Violence flares again in North Richmond, tensions mount
on March 31, 2011
A second deadly shooting in two nights has North Richmond on edge, as residents and local leaders scramble to head off further violence and law enforcement officials ramp up their efforts.
“People are nervous, and those involved are tightening their grips,” said Rev. Kenneth Davis, a longtime North Richmond activist. “But we’ll be out in the neighborhood tonight trying to stop anything from getting set off.”
Tensions are at what Davis called “dangerous” levels following the brazen killing of 22-year-old Jerry Owens late Wednesday night, the second fatal incident and third North Richmond shooting in less than 72 hours.
Owens and an unidentified 26-year-old man were cut down by a flurry of gunfire as they stood in front of a home on the 1600 block of Third Street. Owens was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, while his companion survived by diving into the home.
On Thursday, all that remained of the scene was a facade and fence pockmarked with bullet holes and a long bloodstain that stretched from the porch to the sidewalk. Two flowers had been placed on the matted grass where Owens was slain.
The violence Wednesday night was horrifying, witnesses said.
“I’m saying 30 shots, minimum, spread over about 40 seconds,” said Joe McCoy, an agent with the Office of Neighborhood Safety who was at a home about a block away when the shooting occurred. “When the shots stopped, I ran to the scene and the first thing I saw was Jerry on the ground, lifeless. He was already dead.”
North Richmond, a one-mile square community divided between the city of Richmond and unincorporated Contra Costa County, was already on high alert Wednesday following Tuesday night’s shooting of Ervin Coley III, 21, who was killed while walking at the corner of Silver Avenue and Second Street.
“Everybody was on alert last night,” Davis said. “It’s random, the victims fit a profile, the right age, the right size, the right color. When it’s like this these guys come in here and kill anything that moves.”
Residents, many declining to give their names out of fear of retaliation, were adamant that the recent killings were the work of shooters from outside the tight-knit neighborhood.
“It’s central (Richmond), and they’re coming in here to kill somebody in the north,” said a woman who lives a few houses down from where Owens was killed. “Last night, everybody was out, and everybody else was like ‘Don’t stand by me, don’t stand by my house,’ because they know bullets don’t have no names.”
Sheriff’s Office officials identified Owens as a resident of San Pablo. Witnesses said he was waiting with a friend on Third Street for Owens’ mother to pick them up.
McCoy said when Owens’ mother arrived, her son was already dead.
“She was grieving,” McCoy said. “It was pretty hard to take.”
The spate of violence may have been set off early Sunday, when 23-year-old central Richmond resident Joshua McClain was shot and killed in San Francisco.
Then on Monday night, a young adult man was shot in the hip at Fifth Street and Chesley Avenue in North Richmond, according to Charline Wilson, who identified herself as the victim’s mother.
“I thank God my boy made it, but we have to stop this violence now,” said Wilson, who was talking with other residents about a possible anti-violence demonstration at the Senior Center Thursday.
On Tuesday, Coley a lifelong resident who worked for the county’s urban gardening program, was killed while walking alone from his mother’s house.
Despite the rampant rumors swirling in the community, law enforcement officials are not drawing conclusions.
“There are no suspects at this time and detectives cannot confirm this shooting is linked to the one that occurred (Tuesday) night,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Lee.
Richmond police officials have announced publicly and on the department’s Facebook page that they are on high alert, including stepping up police patrols.
Some locals believe Facebook and other social networking tools have been used to issue taunts and inflame tensions between rival neighborhoods. Coley’s Facebook page has become a repository of odes, both sad and angry.
“Everybody coming through the store was talking about Facebook and who was talking this or that and who got shot,” said Lucky Braimah, who owns a convenience store on Market Street. “The antagonizing was fueling another problem.”
Davis said he spoke with police brass Thursday, and they vowed to be on high alert in the Iron Triangle area of central Richmond to deter possible retaliation. Meanwhile, the heightened alert was unmistakable in North Richmond Thursday.
Sheriff patrol cars crept up and down Filbert Street, through the heart of the neighborhood, and an unmarked white unit was seen making several traffic stops and searching vehicles.
“It’s like Beirut in here right now,” said McCoy, who has been working in the neighborhood daily in an attempt to intervene and avert further violence. “Nobody wants to catch the next bullet. I’m really concerned that this could be the beginning of a longer feud.”
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