A non-religious man, fed up with crime and vandalism in his neighborhood, managed to transform the area with a store-bought Buddha statue.
Dan Stevenson and his wife, Lu, lived in the Eastlake area of Oakland for 40 years and learned to live with rampant crime, including robberies, assaults and drug dealing.
But Dan’s tolerance disappeared when people started using a traffic divider with a gap in the middle – visible from his house about 150 meters away – as a “hope spot”.
To deter criminals and litter, the two purchased a small Buddha statue from ACE Hardware and mounted it on a concrete slab on the dividing wall at the intersection of East 19th Street and 11th Avenue. The result? Some would call it a miracle: crime went down.
Why a Buddha? The impact of the statue, erected in 2009, was discussed on the Criminal podcast In 2015, Dan said: “Because he is neutral. I mean, if we throw Christ up there, he’s controversial. But Buddha, nobody seems to care that much about a Buddha in general.”
Oakland resident Dan Stevenson installed a store-bought Buddha statue on a traffic barrier (above) in his Eastlake neighborhood — a haphazard attempt to deter crime
Dan bought the Buddha (above) at ACE Hardware. Image courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing
Dan first hoped that the presence of the “neutral figure” would bring a sense of peace to the neighborhood, but he did not expect it to completely transform the area.
In conversation with the presenter of the Criminal podcast: Phoebe judge, he said: “It probably took about four months before he was just sitting there doing concrete work. But one morning I wake up and look around and the Buddha is white. “Someone came and painted it soft white.”
From then on, people left “small gifts” such as oranges or coins. One day, Dan said, he came home from work and found a bag of pears, but had no idea “where they came from or what they represented.”
The podcast revealed that people “from all over” began visiting the Buddha, with Phoebe noting that what began as a “really random attempt to fight litter and crime” became a “holy place for members of the Vietnamese Buddhist community of Oakland”.
Offerings of fruit and flowers to the Buddha are depicted. Image courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing
Not only that, but after the Buddha was installed, “crime almost disappeared,” says Dan.
Dan said locals knew he was responsible for the statue’s appearance and sometimes offered him gifts, from fruit to wine to bottles of whiskey, in gratitude.
Dan admitted that he had no idea why the Buddha was so effective, citing superstition, fear or respect as possible explanations.
The drop in crime was highlighted by reporter Chris Johnson in a 2014 article for the San Francisco Chronicle (published online at San Francisco Gate).
The reporter asked the police to review their crime statistics for the area around the statue and found that crime had decreased significantly.
Commenting on the results, Chris said: “Since 2012, when worshipers started turning up for daily prayers, the overall crime rate this year has dropped by 82 per cent.”
“The number of robberies rose from fourteen to three, robberies with aggravating circumstances from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, drug offenses from three to none and prostitution from three to none.”
Chris asked a police statistician about the data, who commented, “I can’t tell what to attribute it to, but those are the numbers.”
After the Buddha was installed, crime in Eastlake dropped 82 percent. Above is a general view of Oakland
The Buddha still stands there in 2023, having undergone several upgrades over the years.
People added gold decorated clothes, placed it on a “rock base” and there are now three huts.
And while its long-term impact on crime is uncertain, it is certainly popular.
Listed on Google as a “place of worship”, it attracts visitors from all over the country and has been rated 4.9 stars by 80 reviewers.
One reviewer, Sarah Nichols, who visited the Buddha earlier this year, wrote: “The Oakland Buddha is still there! I’ve been hoping to see it since I heard about it four years ago in 2019. I live in Lincoln, Nebraska, but came to San Francisco for my birthday and a friend from Alameda helped me find the sanctuary.”
Photos show various offerings in the huts, from religious symbols, flowers, candles and fruit to images of Buddhas and LED lights.
James is an author and travel journalist who writes for The Fashion Vibes. With a love for exploring new cultures and discovering unique destinations, James brings his readers on a journey with him through his articles.