Oakland home of slain education activist targeted, chief says

Intruders who shot and killed a respected education activist at his home in Oakland's Maxwell Park neighborhood had apparently targeted the residence, the police chief said Monday.

The unidentified assailants who killed Dirk Tillotson, 52, came "specifically to that residence. They did not impact other residences," Chief LeRonne Armstrong said at a news conference. 

Armstrong would not elaborate but said investigators were following up on leads. 

"We are looking into a couple of things we think could be a contributor to why he might be the focus, or his residence," Armstrong said.

Tillotson was killed and his wife was injured when shots rang out at their home on Monticello Avenue at about 11:30 p.m. Friday. 

His wife, who was shot in the arm, called 911. As police searched for a motive in the case, friends and local leaders mourned the loss of Tillotson. 

Councilmember Loren Taylor, who represents Maxwell Park, said he felt he had a responsibility to "get to the bottom of this and ensure that we are able to not just hold the perpetrators of this crime accountable, but fulfill the legacy and the mission that Dirk stood for."

Former Oakland school board member Jumoke Hodge said Tillotson was a tireless advocate for schoolkids and educational equity.

"I'm saddened deeply, yet inspired in so many deep ways around the work that he has done," Hodge said. 

She said Tillotson was known for "unapologetically looking at what the needs are for the Black community, and so I think his legacy is about moving forward."

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Fellow education activist Charles Cole III said, "Dirk was an unapologetic warrior for children and education in New York and in Oakland, just period."

Cole said he used to live in Maxwell Park, a neighborhood not immune to, but largely unaccustomed to such violence. 

"When I lived in Maxwell Park, that was the one and only time my car got stolen, right?" Cole said. "It's not the richest of the rich where it's like a gated community, you can't get in. It's also not the flattest of the flat."

Cole said the education community must build on Tillotson's work. 

"He was a damn good guy, and he didn't deserve it. We have to make sure this isn't something that happens in vain," Cole said.

Oakland community organizer Mirella Rangel said Tillotson "called the b.s. when he saw it, and saw straight through things."

She said Tillotson was also a licensed attorney who enjoyed gardening. She says he spoke out on behalf of all children, but especially Black and Arabic-speaking students. 

"He was fierce in his advocacy for the community, and he was relentless in his work for the community. He was unstoppable. So there's no way he can be replaced," Rangel said.

The police chief largely spoke on the recent gun violence that has plagued the city recently. He said that the force has lost 50 officers in the last six months.