OAKLAND IMAGES IN THESE LATTER DAYS

The three young women who stood together up to speak at UíKendra Johnsonís funeral because they didnít think they could make it through their remarks while standing up separately. Sobbing, close to falling, leaning on each other for support. "Iím afraid," says one, speaking about death. "I know I shouldnít be. I know I donít have any reason to be afraid. But I am."

* * *

The incredible strength of Winnie Johnson, UíKendraís mother, sitting in the funeralís front row so solid and steady while so many others seem to be collapsing around her. Is this a quality of women? Of mothers?

* * *

In the lobby, as I am leaving the funeral, I run into Councilmember Larry Reid, who pumps my hand and tells me, "Thank you for coming," as he goes past. I walk out, puzzled. I didnít know that Larry Reid was in UíKendra Johnsonís family.

* * *

Eric Crawford, the driver of the car that killed UíKendra Johnson, appearing at Municipal Court in Oakland in a red county jail jumpsuit. As he is about to be led back out, he turns to the courtroom and says, "I would just like to apologize to the family of UíKendra Johnson." It is a moment, I think, that I shall never forget. The judge dismisses him. "This isnít the time or place for that," he says. But when is it not the time and place for apology? I canít look into Eric Crawfordís heart, but he doesnít look like a monster or someone who did intentional malice, only like a man who committed a stupid, immensely stupid act in a moment that he can never take back, but wishes now that he could. In the elevator going down from the courtroom, I listen to the sobs of his family members. I have heard that some of Crawfordís familyÖas well as Crawford himselfÖknew UíKendra. We forget sometimes how far the ripples of sorrow and tragedy travel.

* * *

After my column on the police chase linked to the accident that killed UíKendra Johnson, a reader emails me: "Thank you for asking the real questions! They're so obvious, yet no one wants to speak upĖso what is everyone else afraid of??"
It is a question I wish I could answer.

* * *

My post office box is full of mail. I spread them out on the counter. One is a brochure with a full-color picture of a badly-wrecked automobile on the cover. Iím thinking it must be from some auto insurance company. It takes me a few moments to realizeÖin growing horrorÖthat this is a picture of the car in which UíKendra Johnson died. It is a campaign brochure for Moses Mayne, running for re-election to Oakland City Council in District 6, blaming her death on the sideshows, saying how much Mayne is doing to stop them. Inside are pictures of Mayne and Larry Reid and Mayor Jerry Brown and State Senator Don Perata. All of them are smiling.

[See link below]

I wonder how many of these brochures got mailed to the homes of friends and family of UíKendra Johson, who were suddenly forced to view something that they may not have seen before, and now will never be able to forget. Have these people no decency? Is there nothing that is out of bounds?

A day or two later, a friend drops off an almost identical brochure. This one was mailed out by the District 4 Council campaign of David Stein.
I think back to my encounter with Larry Reid at the funeral and realize, finally, what happened. I canít look into Mr. Reidís heart either, but now it seems to me that the Councilmember was just back there working the crowd like it was a political event.

* * *

Still, we live with hope.

Standing in the back at UíKendra Johnsonís funeral. As a young man sings of young life lost, I look out through the vast church windows at the sunís reflection glistening like diamonds over the waters of Lake Merritt, a flock of birds flying gracefully overhead. If there is a more beautiful spot for oneís last view of this earth, I have not seen it. One has to believe that there is something of value beyond all of this.


District 4 & District 6 "Sideshow" Campaign Brochure Photo
(Note: This link contains a photograph of the automobiles (though not the people) involved in the crash that killed U'Kendra Johnson in Oakland on February 16, 2002. Do not access if you do not wish to view a picture of the crash scene.)


Originally Published March 6, 2002 in URBANVIEW Newspaper, Oakland, CA