A Change of Guard

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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Oakland's Cambodian community holds anti-violence march

A large group from the Cambodian community march down International Boulevard to speak up against community violence in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, March 31, 2012. The event also featured safety tips and a speech from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other public officials. (Doug Duran/Staff)

By Alan Lopez
Contra Costa Times
More pictures at www.insidebayarea.com
Posted: 03/31/2012

OAKLAND -- Almost 40 years after the Khmer Rouge unleashed a genocide in Cambodia, natives to that country in Oakland still feel the aftershocks.

Violence is plaguing the community of about 2,700, with shootings, robberies and thefts occurring weekly, say community organizers.

The problem of violence in the Cambodian community is exacerbated by mental health problems and a fear of speaking out, which affects refugees of the 1970s Cambodian genocide, said Talaya Sin, a research assistant with Cambodian Community Development Inc.

"I'm scared, to be honest," said Sin, whose extended family members have been the victims of violence. "It doesn't feel safe (in Oakland)."

The Oakland Cambodian Community March 4 Peace held Saturday was meant to bring Oakland Cambodians together and quell the violence.

Led by several Buddhist monks, about 150 people marched around the San Antonio neighborhood, chanting anti-violence and pro-community slogans, and carrying signs that read "Stop the Violence." Afterward, the crowd, which included children, teenagers and seniors, gathered at St. Anthony's Church on 16th Avenue to watch cultural performances and eat free food.

Before the march, a Cambodian-American police sergeant at the event offered safety tips, emphasizing the need for people to be aware of their surroundings.

Mayor Jean Quan encouraged the crowd to call police when crimes occur and also encouraged young Cambodians to finish
high school and apply for the police department. "Right now, we have only two other Cambodian officers, and we need more," she said.

In an interview after her speech, Quan said that Oakland Cambodians are coming together because of a recent uptick in violence.

She said that gang violence plagued the community in the middle of the last decade but had died down.

"The community jumped on it right away," after the violence escalated, she said.

Sin said the current violence is believed to be the result of retaliations from groups of youths attempting to control turf in the neighborhoods. They are not considered gangs because they are less organized, she said.

Five members of her cousin's family, including two children, were injured in a drive-by shooting on East 22nd Street last year, Sin said.

The day before, her nephew was shot and almost killed while walking to a liquor store during the daytime.

The violence died down until Dec. 10, when a father of four was killed during a drive-by shooting while he slept.

"I don't want to live through a genocide here," Sin said. "My parents did. I'm surprised, but I'm not surprised, that people are OK with killing each other."

The event Saturday was the first step to organize the community, with an eye toward becoming more involved with the larger Pacific Islander community in Oakland, said Pysay Phinith, an assistant project director with Asian Community Mental Health Services.

"Today we are taking steps to change our community for the better," she told the crowd.

Deborah Roderiques, who watched as marchers passed her home on Foothill Boulevard, said she appreciated the anti-violence efforts. Her brother was murdered in 2003.

"You don't even feel safe getting on a bus anymore," she said. "It's too bad; they need to straighten this out."

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