Police, civic leaders announce gang task force

Bernadette Richards looked confused Thursday afternoon as she walked down Nevin Avenue with her young daughter. The two had just left a youth program at the Nevin Park Community Center where children ran carefree and played basketball or on the swings. Now as they strolled passed Fifth Street, less than 50 yards away, they saw media cameras gathered around a sidewalk memorial decorated with teddy bears and liquor bottles.

Less than two days after Daryl Russell, 20, was gunned down in plain daylight and only a stone’s throw away from a community center, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and officials from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office stood near the blood-stained site and announced a new joint gang task force.

The new task force is intended to allow Richmond patrol officers and detectives to work side by side with the Sheriff’s Department’s patrol officers and detectives, who provide law enforcement to the unincorporated area of North Richmond. “They will be working to develop intel, interact with community members, and gather evidence that will help us solve these recent crimes,” said Magnus. “Investigators from both departments will also meet on a regular, ongoing basis to share information, identify suspects, and build criminal cases against the individuals who have committed these murders.”

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department Commander Donny Gordon said crooks know no boundaries and that “violent social insurgents need to be stopped.” He called on the community to take greater responsibility for reducing crime. Sheriff’s department officers have made no arrests in any of North Richmond’s three homicides this year. “If we don’t get the community involvement—let’s get to the meat and potatoes—we just won’t be at our best at catching a bandit if the community is not involved,” said Gordon. “The community sets the bar—we represent the community.”

There have been 17 shootings in Richmond and North Richmond during its first 21 days of July alone—eight of them fatal, said Magnus. “The impact of these crimes, not only on the residents of the immediate neighborhoods, but on everyone who lives in our community, has been significant,” said Magnus. “We have made real progress when it comes to reducing violence in Richmond over the past five years, so we are not willing to go backwards.”

Lt. Bisa French, a spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department, said she was unsure of how many officers would be involved in this new gang task force, but estimated it would involve several officers from each department and the total would number in the low teens.

The new task force will work in conjunction with a gang reduction program called Operation Cease Fire, a gun-violence prevention and intervention program. The program sets up a partnership between local and county agencies and community leaders such as church officials who can provide direct, communication with potentially violent offenders and give them clear alternatives to continued violence.

Pastor Henry Washington said Richmond’s faith-based community is excited to implement Operation Cease Fire and is working tirelessly to inform the community about what a cease fire is. “We pray that the cease fire will give this target population of young men who seem to have less and less choices valuable alternatives to their lifestyle,” said Washington.

Richmond resident Antwon Cloird, who attended the Thursday announcement, said people are living in fear, and that if they talk to the police to report a crime they have to feel like they’re going to be protected. But Cloird had doubts about Operation Cease Fire and wanted to know how different it is from all the other violence prevention programs the city and law enforcement have tried before. “We need to have jobs,” said Cloird. “You can paint a rainbow but if there’s nothing at the end of the rainbow you just sold me a bunch of garbage.”

Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council president Otheree Christian said that the recent spike in violent crimes shows that Richmond has a problem and that the people committing these crimes have personal issues, such difficulties with anger. “If we don’t deal with those issues then we’ll always be getting the same thing we got yesterday and the day before,” said Christian. “We need to do a mental health awareness day and really hype it up. Let’s bring awareness to our community so our community can be aware and have resources provided to them so they can be able to do the things their supposed to do.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin who also attended the event said the spike in Richmond’s homicide rate is tragic but that she is excited about the new strategies that are in place between the police department and sheriff’s department. “We are working very hard—every city department has violence prevention as it’s number one priority,” said McLaughlin. “We have job creation and job training going on. Eventually the positive will outweigh the negative.”

Councilmember Jovanka Beckles said that Richmond’s recent spate of violent crimes is not normal and that the council will not accept what is going on. “No one should feel that comfortable [to be] in front of a playground and shoot somebody and feel that’s going to be accepted,” said Beckles. “I’m hoping that this collaboration with the sheriff and police is going to make a difference because I don’t like feeling that people can terrorize our neighborhoods and keep people in fear.”

Councilmember Jeff Ritterman sounded apologetic as he addressed community members and urged them to work with the new task force. “If we have not been there for you, if we have failed you we are here—we are trying to pull our resources together,” said Ritterman. “We are pleading with you to come and to meet with us and to put down your guns; and for us to work together to find you the kinds of opportunities that you need to live a life here and to contribute to the community.”

Adriana Taylor, one of Daryl Russell’s cousins, attended the Thursday event but was not interested in hearing what the local officials had to say about the new task force. She said she’s sad and wants her cousin back. “There needs to be more police around here,” said Taylor. “See how they’re [the police] riding around here now—that’s because it’s after the fact. But before the fact they wasn’t even doing anything. They need to ride around here all day, every day.”

One of Russell’s friends, who didn’t want to give her name, pointed out how young he had been. “Why did he have to get shot? I don’t understand that?” said the woman. “It don’t make no sense for in broad daylight just to get shot and then nobody even saw it.”

Even though a murder occurred across the street from where her daughter plays, neighbor Bernadette Richards said she doesn’t want the joy and safety associated with the recently refurbished Nevin Park Community Center to change. “Inside the [Nevin Community Center] gates it’s good—the kids are loved and protected,” said Richards. “Outside the gates can’t say what goes on. This is a rough area, but the kids need some place to come—they’re going to have to navigate through roughness throughout life.”

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