Two incidents of youth violence during the first week of school have sparked the formation of a Peace Campaign Committee that will start a phone tree and text-message alert system, ask the city to add staff at Garfield Park and ask the school district to increase security hours at the local high schools.
Another established group with a similar name, the Peace Collaborative, brainstormed ways to change the culture of the community. Some of their ideas: adding community events, activities and games to attract youth otherwise drawn toward gangs and trouble.
“We’ve got to start redefining what cool means in our community,” said Ricardo Garcia Acosta of the Community Response Network, which provides mentoring and counseling to high-risk youth. “We need to change the norms of the community.”
The new group formed following an after-school fight at John O’Connell High School on Friday, August 20, and an unrelated drive-by shooting near Garfield Park a half-hour later. It plans to meet again at 4 p.m. today at John O’Connell on Folsom near 20th Street.
The community responded quickly, aware that fall has been a difficult time in the past. There were three Mission District homicides in one weekend last September, and in 2008, seven murders were committed over a two-week period in the fall.
“Historically we’ve had things happen at the end of August and September,” said Tracy Brown-Gallardo of Arriba Juntos.
At the emergency meeting on August 23, attended by school officials, parents, community-based organizations and the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighbors Association, the group discovered that the school had no security present at the time of the fight.
The school district had cut hours for security aides — unarmed aides who patrol schools and maintain order. Additionally, the police department had no school resource officer at John O’Connell in the first week of school. The police chief put one in place the day after the incident.
Alfredo Najera of Safety Network, who co-facilitated the emergency meeting, said it is necessary to have before- and after-school security so staff can build relationships with students and help prevent violence.
The committee also noted a lack of programming and staff at Garfield Park, near where the shooting occurred.
Another idea put forth by the group was to create a peace and antiviolence curriculum that schools could begin teaching at an early age.
Local school board member Kim-Shree Maufas attended Thursday’s meeting of the Peace Collaborative. It is important for the school board to be aware of both the security issues and new curriculum ideas, she said.
“I think it needs to come to the attention of board members, so we can express this issue that’s happening in the Mission and Bayview and it can be a priority for us. It’s important for me to be here.”
The group discussed ways to make peace more prominent in the community. They plan to work with the schools to develop a peace contest for each grade level. Students will make signs to be placed throughout the Mission, with winners receiving gift certificates from local businesses.
“We need to saturate the Mission with messages of peace,” Najera said. “The energy is different when you fight for something rather than against something.”