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Her daughter was killed and now this mom is calling on Oakland to step up and help

Chalinda Hatcher lost her 15-year-old daughter, Shamara Young, who was shot and killed in Oakland, Calif., in October. Hatcher wants the city to step up and help.
Eric Westervelt
Chalinda Hatcher lost her 15-year-old daughter, Shamara Young, who was shot and killed in Oakland, Calif., in October. Hatcher wants the city to step up and help.

"This one just came today. I don't know who's sending them or if someone's picking them from their yard," says Nina Hatcher of the fresh flowers that keep showing up along the fence line outsider her East Oakland home in the Fruitvale neighborhood.

The flowers are in memory of her 15-year-old granddaughter, Shamara, who was murdered in October not far from here. "Yeah those look like from a florist. Lovely."

For a family grasping for answers and solace, Hatcher says, the gesture from neighbors, friends or strangers helps a little. "They keep appearing," she says with a bittersweet smile, "which is really, you know, blessings. Shows just how, you know, loved Shamara was," Hatcher says.

Family and friends all say Shamara Young had a warm, infectious smile and a relentlessly positive spirit.

"She always smiled, you know, that smile light up my world, I always smile with her even though I was going through stuff," says Shamara's classmate and best friend Daisha Relerford. "She made my day."

Her life was cut short as she working hard to get better grades in hopes of playing basketball and going to college

Daisha says Shamara liked basketball, acting, dancing and rap. They enjoyed hanging out and would crank out TikTok posts. In keeping with the medium the videos were at times goofy, raunchy, silly and carefree.

"She always be like, 'Let's make a TikTok best friend.' And 'I'm like OK!' So, you know, that was her thing," Relerford says.

Young's life was cut down as she working hard to boost her grades at Oakland's Fremont High in hopes of playing basketball and going on to college.

"I never seen her work hard like that before to get those grades," her friend says, adding she wanted "to make her mom proud, you know, her grandma and her family proud." She had a boyfriend she adored, Relerford says, and wanted to do more acting and dance. "She had a whole future bright for herself."

"She was only 15, so she was just hitting the mark of falling into that teenage life," her mother Chalinda Hatcher says with a look of resignation and sadness. Hatcher is sitting on a bench in backyard of her East Oakland home.

Shamara liked being happy, "bringing your spirits up," her mom says. "If she thought you was sad, she would give you a hug because she didn't like sadness."

The family has set up a GoFundMe page in Shamara's honor and to help defray funeral and other costs.

2020 saw the largest one-year increase in murders since America started keeping nationwide records

The surge in killings is playing out across much of the country. 2020 saw a massive almost 30% spike in homicides nationally. While still below historic highs set in the early 1990s, it was largest one-year increase in murders since America started keeping nationwide records.

And this year in many cities, the uptick in killings has continued to match or even surpass last year's deadly surge.

Nina Hatcher's grand-daughter, Shamara Young was murdered just shy of her 16th birthday. "She was a very loving person and loving spirit, and she was caring, motivated," she says.
Eric Westervelt / NPR
Nina Hatcher's grand-daughter, Shamara Young was murdered just shy of her 16th birthday. "She was a very loving person and loving spirit, and she was caring, motivated," she says.

Oakland, Calif., is among the hardest hit. The rise in gun violence and homicides there has left many residents here angry, fearful and calling on city leaders and law enforcement to do more. Oakland is on track to finish 2021 with its deadliest year in more than a decade. The city of just over 425,000 is fast closing in on 130 homicides so far – already more than last year's 109 murders. And that itself was 40 percent jump from 2019's numbers.

The city's mayor is now calling to reverse planned cuts to the police department.

Recent murders include a 28-year-old man gunned down near a popular park while trying to stop a car break-in; a security guard and former cop fatally shot during a robbery while protecting a local TV news crew that was out reporting on crime in the city; and a toddler just shy of his second birthday shot and killed by a stray bullet on a recent afternoon while as he slept in his car seat as his family drove on Interstate 880 in Oakland.

And Shamara, a teenager shot driving home after getting her hair braided. It'd been a long day for Shamara the night she was killed. She'd gone to school, had a dinner break and then went to get hair elaborately braided in singles before her sweet 16 birthday. "Something she had been wanting for the past couple of months, but we had been just having her do her natural stuff," her mother says.

She was happy to finally get hair done, her mom says, and her uncle picked her up to take her home. The uncle, Joshua Hatcher, was driving down International Boulevard when two men in a car raced up, driving erratically and cut them off.

The uncle went around them and turned on to Bancroft Avenue to try to get away.

They were less than a dozen blocks from home.

There was no exchange of words, no exchange of middle fingers, her uncle, says, but the strangers in the car gave chase.

"They just followed him down Bancroft and got back in front of them and as he tried to get back in front of them, they shot into his car," Chalinda Hatcher says. "And that's when they struck Shamara." A bullet hit Shamara in the head. Shocked and panicked, her uncle tried to hold her up while racing to the nearest hospital.

She was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

Shamara Young was Oakland's 109th homicide of the year

"I'm still trying to figure out why would you shoot into a random car? And for what? For what?" Chalinda Hatcher says. "And the innocence couldn't get no worse. She wasn't affiliated with gangs. She didn't 'live by the gun' or none of that kind of stuff. She was just a teenager trying to graduate and live her life."

Family and friends say Shamara Young had a warm, infectious smile and a relentlessly positive spirit. She enjoyed basketball, acting, dancing and rap. The 15-year-old was shot and killed in October in Oakland, Calif.
/ Courtesy Chalinda Hatcher
Courtesy Chalinda Hatcher
Family and friends say Shamara Young had a warm, infectious smile and a relentlessly positive spirit. She enjoyed basketball, acting, dancing and rap. The 15-year-old was shot and killed in October in Oakland, Calif.

"I'm angry, yeah sad. And upset," grandmother Nina Hatcher says. But she adds that Shamara wouldn't want her to stew in bitterness. "You know, anger is not something I want to carry around."

Chalinda Hatcher says she hasn't heard from the Oakland detective assigned to her daughter's case or anyone in the homicide unit since right after the killing. Back then the department asked for the public's help in solving Shamara's murder. "They haven't contacted me about anything," she says, "I haven't heard any updates or anything on the case."

The Oakland PD says it has "cleared" 44% of homicides this year. But that includes killings from other years solved in 2021. Like the majority of killings here, Shamara's death remains unsolved.

Her mom finds that painful and ironic because Shamara was kind of obsessed with TV crime shows. She would stay up late watching them, Hatcher says, and muse about wanting to become a forensic technician to help cops crack cases.

"I mean the girl loved solving crime shows. All the girl wanted to do was become one of those people who solve murders and stuff like that," she says.

Crime is not a new challenge for Oakland. But as in many other American cities, gun violence and death have escalated here during the pandemic. The rising gun violence comes as city leaders wrestle with competing calls for police to do more and from activists who want want officials to make good on pledges of wide-ranging police reforms.

The violence recently prompted Oakland's Mayor Libby Schaaf to reverse plans to divert funding from police to social services. While saying she still supports planned efforts to remove police from some nonviolent 911 calls and a violence intervention program called CeaseFire, Schaaf said she's asking city council to reverse funding cuts scheduled to take effect next year and for the city to move to hire more police.

"There is nothing progressive about unbridled gun violence," Schaaf said. "This is what Oaklanders want: a comprehensive and effective approach to safety. And that includes adequate police staffing."

City leaders are urged to do more to help stem the wave of gun violence

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong recently implored local leaders to do more to help stem the wave of gun violence he called "unacceptable."

"I'm asking council members to step up," chief Armstrong said. "Have a conversation about the loss of life in this city beyond the politics of whether you support the police or not. There is a clear problem in this city."

Police staffing levels have now fallen below a 2014 voter-approved measure that requires the department to have at least 678 sworn officers on staff to access funding from a parcel tax. About 70 officers have left over the last year including via retirements and resignations. "Although we've seen several people leave the Oakland Police Department, there are six hundred and seventy six officers that come here every day to make this city safe," chief Armstrong said, adding "this is a challenging moment for all of us."

Some social justice police reform activists blasted the mayor's call for more policing as a betrayal, underscoring how fraught the changes may be politically.

Oaklanders took to the streets by the thousands in 2020 in the wake of Floyd's murder "to demand the City of Oakland reinvest our tax dollars into programs that will actually keep us safe, not over-police Black and Brown communities," said Cat Brooks a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project .

She said the additional $5.8 million the mayor wants to spend on policing should instead be invested in violence prevention, mental health services, jobs programs, and affordable housing. "We cannot throw more good money after failed policy solutions," Brooks said.

City Councilman Loren Taylor, who is running for mayor, says his East Oakland constituents are tired of the city's petty political infighting, posturing and PR messaging fights. "None of that matters to my residents on the ground when they are having bullets fly into their homes, when they are needing to duck for cover because of gun violence happening in the streets or when they hear about some of these, you know, truly tragic incidents," Taylor says. "They want to be able to walk outside of their front door, have their spouses and their kids be safe in front of their homes."

While arguing the city is not going to arrest its way out of the crisis, Taylor is backing efforts to hire more police officers. He says the Defund Movement mistakenly thinks systemic reform of police is zero-sum game, "that you have to take away from police in order to fund prevention and the other resources that are necessary. I don't believe that that's true. We have to be able to fund both," Taylor says.

Oakland joins other liberal cities backtracking on proposed police budget cuts and resource reallocation.

The May 2020 police murder of George Floyd helped spark a nationwide movement to shift or at least discuss shifting some funding toward new social service interventions and away from police budgets. Efforts to add nonpolice responses to some calls for service - including social workers, specially trained paramedics and mental health experts - gained traction in several cities.

But those cuts to policing – real and proposed – now face a serious backlash amid the pandemic-era spike in violent crime, mounting public and political pressure and police staffing shortages as more officers retire or leave the job.

Cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland, OR. have all moved to partially restore funding, or ended up making much smaller cuts than city councils had promised in 2020.

For example, in June 2020, the Portland City Council and the mayor cut millions from the police budget. Earlier this month, the council unanimously voted to boost the police budget by an extra $5.2 million.

And across the bay from Oakland, San Francisco's progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin is facing a massive backlash and a recall vote next June following a year-to-year rise in homicides, assaults, larceny theft and arson. Critics, including several of his former employees, allege Boudin reflexively sides with criminal defendants and is tone deaf to victims. Boudin strongly denies that. He calls the recall effort a politically motivated attack on racial justice reforms aimed at rolling back mass incarceration.

In Oakland Shamara's mother strongly supports the call for additional police, but with caveats. More officers should come from and live in the city, she says, and they should improve screening and training.

"I do not think we need to take cops off the streets because these streets are absolutely nuts," Hatcher says. "But it needs to be more of the right policing. The wrong police out here can make it worse. So we need the right ones getting these guns off the streets, getting these bad people off the streets. Period." As Oakland's death toll continues to mount, Hatcher says the city and the wider community have to do more. Add resources, she says, and to citizens, take to the streets to demand action.

"Where's the anger? Where's the community watch? Where is the justice? There isn't any in her own community," she says her voice trembling.

To the people who shot her daughter, Hatcher says, "Turn yourself in."

But she knows that's highly unlikely. So her real plea is for someone who knows something, who saw something, to speak up to investigators.

"Give a little tip. It's anonymous. These people cannot be trusted on the streets. [They] shot a 15-year-old innocent child. And they are not going to stop until the community steps up," she says, adding "Shamara loved Oakland, but her city is not stepping up for her."

Oakland, she says, "needs to do a lot better" for Shamara and the nearly 130 others who've been murdered so far this year.

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Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.