Oakland's First Friday event undergoes changes

February 27, 2013 7:29:27 PM PST
Oakland's popular First Friday event attracts thousands of people each month to the city's Uptown neighborhood, but the shooting death of a teenager after the last event has led city hall to make some changes including consolidating the event to a much smaller area on Telegraph Avenue between West Grand Avenue and 27th Street.

There are so many people betting on the success of First Friday that change was necessary for the event to continue. It is change that city leaders and event organizers believe was necessary to keep the spirit of the event alive, while keeping those who attend safe.

"I'm ready to hit the ground running, I think it's going to be like Braveheart around here. We're going to be fighting them off," said Prozack Turner from Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland.

Turner is betting on Oakland. The musician and Oakland native is opening a new bar, catering to musicians, on a stretch of Telegraph Avenue that has most of the business around him boarded, locked-up and moving away.

"We all got together last month after the incident that happened up the street here," said Turner.

He's talking about the shooting death of high school senior Kiante Campbell after this month's First Friday event ended. That outburst of gun violence put a spotlight on First Friday and the challenges of policing a crowd of its size. That pushed city hall, the event's organizers and business owners to make changes.

"And we're like, 'What can we do to get involved and avoid this and keep our hands on a really positive and awesome thing and not lose it to bad stuff?'" said Turner.

"I think the steps that the organizers have taken to make it safer and more positive are absolutely appropriate," said Oakland City Council Member Libby Schaaf.

Those steps include scaling down the size of the event. Instead of stretching more than a dozen blocks down Telegraph Avenue, First Friday will be contained to only five. The festival will also end earlier and police will enforce the laws around open containers on the street. ABC7 News can confirm that even though some private security will be used, Oakland police will staff the event with members of their crime reduction team, including officers working overtime. The officers will be paid from the city's general fund, while the event's organizers will pay for additional security.

"I have so many different feelings about it because there are so many stakeholders in it. There's brick and mortars, there's vendors. There are people who really count on that night to pay their rents and stay alive and feed themselves and their families," said John Mardikian from Telegraph Restaurant & Bar.

This Friday's First Friday event will also include a moment of silence to recognize those who were injured and the life lost earlier this month.


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