Jon-Jon Applegate at Fairyland, photo by CJ Hirschfield
At 6-feet-1 and 210 pounds, Jon- Jon Applegate looks slightly out of place at his Fairyland day job. But don’t be fooled: he’s a great utility player who can handle member queries, help a tiny child onto a ride or sell a stuffed animal in the gift store.
It’s easier to picture him at his night job as a security guard in Oakland. He was on the job in Uptown the evening’ of Feb. 1—First Friday, when the city holds its popular art festival and street fair—when shots rang out. Just 35 feet from Jon- Jon, 18-year-old Kiante Campbell was murdered. Three other people were wounded by gunfire.
When Jon- Jon came to work at Fairyland the following morning, we all realized that something was very wrong. We suggested he go home, but he insisted on staying. “I was still disturbed,” he says now. “But I knew I would eventually heal.”
I was impressed by this tough yet gentle man. I wanted to hear more about Jon- Jon’s experience that night. I also wanted to hear what he had to say about kids, violence, and the future of First Friday in Oakland.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Jon- Jon observed his first killing at 19, when a group of about 30 gang members murdered a young man who had taunted them. Jon- Jon stayed on the right side of the law, working in security at CBS Studios at the buildings that hosted “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Young and the Restless.” He even worked briefly as a bodyguard for Katie Couric.
In 2010, he moved to Oakland to be closer to his sister. His strong work ethic, professionalism and good judgment serve him well in both gigs, although he gets to exhibit his sweet side a bit more at Fairyland. Jon- Jon says his day and night gigs have something in common. “Fairyland is a playground for families and kids,” he says. “Nightclubs and concerts are playgrounds for adults,” he says.
Jon- Jon first worked at First Friday in December 2012. The biggest problems he encountered were improperly parked cars and other trivial issues. He didn’t work at the January event. When he returned to his post in February, everything seemed to have changed. There were “tons” more people, he says, and serious congestion on the streets. The other big change? The amount of alcohol being consumed. Jon- Jon observed long lines outside every liquor store. Discarded cans and bottles littered the street.
He patrolled on Telegraph from Grand Avenue to 27th Street, looking for flare-ups. They didn’t happen. People were still smiling when he approached them at about 9:45, informing them that the event was over at 10. By 10:20, more than half of the people had left, he says.
He was helping some catering vehicles leave the area when he heard the shots—“at least 12 to 15 rounds,” he recalls. A truck stood between him and the action, blocking his view of the shooter.
When he heard a girl scream, he ran over to the two people who were holding the body of Kiante Campbell, trying to stop his bleeding. Jon- Jon called 911. Police and security workers arrived within 50 seconds, he estimates. They quickly formed a chain that pushed the crowd away from the scene so that emergency workers could get through.
In the days since the shootings, event producers, neighborhood representatives and elected officials have met to discuss preventing violence at future First Fridays.
Jon- Jon says it’s a step in the right direction. He also approves of Oakland’s hiring of former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton as a consultant—a choice that has been met with opposition here, some of it vehement. Crime in Los Angeles dropped under Bratton’s watch in Los Angeles, Jon- Jon points out. “He’s going to turn Oakland around,” he predicts. “While [Bratton] was in L.A., people had more respect for the police, and the police had more respect for the citizens.” He says Bratton can help figure out what neighborhoods need to stop kids from moving in the wrong direction. “He’ll talk to people, take advice, and come up with a solution.”
He knows it won’t be easy. “Kids let their anger get the best of them and make horrible judgment calls,” Jon- Jon said. “We need to give kids something to do that will connect them with their community. They could turn their neighborhoods into something amazing.”
Ironically, the shooting took place just one block from a youth stage run by a local nonprofit organization that works with at-risk kids.
Jon- Jon likes to tell people that “everything can be fixed with love and understanding.” He’s thinking of joining an Oakland peace march because “I want kids to think about where this [violent] track is going to take them—to jail, getting killed, or running.”
Jon- Jon has a personal stake in the issue. His 15-year-old son lives most of the year in L.A., and Jon- Jon says that the streets seem to have more influence on his son than his father does. “He doesn’t listen to me,” he says, not without a degree of sadness.