Two Richmond men were gunned down in separate instances of violence this past weekend.
Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan said that on Friday afternoon, 27-year-old Mario Hollister was parked in a car just south of Kennedy High School on the 700 block of South 45th Street. “Someone walked up to the vehicle and fired multiple shots through the window,” Gagan said. Hollister was hit several times and died at the scene.
Less than 24 hours later, a young man was standing in front of his home on the 1800 block of Ohio Avenue—also in South Richmond—when a four-door green sedan drove past. Witnesses told police that the shooter was in the back seat and fired off several rounds before the car drove away. According to Gagan, 18-year-old Jonathan Fontenot was hit multiple times and later transported by helicopter to a nearby medical facility. Medics pronounced him dead on arrival.
Gagan said police are looking into whether the two incidents are related, but at this time gave no indication that they were. Police have also not released any information about the suspects.
In the meantime, Gagan said extra officers are patrolling the area to increase visibility and deter any possible retaliatory attacks.
The murders are the second and third in Richmond this year. Each of this year’s victims were black males under the age of 30 and each was killed in Richmond’s southern district. At this time last year there were eight homicides in the city.
“We are concerned that we’ve had two homicides in 24 hours and we definitely need to look at why that occurred. But overall we have seen a significant reduction—this year to date—of the number of homicides,” said Gagan.
Gagan said crime in Richmond’s Central District in particular—which includes the historically violent Iron Triangle—has dropped dramatically. He credits community partnerships for the drop.
“Redevelopment efforts, the community organizations, the Officer of Neighborhood Safety, the faith-based community, all these groups are working very effectively at dealing with the root causes of crime and empowering the community,” he said.
The same types of broad-based partnerships need to take affect in South Richmond in order to better address the issue of violence in those neighborhoods, said Gagan. “There needs to be a similar commitment in that area. If you look at Cutting Boulevard as the Macdonald Avenue of southern Richmond, there needs to be a redevelopment effort,” he said.
Gagan also said the community and the city have to do better at reaching Richmond’s younger population. He says the city is working with mentors, advocates, and people with street credibility—like those involved with the city’s youth violence prevention and intervention agency, the Office of Neighborhood Safety—to target “the younger people who are involved with at risk lifestyles and really make them aware of the consequences of their behavior and get them to turn their lives around.”
That’s just what was happening on late Saturday morning, hours before 18-year old Fontenot was gunned down. About 200 people—including the mayors of Richmond and El Cerrito, the school district superintendent, students, parents, teachers and other community members—gathered at Booker T. Anderson Center in South Richmond to participate in a march for peace.
Organized by administrators at El Cerrito High School, the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization and other community partners, the March for Peace is a month-long anti-violence effort.
“We are not doing a physical march for the entire month of March, but we are moving in solidarity each day throughout the month. We are recommitting to an affirmation of peaceful living and improving our community,” said one of the events organizers, El Cerrito High principal Jason Reimann.
Reimann said the gathering was also organized to remember and honor the life of Gene Deshawn Grisby-Bell, a 16-year-old El Cerrito High School student who was shot and killed in early January outside his grandmother’s South Richmond home, becoming the city’s first homicide victim of 2011.
Following the death of Grisby-Bell, the school organized a number of events and interventions to address the issues of violence in the community. “We realized if we really wanted to make a difference with our young people, we needed to reach out to the community and reach beyond the walls of our school,” said Reimann.
Reimann estimates that between 60 and 70 percent of the students who attend El Cerrito High actually live in Richmond, and most of them live in South Richmond and the Richmond Annex.
“We have a wide variety of students and we serve very different communities,” Reimann said. But everyone has a mutual interest in putting an end to the violence, he says.
To combat violence in the community, Reimann says he’s trying to build stronger partnerships with neighboring schools like Kennedy High, whose principal, Roxanne Brown-Garcia, he calls a long-time ally of children and the community.
Reimann is also pushing to get some of his school’s programs more involved in the Richmond’s poorer neighborhoods. He said he’s in the planning stages of expanding El Cerrito High’s after school programs into South Richmond’s Crescent Park neighborhood.
“I think that if we can give young people options that are positive and serve their needs but are in their community, hopefully we can draw some of those young people back into our schools and reconnect them with the important work that’s happening at the school as well,” Reimann said.
As for the two shootings that occurred this past weekend, Reimann says they “speak to the importance and urgency of us doing work in collaboration with everyone who’s interested in improving the lives of young people.”
“It’s not something we can wait for another week or another month—this is work that needs to be done now,” he said.