Police close off the corner of 24th and Harrison streets after a masked gunman opened fire last year. File photo by Francisco Barrada.
Hundreds of community organizers gathered at Everett Middle School to put together a plan to end gun violence in the Mission.

Roberto Hernandez stood before facing an auditorium packed with city authorities and hundreds of his community organizer colleagues one recent Thursday.

“I am tired of raising money for coffins,” he proclaimed. “The norm is to hit the floor when we hear gunshots. The Head Start program on 24th and Harrison has gunshot drills for children from ages 3 to 5. That’s unacceptable.”

With the support of city agencies and District 9 Supervisor David Campos, Hernandez is spearheading an effort to create a five-year plan to end gun violence in the Mission, which has claimed hundreds of mostly Latino lives in recent decades.

Homicides in the neighborhood increased by 50 percent last year, from six in 2011 to nine in 2012. This year started badly when a man police say is a known gang member was involved in a traffic accident that killed two people early on the morning of Jan. 1, shortly after a drive-by shooting occurred nearby, police said.

“Whatever we are doing is not working anymore,” Hernandez said.

Hundreds of community organizers gathered on Jan. 31 at Everett Middle School to brainstorm solutions for ending gun violence in the Mission. It is the first of two workshops aimed at developing and implementing a comprehensive plan with the help of the city. Elements of the plan would connect agencies that provide services for everything from tattoo removal and mental health support to gun buybacks and a hiring program for at-risk youth to help counter the influence of gangs that entice kids with gifts.

There’s a window of opportunity for major change now that gun violence and mental health are in the spotlight following the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, organizers said. The goal: to treat gun violence as a mental health issue and find the root causes that lead to it.

Thinking Outside the Box

At the meeting, organizers from San Jose to the Western Addition chimed in on best practices for reaching vulnerable youth. The first task, they said, is to overcome the social stigma surrounding mental illness, sexual assault and substance abuse in the community. Experts also agreed that outreach must reach young people at a tender age, beginning in the home.

“It starts with parenting training, because some parents are not always keeping kids on the right path,” said Julio Escobar, coordinator for the San Francisco Archdiocese’s Restorative Justice Ministry. He said the emphasis must be on the youth.

Escobar, who has worked with youth in jail for the past 18 years, held three sidewalk memorial services for people who were slain in the Mission District last year.

Parents and mentors have to reach youngsters early, said Mission District police Capt. Robert Moser, because gang recruitment starts as early as the vulnerable middle-school years.

Gangs court youth by buying them clothes or shoes, Moser said.

“It’s a cycle. Somebody dies and [there’s] a big cry. The police come out and patrol more, and then it’s back to business as usual.”

The broad-based response will involve networking among dozens of neighborhood nonprofits that offer everything from housing to counseling. The Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), for example, has a tattoo removal program, while the Instituto Familiar de la Raza offers culturally competent mental health services. However, both currently have waiting lists.

Christina Olague, an executive assistant at Arriba Juntos, a nonprofit that helps people find employment, noted that foundations already exist to address many of these concerns.

“It’s not like we are starting from scratch,” Olague said. “We have to look at the assets we have in our community.”

The plan will also include helping some 500 youth identified as at-risk to find work. Hernandez said he wants the city to hire youth for short-term construction work on the new Warriors arena, the Central Subway and the Lennar development in the Bayview.

Longtime Mission community organizers were the dominant force at the meeting. Noticeably missing were those referred to uncomfortably as the “new residents.”

Olague said the organizers intend to knock on doors to enlist more supporters.

“When you first get started and the conversation gets going, it’s the natural thing to go to a group that you know has some level of expertise,” Olague said. “It doesn’t exclude us from doing additional outreach to bring more people in.”

Supervisor David Campos said it is premature to talk about funding, but some community organizers hope that some financing could come from the $30 million Neighborhood Promise Grant that the Mission Economic Development Agency was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

The groups are currently in talks, according to Victor Corral of MEDA.

“I know they are trying to address the same issues; we need to discuss how to work together,” he said. “We are trying to achieve some of the same goals, we are just going through an established funding source using a proven model.”

For his part, Campos plans to spend the bulk of his $100,000 annual district allowance on a gun buyback program tailored for the Mission.

There is some historical precedent for community organizers creating a critical mass around certain issues in the Mission. In the 1960s, some 10,000 community members took to the streets to protest a major development plan. They were successful in halting the development, and the movement spawned some of the organizations that turned out for the Jan. 31 meeting.

A memorial for Leticia Ramirez, who was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in April 2001 hangs outside Bryant Child Development Center. Ramirez was a single mother of four.

Organizers said they are acting now because they feel that there is support from the city for trying new methods to mitigate violence.

“Police officers have come to us saying, ‘We are tired of this cycle: we arrest and they come out. We need to break that cycle,’” said Campos. Recently, Campos has stressed that the police department is now working closely with violence interrupters from the Community Response Network — a new development.

The network helps families that have been victimized by violence, helping them with funeral arrangements and taking kids out for pizza and to the movies when tensions run high. After years of budget cuts, however, it has had to consolidate from three neighborhood-specific agencies into one citywide group.

“They are going from crisis to crisis,” Hernandez said. “It’s a cycle. Somebody dies and [there’s] a big cry. The police come out and patrol more, and then it’s back to business as usual.”

The Victims

Amid hugs, photos and remembrances, the discussion turned to casualties of firearms.

“Today we are here because of Letty,” Hernandez said.

Leticia Ramirez, 33, a single mother of four, was shot and killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting on April 28, 2001, outside her home as she chatted with friends. Her loss shocked the community. “Letty was raising four children, but she happened to be sitting outside her home on a nice afternoon and got sprayed with bullets,” Hernandez said, his voice rising. “That’s unacceptable — unacceptable.

Organizers said they will reconvene on Thursday, Feb. 28, at Everett Middle School.

Correction: Christina Olague is an executive assistant at Arriba Juntos, not the executive director.

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. I agree that the problem starts with the parents. Dead beat parents should be held accountable.
    Lost young people are easy prey to older individuals looking to use them. Call them “soldiers” or “torpedoes” they are pawns in the grand scheme of things.
    What they need is
    1 – to be educated and ENLIGHTENED and
    2 – to be given alternative programs like SPORTS
    but…. one bad apple will spoil the bunch so in order for that to work something drastic and ALL ENCOMPASSING needs to happen to change things in the mission

  2. As someone who is a new resident and who is looking to raise kids in the Mission (yes really), I don’t see gun violence as a problem isolated to any one group in the neighborhood since all of us (generational residents, new residents, business owners, property owners, workers, and visitors) are victims of varying degrees. So we all needs to be part of the solution, but that can’t happen if communication is divided by race, language, tenure, immigrant status, income level, etc. The fact is that the Mission is changing, like most neighborhoods are in San Francisco. The old solutions haven’t worked perfectly. Why not use the resources, skills, time, ideas, and neighborly love (yes really) that new residents can bring to the table in finding community-wide solutions? Our youths are talented. But some of them are frustrated and don’t see an alternative to the violence around them. Frankly not everyone wants a construction job. Let’s provide them access to technology and mentors and show them that life can offer better alternatives. This is just one idea and I am sure there are many more out there.

    1. This would require inviting the ‘New Residents’ to the dialogue, which as this story clearly highlights, is not happening for one reason or another.

  3. I want the Mission to be safe for EVERYONE, that is why I get so infuriated when people like Dave, Eddie, or even David Campos insist that crime and violence isn’t a major issue for the neighborhood or that there is some ‘acceptable’ level of crime or violence – for me, there isn’t, especially when youths are involved.

    1. I already apologized for my poor choice of the word “acceptable” in a comment from long ago. Your contributions are little more than thinly veiled racism.

      1. Oh, so you’re mad I correctly (as you admit) called you out on not caring about the lives of some members of the neighborhood, so now you’re calling me a racist. You need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.

        1. I will no longer waste my time responding to your disingenuous and dishonest mischaracterizations.

          In retrospect, I never used the word “acceptable, ” but rather “expected” to describe the level of violence in the neighborhood. At the time, I admitted to the poor choice of word, which in no way indicates that I don’t care about the lives of some members of the neighborhood.

          If you can cite an example of a constructive comment you have made on this website, please do so as I cannot remember one.

  4. Three easy steps:
    End SF sanctuary city status
    Automatic 25 year sentence if convicted of using gun during a crime.
    Let the real-estate market and gentrification do its thing.

    1. The incidents over the years have gone down….way down. The overwhelming numbers of people will never be a victim of a violent crime. The hysteria and finger pointing is becoming ridiculous. If you want a neighborhood where everyone looks and thinks like you, you picked the wrong locale.

        1. I never mentioned race.but you did. I will answer your question by saying that I want the same amount of Latinos dying as most of the commenter want living in the Mission…….zero.

          1. As a mission born, older, conservative, 2nd Amendment lover I’m definitely not like the rest of you transplants that have moved in. I’m happy to have any race creed or color of people in the neighborhood as long as they are here legally and don’t go around shooting each other (and us bystanders) over the color of their shirts.

  5. Since 90% of the violence comes from 17-25 year old kids, the violence will decrease as we have fewer breeders in the city. That is one upside of the city becoming more expensive and pricing out poorer families.

    1. SafeStreets,

      Thank you for taking your time in calculating a precise scientific poll. What is the % error of your 90% poll?

  6. The last paragraph lies most of the problem…..33 year old SINGLE mom of FOUR? Where is the father (fathers?) to…..most of the problems end with better parenting. PERIOD!

    1. The father of the kids passed away a year before in a horrific car accident. I don’t get how being a single mother of 4 is a problem as you indicated. Letty was a wonderful mother. She was known by everyone in the neighborhood as sort of a neighborhood mom who would watch over other kids who would otherwise be home alone while their parents worked.

  7. I worked with Horizons Unlimited many many moons ago and HU provided such great mentoring and job placement for young adults (18-21yrs) along with the summer youth program which hires high school student during the summer months providing jobs throughout the City for students.

    1. The hipsters were the wave of college kids from 4 or more years ago – many of them have moved on to Oakland or Portland. The “New Residents” are the ones buying homes and looking to raise families in the neighborhood. They will be natural allies in stopping gun violence.