Richmond minister to march against gang violence
on April 14, 2011
While police are saying that a longstanding feud between Central Richmond’s Deep-C gang and the Project Trojans gang in North Richmond may be heating up, a number of groups in the city are trying to address systemic violence by engaging the community to encourage non-violence.
Operation Richmond, a faith-based collaborative organization that promotes non-violence, is organizing an event called “Making Noise for Peace” on April 23—a day before Easter—in response to the recent spate of shootings and homicides in unincorporated North Richmond.
Pastor Henry Washington, Executive Director of Operation Richmond, said his organization is planning a rolling parade of at least 100 cars carrying religious leaders, city and county representatives, and community members that will begin in South Richmond, make its way through Central Richmond, and end in North Richmond. “These cars and these people are one Richmond united,” said Washington.
The motorcade will stop at 10 of the city’s roughest areas which are experiencing most of the crime, said Washington. At each location the caravan will stop for ten minutes to get out and say a prayer at street-alters that will mark where victims of past violence have fallen. “We will lay a flower down, and drive a stake in the ground that says ‘Thou shall not kill’ on one side and on the other side says ‘Love thy neighbor,’ said Washington.
“We want to encourage the community and let them know that their loss is our loss,” he said.
The parade will end in North Richmond, where Washington says the people have suffered the most. Three recent shootings in North Richmond in three consecutive days left two dead and three wounded. The motorcade’s arrival in North Richmond is being timed to coincide with the start of a Little League baseball game at Shields-Reid Park.
“The Little League guys are going to stop for a moment for us to pray, and we’ll turn our attention from making noise for peace to celebrating these brave souls who’ve suffered so much but are pressing their way to conduct business as usual despite their loss,” said Washington.
The caravan is also trying to break the silence of the community by publicly condemning the gang-related shootings, said Washington. Drawing a comparison between violence in Richmond and former AC Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle’s 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, Washington said, “When a Caucasian officer in Oakland kills an African American male, the whole Bay Area is outraged. But when another African American takes the life of an African American we’re silent.”
Operation Richmond formed in response to a shooting in February 2010, when three armed men entered the New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ during a Sunday service, and began shooting. Two teenage brothers were wounded in the incident. The group holds activities and events to bring community members together and encourages people to speak out against the violence on Richmond’s streets.
Captain Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department said police will participate in the parade. “We want to show support and encouragement to the faith-based community and the citizens that are really taking the initiative when trying to send the message of non-violence,” he said.
“We all want the same thing, which is for shootings and homicides to end. The fact that the faith-based community is taking the lead is reassuring to us,” said Gagan.
Washington said the work of his organization is just one part of a multifaceted approach to putting an end to gang violence in Richmond. He acknowledges the important role of the police and the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS)—a violence-prevention organization that targets known criminals and gang members for services in an effort to draw them away from illicit lifestyles—in this effort. “If the police have to do it by themselves, they have an uphill battle. We want a partner, and just make our neighborhood safer,” said Washington.
Washington says the violence will only come to an end when the entire community gets involved. “While we have the RPD, and the Sheriffs department and the ONS who works directly with the targeted population of shooters, I think its the church and the community organizers job to engage the entire community, from the youth to the seniors,” he said.
“We want to let these young people know that you can’t operate with impunity, you just can’t go about carrying guns and doing this,” said Washington. “We’re not going for it.”
The Making Noise for Peace parade will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 23. Cars will begin lining up at Carlson Blvd. and Bayview Ave. around 10 a.m.
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