2016 Writing Finalist

Hannah Alani

Indiana University
$1,500 Scholarship Award and Hearst Medallion


News Story from Interview | Personality/Profile | Spot News

News Story from Interview

OAKLAND – An Oakland man was charged with murder Wednesday in the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old in a parking lot.

Police officers arrested Anicasio Garcia, 27, on the charge of murder in the death of Nelson Diaz-Velasquez, 18, the Mercury News reported Wednesday. Police officers reported the two had been fighting over a woman. Diaz-Velasquez was stabbed in a parking lot near the MacArthur Freeway.

One more murder in the flatlands.

Oakland is routinely ranked one of the most dangerous places to live in the United States. Violent crime tends to concentrate in the lower-income areas, Oakland Police Department Chief Sean Whent said.

Being a cop, especially a white cop, is difficult job in Oakland, he said. But the officers feel more support now more than ever from Mayor Libby Schaaf.

“The cops feel a support in City Hall like they have not felt before,” Whent said. “That helps them do their jobs, particularly in today’s times under such scrutiny.”

When Schaaf took office, she pushed police accountability measures onto the city. When the OPD needed additional police cadets, Schaaf found a private donor.

“She really is good at advocating for the department,” Whent said. “She’s really, really good at building support for the organization.”

One of Schaaf’s initiatives mapped community policing, dividing the city into block, neighborhood and citywide levels.

She said Wednesday that, as mayor, she strives for transparency and accountability in the police department.

“I believe the issue of trust between cities of color and police departments is not unique to Oakland,” Schaaf said.

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Mayor Libby Schaaf can have “hella” love for her city, even when Oakland doesn’t love her back.

When she was running for office, women called her a bad mother. Fifteen days into office, activists came to her $615,000 home in the hills protesting the housing crisis. Internet trolls call for her resignation.

A former neighbor said Schaaf views Oakland as a political “stepping stone.”

But these attacks are just background noise for the 50-year-old powerhouse running one of the most rapidly changing communities in the United States.

Even though controversy colors her days, Schaaf is a mayor with an agenda, and she will see to it that her leadership transforms Oakland.

Joan Poulter remembers when Schaaf and her family moved into her neighborhood in the Oakland City Council’s 4th District.

Schaaf was a “handsome woman,” energetic and smart, Poulter said. She charmed the neighbors by overseeing the neighborhood watch and hosting neighborhood association meetings. But Poulter felt the family’s move to Bridgeview was part of a “political progression.”

“I think she just saw us as a stepping stone to her own ambitions,” she said.

Prior to moving to Bridgeview, Schaaf, her husband and their two children lived in the 1st District, according to Alameda County Assessors Office records. In 2010, the family began renting in Poulter’s neighborhood. After Schaaf won the council race, she and her husband fbought their current home in another neighborhood.

Poulter said she doesn’t fault Schaaf for trying to get onto City Council so she could run for mayor. But she criticized the impact Schaaf’s political agenda has on her children. From what she observed, Schaaf left the “primary parenting” of her two children to her husband, Poulter said.

For Schaaf, the double standards are getting old.

Even though she has been in the Mayor’s Office for over a year, people, women included, continue to condemn her parenting style.

It bothers Schaaf that people focus on her clothes and her hair. She doesn’t understand why “everyone feels the need” to mention her high school cheerleading career.

“Really, I want to talk about regionalized sales tax,” Schaaf said. “I am a policy wonk. That is my happy place.”

Schaaf’s days now begin by taking her two children to school.

“That’s my one motherly duty,” she said.

Then, she comes to work. She’s a self-proclaimed “policy wonk” who will take time to explain the ideologies and logistics behind her gentrification-friendly fiscal policies.

“Bullshit,” she said, is something she will not tolerate.

Her main policies and initiatives center around affordable housing, public safety and an economic term she coined, “techquity.”

She is pro-gentrification, as long as the tech industries find ways to give back to the city instead of taking advantage of the cheap rent.

She smiled as she gave a nod to Uber for contracting with Red Bay Coffee, a local company that hires former inmates. The Uber contract will create 20 new jobs, she said.

“That’s a great example of a win-win.”

Fifteen days into her mayorship, loud, angry woke the entire family.

“Wake up, Libby!” the protesters shouted.

Schaaf said she knew the protests were peaceful, but she received criticism for staying inside and not addressing the crowd.

“This anger comes from a legitimate place,” she said.

A year and a half later, the anger hasn’t disappeared. The Tweets and the comments on her professional and personal Facebook pages are unforgiving:

Why is your city such an absolute hellhole?

Must be nice to still have your home and benefit from your white privilege

It would be nice if brown families like mine could afford that

Michael Hunt, one of Schaaf’s communications aides, said Schaaf doesn’t tiptoe around the race issue. But the mayor has no interest in reasoning with callous remarks.

“Don’t call her a white bitch,” Hunt said. “That’s not a conversation anymore.”

Being white doesn’t invalidate Schaaf’s love for Oakland or her ability to run the city, said Erica Terry Derryck, the mayor’s communications director.

“She’s always going to be the white mayor of Oakland,” Derryck said.

Revitalizing the economy with “techquity,” Schaaf said, is the path to fixing the housing crisis and lowering crime.

“Being from Oakland and having a lifelong love affair with my city is one of the things that keeps me grounded as a mayor,” she said.

A white man, Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said he understands Schaaf’s nuanced struggle of running a city whose most vulnerable citizens are low-income minorities. But when he enters minority communities, race doesn’t matter.

“Everybody wants the same thing, to be safe,” he said. “They just want to know that you’re going about that and achieving that in a responsible, ethical manner.”

The last thing the Oakland mayor wants, Whent said, is a reduction in minority numbers.

“She does not want Oakland to lose the diversity it has,” Whent said. “You can make the city thrive, you can attract business here, you can get the city going without having to kick people out.”

Despite her concerns around Schaaf’s intentions, Poulter cannot deny that Oakland is changing for the better.

“Rents are lower, businesses are moving here,” she said. “She’s very positive and she’s much a cheerleader for Oakland. I think that’s a significant difference between her and her predecessors, is that she’s really out there for Oakland.”

It will take time for the community to warm to her policies, Schaaf said.

“Human beings by nature resist change, but people have good reason to be fearful of change,” Schaaf said. “We don’t have a great track record.”

In the mean time, Oakland residents can throw all the flack they want.

“Sometimes,” Schaaf said, “I’d like to think that it’s to your advantage when people underestimate you.”

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It was in the small alley where he stores his belongings that David Maldonado’s vision began to blur.

Tattered suitcases, stale Doritos and a bible gathered at his feet as he bent down, reached into his right sock and pulled out a handful of crumbled up cash – $66. He couldn’t say where he got the money. His memory becomes foggy after shooting up heroin.

It was a classic scene in San Francisco’s Mission District, where needles and crack pipes are as common as nitro espresso and man buns.

For Maldonado, whiskey in hand, his realities of failed shelter life, gentrification and being told by store security to “pull his pants up” all melted into a trippy haze as he made his way downtown to buy drugs.

It had been three months since he was kicked out of his most recent shelter, Walden House.

Upwards of 7,000 people in San Francisco are homeless, according to the city’s 2015 Point-In-Count report.

Roughly a quarter of the city’s homeless, around 1,745 people, are “chronically homeless,” meaning they’ve been living on the streets for over one year.

And of the chronically homeless, 67 percent reported suffering from drug addiction while 55 percent reported experiencing mental illness.

Maldonado, 29, is the face for both statistics.

Neither the shelters nor the prison time he served for batteries and assaults helped him. In fact, he said, no conventional solution to addiction could save him from this life.

“Everybody has their own free will,” he said.

The $66 burned a hole.

Maldonado grabbed his camouflage print backpack and walked to a Mission District bookstore’s sale rack.

Techies and millennials weaved around him on the sidewalk. Every block or so his pants fell below his knees, bringing him to a full stop.

The people skirted around him, faces deep in their phones, bouncing between startups.

The gentrification doesn’t mean much to Maldonado. But seeing the young, successful people remind him of the life he’ll never have.

“I know everybody has dreams,” he said. “I didn’t get to have a family, didn’t get to have children. I didn’t get to go places.”

A few months ago, Maldonado walked into a 90-day inpatient rehab program at Walden House, a recovery center funded by the city, state and federal government.

The city has a budget of $241 million to fix homelessness. The money is divvied up between sectors such as shelter funding, access to healthcare and eviction prevention, Director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement Sam Dodge said.

At one time, the publically funded Walden House offered a 2-year inpatient program. Then funding cuts scaled it back to one year. Then 90 days.

The rumor, a Walden House spokesperson said, is that the city’s new financial plan will shorten the maximum time to 45 days, and any more cuts would be “detrimental.”

By Wednesday evening, Mayor Edwin Lee’s office had not replied for comment.

During his short stay at Walden House, Maldonado said he did well.

He got clean, read the bible and began praying before meals. His mother started returning his phone calls. He even began to make strides in diagnosing his mental conditions that had plagued him since childhood.

A psychiatrist met with Maldonado and he told her about the hallucinations he saw as a child and the depression he felt throughout his life, most acutely while on the streets and in prison.

The solution was a bottle of antidepressants. That’s when, Maldonado said, things took a turn.

“They made me feel even crazier,” he said.

Shortly after, he said he became violent with another resident. Walden House has a zero-tolerance policy for violence, and Maldonado was immediately kicked out, days before his graduation.

It was back to sleeping bags and heroin benders.

“Heroin is the only thing that makes me normal,” he said.

After the bookstore, Maldonado walked towards the financial district. The McDonalds on Market Street looked good.

“I’m f—— hungry,” Maldonado said as he stood in line for chicken nuggets. He had just bought jeans from Ross and said he hoped the shopping bag would make him look less “bummy.” But as the line inched closer, the employees grimaced at the handles of his brown paper bag, which were black from dirt.

“We can’t serve you,” the manager said.

Maldonado slowly blinked his eyes.


“We can’t serve you,” she repeated, pointing to a sign on the wall: We reserve the right to refuse any person.

“That’s embarrassing,” he said as he walked out. He walked across the street to Spicely, an organic teashop.

“Do you have anything with antioxidants?” he asked the cashier. “You see, I have a lot of toxins inside of me.”

He smelled the green teas, then the whites. But $20 for a small box of tea was out of range.

“We can give you a sample,” the woman said. He accepted.

“This world isn’t perfect,” Maldonado said. “You learn as you go.”

The evening drew near and the high started to fade. Maldonado furiously itched his underarm as he walked west, toward Tenderloin.

Outside Larkin Park, he stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

He was still hungry.

“Two pieces of fried chicken and a biscuit,” he said to the cashier.

As he sat down to eat, he took a deep breath, folded his hands and rested his head.

Then he prayed.

“Thank you God,” he began. “This planet is meant for us to have free choices. I want you to know, today I’m ready.”

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