have to ask, what makes a person murder an unarmed man who confronts and tries to stop the burglarizing of his car and other cars? Economic desperation.
He was laser focused on making sure that his life was healthy and whole.
We come from one of the biggest families in East Oakland, the Hooker family, and we all grew up like brothers and sisters instead of like cousins. The mother of Eric Davis, Katryna Hooker, is one of my mother’s nieces who was responsible for babysitting me when I was in elementary school and when I was on summer, winter or spring break.
My cousin Kendra Willis, whom I am interviewing for this article, was my first best friend in life, beyond us being blood cousins. Kendra Willis also grew up within the 83rd and Holly based clan, and has been designated as the family spokeswoman while Eric’s mother grieves.
JR Valrey: What can you tell about Eric’s personality? What did he like to do?
Kendra Willis: Eric was a very quiet young man. He always appeared to be deep in thought, but he also had a funny side to him, and when he smiled you could see his excitement throughout his whole face.
As an adult he was really into working on himself. He had goals and dreams that he wanted to accomplish. He wanted to settle into a career, make a good living, and do well in society.
These days he was laser focused on making sure that his life was healthy and whole. The last time we talked, we spent the entire conversation discussing finances, wealth and what it meant to have good credit. He really wanted to live the “American Dream.”
JR Valrey: Can you describe what happened to him?
Kendra Willis: I wasn’t there when this tragedy occurred, so everything I’m sharing is what I’ve heard. On Sunday, Nov. 8, Eric discovered that his car had been burglarized in broad daylight on Grand Avenue in Oakland. After noticing his car, he witnessed the suspects breaking into another nearby vehicle.
At some point, Eric got into some type of confrontation with the suspects while trying to stop the burglary in progress, and he was shot in the chest by one of the suspects. We aren’t sure how many suspects were present, but we know that there were at least two. Eric succumbed to his injuries, but I am positive that he prevented further mayhem on that day. In my eyes, he died a hero.
JR Valrey: How has Oakland responded to this murder?
Kendra Willis: Thankfully the city has responded in a positive way to our family. Local news outlets have shared the story and we know that sharing the story is a definite way to get the community involved. We are looking for justice for Eric and the community and specifically the people have shown nothing but love to Eric’s mother, and we are pleased that the community is not just sweeping Eric’s story, his name and his memory under the rug. We have to keep the story out there in order to get justice.
JR Valrey: A lot of the recent crime plague in Oakland is motivated by money. What do you think the politicians in Oakland need to do to aid the youth in this era of economic despair?
Kendra Willis: Oakland and California in general must address the elephant in the room, and that elephant is poverty. There are currently 1.4 million unemployed residents in California, but newer studies have shown that over 4.8 million people in the state are what’s called “functionally unemployed.”
People are working but their income does not meet the rising cost of living in the state, and people cannot find jobs that pay above the poverty level. People are jobless, hopeless and destitute, and that despair definitely plays a role in the rising crime rate.
Leaders in Oakland must create outlets and programming that specifically address the employment and income needs of the people. I myself own an insurance and financial center, Onyx Advantage Insurance and Financial, and on more than one occasion, I have spoken to Oakland politicians about bringing in free financial literacy workshops. Although they showed minor interest, they refused to act on initiating the programs. We need leaders who have a strong passion to educate and help the people.
JR Valrey: How is Eric’s mother Katryna Hooker? How has this murder affected the Hooker family?
Kendra Willis: Katryna is a strong woman, but even with that being said, the loss of a child is an unimaginable pain. She is doing her best to stand strong but, as her family, I feel that it’s my job and that of the rest of our extended family to rally around her and love her and help her to get through this tragedy the best we can.
Eric’s untimely passing has affected the Hooker family in a manner that’s almost indescribable; however, it’s also bringing us closer together. We are working together and doing our best to love each other through the pain.
Eric was only 28 years old, so for many of us, we are mourning the loss of one of our “youngins.” We come from a large family, and the worst feeling is knowing that we couldn’t protect him from the dangers of the streets.
I don’t understand how that’s even possible considering our family has been in Oakland since 1944. We’ve been here and our roots have been planted here in Oakland almost 80 years, yet we aren’t free to walk in our neighborhoods on a Sunday afternoon.
Many of us cannot afford the rent and the cost of living; and to add to that fact we must also live in fear that we will be killed by our neighbors. It’s very sad.
JR Valrey: What do you want the community to learn from the tragedy?
Kendra Willis: I really want the community to band together. It’s time to take back our communities. Now is the time to look out for your brothers and sisters and to treat your neighbors as if they are your own family. If you see something out of the ordinary, speak up. Let’s start promoting love and unity and let’s also demand better of the leadership and politicians.
JR Valrey: What can people do to help?
Kendra Willis: There is a GoFundMe page that was created to help Eric’s family and the unexpected expenses that have already started to pile up. The link for that page is https://gofund.me/ff226162.
I am also encouraging people to pay attention to their surroundings at all times, and for those who are interested in free financial literacy training and education, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.