Richmond mourns another, while gang tensions remain hot
on April 12, 2013
A crowd gathered in mourning on a street corner in Richmond on Wednesday evening to honor the life of Dimarea Young, a 19-year-old man who was shot and killed on this block the day before. Friends and neighbors, pastors and politicians, police officers and violence disrupters stood side by side, heads bowed.
“We place him up,” said Reverend Alvin Bernstein, who was leading the group in a prayer. “We pray for the mother. We lift them up.”
A woman from the center of the crowd started to weep.
“We are going to change this city in a real way.”
Her sobs escalated to screams.
“Enough is enough.”
Bernstein closed the prayer, and the group echoed his “Amen.”
The woman collapsed. Still screaming, she was carried out of the prayer vigil.
The gathering was a small gesture in the face of a disturbing and familiar violence. Dewanda Joseph, who lives two blocks down the street, prayed on this same street corner the night before, hours after Young was shot to death. When she woke up Wednesday morning, she started making phone calls, posting messages on Facebook and spreading the word that another vigil would be held that night. Joseph said she doesn’t have the answer to senseless tragedies like Young’s killing. But community gatherings might be a start.
“When I came out and prayed Tuesday, it made a difference,” Joseph said. “I could sleep last night.”
The event comforted some. But on the streets, gang tensions remain hot. The Richmond Police Department has dispatched extra patrols with an “all hands on deck effort” after the string of shootings last week left six people wounded and one dead, said Detective Nicole Abetkov. The Office of Neighborhood Safety is also working to defuse tensions on the street, said Director DeVone Boggan, noting that these conflicts are nothing out of the ordinary.
“Every day my staff is engaging somebody that wants to shoot” someone, Boggan said. “This definitely is the exposure and demonstration of tensions, but there are tensions every day.”
On Saturday, three men were shot in front of Uncle Sam’s Liquor on Cutting Blvd, a location that has seen multiple shootings over the past years, Abetkov said. The next day, Jamar Oliver, a 33-year-old man from Sacramento, was shot while standing in front of his grandmother’s house. Young was killed two days later.
The week’s rampage comes as Richmond is still recovering from other violent high-profile cases. San Pablo resident Raymond Harris, 34, was shot and killed at the top of the stairs exiting the Richmond BART station on March 14. Soon after Harris died, gunfire ripped through the walls of a home in the Iron Triangle, wounding a one-year-old baby who was in his grandmother’s arms.
Although the violence seems to have come in waves, Police Department records suggest the overall level is no higher than usual in Richmond for this time of year. As of April 10, Richmond has seen 34 shootings in 2013, compared to 31 in 2012 and 35 in 2011. At this time last year, Richmond had counted seven homicides. This year’s count is up to four, including the shooting at the BART station. But the average numbers don’t reflect a real fear in Richmond residents right now.
“I don’t like statistics in the face of what is such an emotionally poignant and vivid event like last night,” Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan said after the vigil for Young.
Whispers of a shooting spree that residents are calling March Madness have spread across the city. According to parents, teachers and after-school program administrators, students are talking about it — and that makes it real. Law enforcement officials don’t give credit to the rumor, saying that shootings are no higher in March than at any other time of year. And now that it’s April, some question when the shootings will subside.
“We were all on edge in March,” said Molly Raynor, co-founder of RAW Talent and a friend of Young’s. “I was hoping it would calm down and it was just worse.”
Basketball coach Rob Collins, who has been working at Richmond High for 9 years, says that the youth are “very aware of what’s going on in our community.” And they react accordingly to survive, Collins said.
“I’m an emotional person. I cry in front of every team,” Collins said. “Some of them, they’re out of emotions.”
The fear is so pervasive in Richmond that people are scared to come forward to police, said Tamisha Walker, a Richmond resident who works with the Safe Return Project to advocate for prisoners coming home.
“Without that element of trust for people to feel safe enough to engage with law enforcement about what they know, there’s pretty much nothing you can do,” she said.
The police are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest over a shooting, a reward usually reserved for homicides. But Detective Nicole Abetkov said the police are having such a hard time with witnesses coming forward with information about the recent shootings that a reward was set up.
“We’re working against the grain with no one cooperating,” Abetkov said.
Before, during and after the vigil Wednesday night, peacekeepers from the Office of Neighborhood Safety were walking the streets and talking to gang members they suspected were behind the homicide and the recent shootings, said ONS Director DeVone Boggan.
“There’s a high pressure for retaliation right now,” Boggan said. “Folks determined to shoot are not affected by the vigil.”
The Richmond Police Department also increased its presence throughout Richmond, with officers sent out to gather information about gang activity, enforce a daytime curfew to get perpetrators off the streets during school hours and patrol “hot spots” where violence is predicted to occur, according to a statement released by Police Chief Chris Magnus. Thirteen people have been arrested in the last seven days, most for possession of firearms, others for gang conspiracy and gang-related drug offenses.
“What are we doing right now? Simply put—everything we can with the resources we have,” Magnus said in a written statement.
In the statement, Magnus said that violence is significantly lowered when “key gang members are taken off the streets.” Arrests, however, are not a permanent solution, Magnus continued. As soon as they come home from jail or prison, most pick up their old ways.
“The other reality is that even when gang leaders or ‘shot callers’ are successfully prosecuted, there are many younger folks—some as young as 14 or 15—ready to take their place and become involved in committing serious acts of violence,” Magnus said in the statement.
Gagan would not comment on whether incarcerated gang members coming home or younger members stepping up played a role in Young’s homicide. But he did say that based on the timing and location of the shooting, Young was a target. This shooting was not random. Gagan also said that gang alliances are shifting, leading to infighting between formerly aligned gangs, and that the resulting violence is unpredictable.
“Gang violence is very fluid and evolves and changes, sometimes for very pronounced and obvious reasons,” Gagan said. Other times, the root behind the violence is less clear, and can be anything from a fender bender, disrespect or a girl.
Boggan said that ONS is seeing dynamics between gangs in Richmond right now as “something very different.” Where rivalries typically crossed a border between North and Central Richmond, now gang tensions are flaring up between Central and South Richmond. North Richmond is also seeing internal fighting, Boggan said, mostly related to an uptick in robberies.
“There are young men in Richmond everyday that are negotiating conflicts that could lead to gun violence,” Boggan said.
Boggan said he wants to see those who are guilty “pay the full price that the law will allow.” But cases go unsolved, with the police department clearing about 44 percent of 410 homicides over the last decade. The reality is that shooters can sometimes get away with heinous crimes, Boggan said. And they know it.
“If they don’t pay the full price, if they somehow avoid standing criminal consequences, then obviously it’s our job to wrap our arms around the young men, to change the lifestyle and mindsets,” Boggan said.
Residents and law enforcement alike have embraced the idea that if an arrest and conviction isn’t possible, preventing further violence is the next-best option. Groups like Walker’s Safe Return Project and leaders throughout Richmond are advocating for more programs that will support people coming home from jail and help people develop skills to find jobs. On the day of his death, Young was participating in a vocational course to learn construction skills, embodying this very concept.
“The fact that our latest victim was participating in a job training program is unfortunate because that is the solution for people to get out of this lifestyle,” Gagan said.
In the minutes before his murder on Tuesday morning, Young was taking a jog with his father, brother and the RichmondBUILD class when the shooter pulled up in a white vehicle and opened fire in broad daylight. By the time police arrived to the scene, Young was dead. Two other victims were injured by the gunshots.
At the vigil in his honor, friends described Young as hilarious and talented. An MC, Young helped start the RAW Talent group and he also helped design its logo.
“He was very loved,” said Jessica Wright-Davis, director of the Making Waves education program, who had known Young since he was in middle school.
He was a high school graduate. But friends said he had felt the pull toward the streets and gangs. He stopped participating in RAW Talent. It was only recently that he started to get his life back together, enrolling in the vocational course.
“I’m just devastated,” Wright-Davis said.
Although he was there when his son was gunned down, Kitric Young stood before the crowd at the vigil to speak in the name of peace.
“The father was in a unique position to ask for no retaliation of future violence in the face of having lost his son,” Gagan said.
Joseph said that she took away a message of love from Young’s talk.
“As a parent, I can’t even imagine the loss he is feeling,” Joseph said. “He said, ‘love is an action word.’ He says he’s hearing people say things. But it’s not what you say, it’s what you do.”
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