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On one Oakland block, a bullet hole in every building

East Bay Times logo East Bay Times 1/30/2023 Katie Lauer, East Bay Times

Jan. 30—OAKLAND — Bullets have pierced nearly every business on this block of MacArthur Boulevard.

Some of the holes left behind are older, silent reminders of past violence. Other tiny craters are from a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day. Then there are those created by the dozens of rifle and low-caliber bullets fired last week during a music video production that had drawn as many as 50 people to a Valero gas station.

The Oakland Police Department blamed the latest on a gang-related mass shooting that killed one and injured four Jan. 23 at the intersection of MacArthur and Seminary Avenue.

The bullet that pierced the metal gate and front door of Jerald Vallan Sr.'s graphic design business — directly across the street from the gas station — might be his last.

In 2012, Vallan jumped on an opportunity to reopen his business on MacArthur — the same place he started tinkering with his craft for free in the 1980s — after spending decades tailoring his skills in architecture remodeling, 3D animation and even painting in his first rental space only a mile west.

He felt he'd made the right move. The new location was a quick walk from his home in Oakland's Millsmont neighborhood, a mostly residential community tucked away in the city's foothills next door to Mills College.

But after the latest barrage of gunfire bruised his livelihood and interrupted a peaceful evening with his wife, the 61-year-old is left debating his future here, despite long ties to the block.

"It's not unusual to hear shots, this is normal stuff. But last night was close, and it sure didn't sound like fireworks," Vallan said. "We hit the floor."

Headlines about shootings have become commonplace in a city long gripped by violence, despite efforts from the community and the police department's Ceasefire program to prevent normalizing it.

Still, as crime has increased and any sense of community in the neighborhood has faded, Vallan said walking away from where he made his name after growing up in this city is not an easy decision. It's not feasible to find another place with enough space in Oakland without touching their retirement savings, he said, especially given the Bay Area's ever-increasing cost of living.

"Once you leave Oakland, you can't come back," he said.

Police believe more than one shooter opened fire in the 5900 block of MacArthur Boulevard, killing an 18-year-old Oakland resident. Four others sustained injuries that weren't considered life-threatening. In total, the victims included one woman and four men, ranging in age from 19 to 56, authorities said.

Acting Police Chief Darren Allison said the department had a "good sense on the involved parties, as far as groups and gangs," but would not publicly identify any suspects. No arrests were made in the days following Monday's gunfight.

Loard's Ice Cream and Candy, which shares a parking lot with the Valero gas station, closed up shop two hours earlier than usual on Monday. It was just instinct, said one of the shop's employees, Daniel, who did not want to provide his last name.

Conflicts aren't uncommon when lots of people show up on the corner, so as soon as a crowd started growing shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, he decided he didn't want to take any risks. The shooting broke out at 6:10 p.m. He didn't realize his gut reaction was right until he got home when his sister called to see if he was OK.

"I have been here for 21 years, and there's always a shooting," Daniel said Tuesday, in between scooping ice cream for customers. "We closed early, and that's why we were safe."

The damage to this neighborhood — both physical and emotional — isn't new.

A decade ago, a sweeping mural featuring the names of the scores of people killed by gun violence across the city in 2013 was painted outside of Aswad Hayes' now-shuttered T-shirt screenprinting company just off MacArthur and 60th Avenue — catty-corner to Monday's shooting.

The mural, "Silence the Violence," was partially inspired by the Oakland Tribune's annual homicide victim list. It was painted by the Community Rejuvenation Project and students from Unity High Charter School only a half-mile away. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, that's the same school 18-year-old Mario Navarro graduated from last year before he was shot and killed during Monday's tragedy on MacArthur Boulevard.

Navarro was someone who "just loved being around his loved ones," said Navarro's cousin, Juan Quintero, 26. He had graduated high school in 2022 and was living with his parents in Oakland.

The shooting left Quintero and the rest of Navarro's family in a state of shock last week. Dozens of friends and family went to Highland Hospital in the hours after he was shot. And on Tuesday, many of them gathered at the home of Navarro's parents to offer his mother and father support.

All the while, Navarro's Chevy Silverado truck sat parked outside their residence — offering a sobering reminder of the teenager's death, Quintero said.

"It's hard," Quintero said. "It sucks. It's a feeling that — it's hard to describe. It just breaks you inside, seeing his truck parked. He bought that truck with so much effort."

Navarro's death was Oakland's sixth homicide of the year, and Monday's shooting was California's third mass shooting within just three days.

On average, Oakland tallied four mass shootings annually between 2016 and 2020. In 2021 there were at least a half-dozen, and three occurred last year.

Much like Navarro's truck, the mural on MacArthur served as a reminder of loved ones lost and created a place where people could gather to pay their respects to them — a sort of illustrated cemetery.

But while several hundred people have gathered this week in Half Moon Bay and Oakland's Chinatown to mourn in the wake of mass shootings across California, there were no wreaths, vigils or gatherings visible along MacArthur Boulevard.

The day after the shooting, the buzz of people going about their days — pumping gas or ordering a hoagie — was already palpable around the block.

Joyce, who typically hangs around the gas station and nearby Millsmont businesses, said she tries to "keep her head on a swivel" and mind her own business. She also didn't want to use her last name, though she made a cameo in front of the camera during the filming of the music video on Monday before chaos ensued.

"I didn't expect for that to pop off, but I should have known — nine times out of 10 something comes up," Joyce said. "When you have gatherings in Oakland, you don't know who has funk with who."

Even though she's usually relaxed in the neighborhood, the 54-year-old was clearly still on edge Tuesday morning after being so close to the gun battle — berating the repairmen fixing one of the gas pumps every time they dropped a tool with a loud "bang."

"My nervous system can't take this — I'm trying to live."

Staff writer Jakob Rodgers and staff photographer Dylan Bouscher contributed to this report.

(c)2023 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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