For many days would walk the streets,
and photograph the realities I was seeing
and finding desolation of the people
from the streets.

B Y   S T A N L E Y   G R E E N E

February 11, 2012


Photographs by Stanley Greene

For about two weeks, I walked the streets of Oakland, California, and photographed the realities of those streets and the drama on them, finding desolation and the sense of separateness. There is street corner justice and pride in this mostly African American community. There is also the sub-culture of the Princes, Kings and Queens of the city, and unfortunately, in some places it has the look of a modern day ghost town where the atmosphere is that of a great American tragedy played out in bits and parts.

“Corner boys and girls’ all in the game as “The Mayor” oversees a street corner transaction in the Flatlands.

“Corner boys and girls’ all in the game as “The Mayor” oversees a street corner transaction in the Flatlands.

Places of commerce, on International Boulevard for example, seem more geared for street hustlers and women of the night than stores where local residents can shop. There are people like Jackie Castain trying to clean up the streets: She has been a community activist for over thirty years, working for better housing, striving to tear down slums and eyesores that dot the landscape of East Oakland where she lives with her son, a hair stylist. She is also fighting against toxic waste dumping in the Elmhurst district, and her latest mission is to close all the drug houses and abandoned homes being used by the homeless, prostitutes, and junkies. Most of these homes were foreclosed by the banks.

And the overall feeling is, as a former gang member told me, “…growing up in East Oakland, the ‘hood’ to some, places like Brookfield you just do not travel unless you are packing steel so the gang bangers stick to their own hoods, and when you go to someone else’s hood, you do not disrespect them, ‘cause if you a’int from there, then there is a good chance you will not make it out alive.

You really have to be careful at night, because you will see a lot of homeless junkies living rough, and beggars. There are young people looking just for trouble. In East Oakland’s ‘The Flatlands,’ the area within Park Blvd., Bancroft Ave., and E. 98th Ave, this part of town is infested with crime and chaos: gang fights, shootings, sideshows and many homicides.

A Vietnam veteran, convicted drug dealer and now filmmaker TCinque Sampson spent 22 years behind bars and states “I was a drug dealer. I was a predator. I was a product of an environment from which I sprung. Prison has made me a better person to struggle on, and help those in struggle like myself.”

There’s always crime on International Blvd. Do not wander around past 11 pm unless you want to put yourself in harm’s way. There’s too many bad places to name so here’s the most notorious: from E. 20th to E. 27th they call it Murder Dubz, from High Street to Seminary Ave., and from E. 73rd Ave. to E. 98th, especially from E. 90th to E. 98th Ave., you see many gangs and witness plenty of violence. It’s not a place for tourists; the smart thing will be to stay away. West Oakland, stay away from the run-down neighborhoods. Crime in West Oakland is very high and it happens during the daytime as well as night.

Don’t walk in dark places at night, especially going out to liquor stores! Some Oakland neighborhoods turn into killing zones, where East and West Oakland gangs fight to hold on to their turf. Nobody gets out of the Killing Zone alive, anyway. When I stopped being a criminal, it was because I was sick of the games being played on the streets. When you quit, you walk away from all of it, because the game is unforgiving.”

I emerged with an eerie, haunting image of Oakland, flat-liners looking for a way back to life. There is a thin line between heaven and the street.

© Stanley Greene / Facing Change: Documenting America

Leica Logo With support from Leica Camera

Fire and emergency services helping “A clip and run” of a little girl who was crossing the street at Foothill Avenue and  Coolidge…Flat liners.

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