Communities Rally for Reprieve from Gun Violence

Valerie Tulier-Luiwa, facilitator of Mission Peace Collaborative, asks children of Mission Neighborhood Center to read their pledge, at Mission and 24th Streets, on November 4, 2016. Photo by Julio Marcial

Organizers, politicians, and young people rallied at 24th and Mission streets on Friday night, calling for a 60-day moratorium on street violence and enlisting local political leaders to pledge to create policies that would divert young people from crime.

“We don’t want any mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers crying. We want everyone to go to the holidays and every family to be whole,” said Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, an organiser with the Mission Peace Collaborative.

She addressed a circle of more than 100 adult organizers and young members of community building programs who gathered in response to recent shootings.  Since the beginning of October, five people have been injured in shootings in the Mission and Bernal Heights, one of them a 13-year-old boy. A shooting at June Jordan High School in the Excelsior also injured four teenagers.

To help usher in a ceasefire, organizers called on residents of all ages to make an extra effort to keep violence out of designated safe spaces, citing unwritten community law.

“We don’t do violence around families. We don’t do violence around kids. We don’t do violence around churches,” Tulier-Laiwa said.

She went on to list other safe spaces, including schools, community centers, and funeral homes.

A young girl completed the list: “We don’t do violence – everywhere.”

Politicians, state senate candidate Jane Kim and local candidates for district supervisor among them, were also asked to participate by signing a pledge to support community-led violence prevention policies and support immigration reform and the city’s Sanctuary City law.

Young participants in the gathering were also asked to sign pledge cards eschewing violence, which Tulier-Laiwa said she would deliver to the next supervisor-elect to remind the new official of their responsibility to collaborate on a roadmap to peace legislatively.

Rudy Corpuz, Jr., the executive director of the United Playaz anti-violence organization, stressed the importance of reaching and educating young people about their history.

“They get it from us, what is real and what is the truth,” he said. “The most dangerous muscle in your body is your tongue. When you say something to someone, you can’t take it back.”

He also encouraged those gathered to lead by example.

“Violence has been here, and violence is always gonna be here. And the way you stop it is, you learn who you are,” Corpuz said. “You hang around three haters, guess what you’re gonna be? The fourth hater.”

Henry Arroyo, a youth in the CHALK program (Communities in Harmony Advocating for Learning and Kids), said news of shootings is angering and disappointing – but also motivates him to organize and appear at rallies and other community events. Arroyo has lived in the Bayview for most of his life, surrounded by shootings, robberies, and other forms of aggression.

“It’s not like this violence is in the Mission only, and only people from the Mission are coming out,” he said. That gives him a sense that, “in our hearts, whether we realize it or not, we see all one community.”

Aztec dancers opened the Mission Peace night with a ceremonial dance at Mission and 24th Streets, on November 4, 2016. Photo by Julio Marcial

Aztec dancers opened the Mission Peace night with a ceremonial dance at Mission and 24th Streets, on November 4, 2016. Photo by Julio Marcial

But it wasn’t just young people who were attending. Shakla, who named himself after the right hand man of the prophet Muhammad, is 62 and organizing with the United Playaz after spending years in prison for fatally shooting a 72-year-old man at just 18 years old.

“Violence…caused me hurt, pain, caused me to suffer,” he said. He became isolated and later, “I acted out with a violent attitude.”

In prison he absorbed more violence – he was stabbed, stabbed others, was even shot. Now, he hopes to help other youths avoid his mistakes by helping them accept and understand their emotions as a natural response, but to find someone to express them to without a weapon.

“Then find a form of spiritual guidance – not religion – and with that, find a support group of youngsters who’s about change and nonviolence,” he said. “You have a choice. You may not understand it, but you have a choice. That is to live the rest of your life.”

Tracy Brown-Gallardo, another organizer with the Mission Peace Collaborative, said the trauma of violence also affects young people’s ability to learn in school and reach their potential.

To address that, she said, students need people of color who understand trauma in city leadership – from social worker positions to seats on the Board of Supervisors and Board of Education.

Susana Rojas, who runs the neighborhood nonprofit for at-risk girls and young women called Mission Girls, said the Mission Peace Collaborative, made up of several nonprofits and organizations that prevent violence, is having meetings to come up with the best solutions to address the spate of shootings and figuring out who to request support from that can bring in the necessary resources.

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