Richmond marches in response to homicide surge

Despite several years of a steadily decreasing murder rate in Richmond, the first half of this year has been particularly bloody, leaving police and community organizers wondering why.

Friday night, members of the nonprofit, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizing, will walk the streets with clergy, public officials, and community members, as they do every week, in a stand against violence in the city. The walks are part of the organization’s Ceasefire Lifelines to Healing initiative, which seeks to end gun violence and mass incarceration in Richmond and East Contra Costa County.

The 2-1/2-mile walk comes on the heels of a shooting Tuesday that left 29-year-old Fontino Hardy Jr. dead and a 17-year-old in critical condition.

CCISCO organizer Donnell Jones said:

“For those members who are potential perpetrators or who are potential victims, this walk is to express to them that we want our city to be alive and free. … We’re fed up with this territorial thing.”

Although the city has seen a dramatic reduction in murders over the past several years, including a 33-year low of 11 murders in 2014, the first half of this year has already seen 10 homicides, according to data provided by Richmond police.

Myriad factors, from economic or educational opportunities to the availability of funding for community and police services, contribute to crime, Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus said.

In some ways, Magnus said the city is a victim of its own success in driving down the homicide rate and targeting perpetrators who were most active in contributing to the city’s crime rates.

“You get a number of people off the streets, either those who make better and different life choices and in other cases, they’re incarcerated, and then you have this lull for a time. … The problem is, you also create a vacuum that is not necessarily being filled by great things.”

He also pointed to recent shifts in the criminal justice system, including the realignment of the state prison system and Prop 47, which reduced penalties for some nonviolent, drug- and property-related crimes, as influencing the level of crime across the Bay Area, although the impact from those measures is less clear, he said.

Reduced funding from the federal government for police services, fatigue in private donations to nonprofits that target gun violence and the ever-ready supply of illegal guns are all other factors that have contributed to the recent increase in gun violence, Magnus said:

“It reinforces the fact that this is never ‘mission accomplished’ type work.”

Beyond the broader political, social and economic issues, there are also interpersonal issues at play, Jones said:

“It could be a beef between two gang members, or somebody going after someone’s girlfriend or someone talking wrong to someone’s cousin. … It’s an open question. I’ve been having those conversations all day, and I can’t put my finger on it.”

Whatever the reasons, Jones said the walks are part of a larger strategy by CCISCO that not only attempts to meet the individual needs of potential perpetrators, but also addresses the systemic issues that lead to gun violence, including poverty, the lack of educational opportunities and a criminal justice system weighted heavily against people of color:

“You’re talking about two or three generations of people who have been under the War on Drugs. … These guys and these girls have issues that we need to address. Outside of jobs and things, they’re also in need of services like life skills training, mental health and substance abuse services.”

Young people don’t get involved in gangs because they see it as an avenue towards a better life; they join gangs because that’s where they find acceptance, Jones said.

“Society has pushed them aside. … This walk is an expression of love and peace and hope for people who have been impacted by gun violence.”

The walk took place at 5 p.m. Friday at the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, located at 321 Alamo Ave. in Richmond.