Faith leaders looking for solutions to deter gun violence

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Photo/Anthony Victoria: About 80 residents marched from St. Bernardine's Church in San Bernardino to the Santa Fe Liquor on the corner of L Street on April 27 to denounce gun violence. The city is aiming to reduce crime and homicides by enacting Operation Ceasefire--nitiative that works alongside law enforcement to reduce crime by using alternative methods.

Sixty of Andrew Martinez’s friends and family gathered around a makeshift memorial at the apartments located on the 3500 block of E. 20th Street in San Bernardino on May 1 to honor his life.

Just a day earlier, Martinez, 22, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen in broad daylight as he was standing outside. The young man, who suffered from autism, was at the wrong place at the wrong time, according to his friends.

“Those [expletive] are wrong for this,” a man known as ‘K-Rock’ exclaimed in an angry tone. “I told [Andrew] to stay in the back. We told him that it wasn’t because we thought less of him. We just wanted to protect him.”

It was another gun-related death in a neighborhood that is gaining a notorious reputation for gun violence. Last year, Jason Spears, 12, was gunned down as he and his cousin, Terrance, 15, were walking to the Circle K on Orange Street and Highland Avenue.

Members of Victory Outreach’s life group have walked the community, encouraging residents to join them in prayer. So far, it’s been a daunting task.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: A makeshift memorial for Andrew Martinez, who was killed on April 30 in the 3500 block of E. 20th Street in San Bernardino by gunfire.

“Sometimes people are open, and sometimes they’re closed off,” explained Gabriel Villa, who is a minister with Victory Outreach. “If there’s no connection with the community, they won’t care. We’re trying to make that connection.”

Faith based leaders from both the Inland Congregations United for Change and Victory Outreach are convinced the solution to quelling gun violence is Operation Ceasefire–an initiative that works alongside law enforcement to reduce crime by using alternative methods. Those methods may include educational and employment programs, as well as providing social services to those at risk.

Both groups have held rallies, marches, and prayer vigils for over two years to raise awareness about the gun violence plaguing San Bernardino’s streets.

“Together collectively as one body we will heal San Bernardino,” said Father Craig Johnson of Cathedral of Praise International Ministries during a recent Common Ground for Peace Walk on April 27. “To the drug houses to the gang banging houses, San Bernardino needs healing.”

Meanwhile, city officials are making incremental steps to implement the program. On Monday the City Council approved the job description for a community intervention program manager.

Photo/Anthony Victoria: Residents walking over the I-215 freeway bridge on 5th Street during a Common Ground for Peace walk on April 27, 2017.

According to a prepared city report, the person who fills the position will be responsible for organizing and statistically analyzing crime intervention procedures. They will also be required to work closely with community groups, such as ICUC and Victory Outreach.

ICUC Organizer Sergio Luna said he expects city officials to follow up on the community’s expectations, which is to implement a more “holistic” plan that does not heavily rely on enforcement.

“The ball is in their court,” he said. “We’re asking them to share their vision and commitment with the residents.

Until then, faith based leaders say they will continue to walk the streets to shed light on the issue.

“The key is continuing the pressure,” Luna said.

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