Some groups in Richmond are coming together and others are clashing in the wake of a recent spate of shootings that has rocked the community.
Last Tuesday, family members of Otilio Martinez, 18, who was fatally shot on September 19 near his home on Bayview Avenue, gathered with other community members at Richmond City Hall to bring their concerns before the City Council and hold a candlelight vigil. On Wednesday night, many of those same community members held a second vigil outside a candidate’s forum in Point Richmond.
“We’re here to let the council see these faces,” said Gonzalo Rucobo, executive director of Bay Area Peacekeepers, to Councilmember Jael Myrick outside City Hall last Tuesday night. “This is your community, they’re real, and they’re hurting for real.”
Rucobo expressed a concern—voiced by others that night and on social media—that certain parts of Richmond receive more attention from City Council than others.
“Let something like this happen in the hills and watch an uproar of this council,” said Rucobo.
“I feel that perception,” responded Myrick, “and I know there are people who probably look at it that way.”
Inside the chamber, Tonette Mendoza, a friend of the Martinez family and long-time resident of Richmond who lost her brother to gun violence 18 years ago and whose daughter was killed in Las Vegas earlier this year, took the podium joined by close to 20 others, many holding photos and wearing t-shirts with images of loved ones lost to violence.
“We’re losing our children,” Mendoza said, her voice cracking with emotion.
City Council candidate Melvin Willis spoke about growing up in a low-income household in Richmond and seeing how a dearth of opportunities leads some people to turn to illegal activities and violence to survive.
“It’s a symptom of non-investment in our community,” he said. “If we really want a safer community, we need to invest in all the people of Richmond, and get rid of this sense of privilege.”
At the candlelight vigil held outside City Hall after the meeting, attendees said they felt Mayor Butt in particular did not pay attention to them.
In response to feeling ignored at City Hall, said Richmond resident Rodney Alamo Brown, the group created a candle-lit outline of a body—to reference Martinez’s death—on the pavement outside a candidate’s forum held in Point Richmond the following night.
Brown said the demonstration was also organized so that residents of Point Richmond could “understand the pain of the other individuals that reside in other places in Richmond.”
On Thursday night, Richmond Police identified a 20-year-old Richmond resident as a suspect in Martinez’s killing. The suspect turned himself in approximately six hours later.
Mayor Butt’s Chief of Staff, David Gray, said that the mayor is interested in forming an “Ad Hoc Committee on Violence and Race in Richmond,” in order to study these issues and their impact on Richmond residents.
Community members are calling for more mental health services, youth programs, and job opportunities, which they say will ultimately reduce gun violence in the city.
“When we start uncovering the layers of [the] onion, when we talk about systemic issues – that’s what’s plaguing this community,” said Brown to the Council last week.