This foggy Tuesday morning, August 4th, 2009, I sat down to my morning-before-work cup of coffee, and opened the San Francisco Chronicle. The following headline glared out of the Bay Area section:
"Richmond criminals don't care who gets hit, indiscriminate gunfire is on the rise in Richmond."
Then followed a disturbing article by Chip Johnson. Ten people were killed in Richmond in July, and, according to the article, it appears that the killers, mostly very young men, do not care who they hit. Apparently city and county social service programs have identified Richmond families with criminal pasts that extend across at least four generations.
This morning I was to see a famiy in North Richmond. The mother is an obese young woman from Mexico. She has four young boys and on my weekly visits she tells me terrible stories of the things that happen with her neighbors, and on the streets. She relates these stories in the presence of her children. I am there to see her twin boys of 18 months who, thankfully, do not understand her, but the older boy, of six and eight are always present because of summer vacation. They listen, interject, and add their versions. Three weeks ago she told me about her neighbors, who also happen to be relatives. The father deals drugs and sometimes hides them in her mailbox if he thinks the police are coming. He keeps a gun in his infant daughter's chest of drawers, and has taught his eight year old son to use it. Furthermore, over 4th of July he plied his eight year old son with liquor, until the boy passed out. She found him passed out on a patch of grass. She told me she pushed him until he woke and she told him to breathe out, and she smelled the liquor onhis breath. His mother works all day and doesn't want to hear what goes on in her absence, she said.
"Great," I thought, a delinquent in training. I have to report child endangerment and neglect, and so I did pass this information on. The next week she told me that she and her boys were at a nearby park, (an open lot) the day before. It was about 7 p.m. and young boys were playing soccer. A car came by and someone stuck out a gun and shot two of the boys playing soccer. The bystanders saw the car speed away, then stop on a corner and two men ran out and fled, while another climbed in and drove away. According to her one of the boys was killed on the spot and the other was shot in the head."Two brothers," she said, "one fell down 'pobrecito' and there was blood everywhere. He asked for water and someone came to give him some, but a policeman pushed him away."
She told me this as she reclined on her couch. The twins ran between the two sofas and the older boys played with the toys I had brought for the twins. When she described the car they both ran to the window to point in the direction it came from. She continued: "The ambulance came after half an hour. Can you imagine the boys' mother? I don't know where the father is. She will go back to Mexico. Last night I couldn't sleep because I kept seeing the blood pouring out of his head."
She described the supposed killers saying they were Latinos. The police had already distributed fliers to the residents asking for witnesses to step forward. She won't say anything because she doesn't trust the police. She said she knows a woman who told the police about a gunman, and then her husband was killed. She thinks that was because the police let everyone involved know she had informed on them.
I listened in horror and suggested she tell the police what she saw, because it is anonymous, and if people don't talk, this insanity is just going to continue. She said she will speak to her husband when he gets home. When I left the home a red car sped up to the corner not even one block away. A man standing on the pavement walked up to the car, leaned in and yelled at the driver who sped away and began spinning donuts in the street. He drove his car around and around, rubber burning, tires squealing. This display of out of control testosterone truly petrifies me, so I ran back into the house where the boys crowded at the window, looking at the car. I waited until it sped away and quickly made my getaway.
One day that week I drove home down San Pablo Avenue, and just beyond Potrero Avenue I saw a man holding a cardboarad sign at the side of the road, it read: "Please donate money for funeral."
That weekend a boy of 14 years old was killed. Another of my families, also Latino, asked whether I heard about it. The mom told me they were driving back from OSH Hardware and the road to their home was cordoned off because of this shooting. She has pre-teen nieces and nephews who attend local schools. They told her that would be gang members are driven somewhere by a gang member, handed an assault weapon,, and when the gang member points at someone they are told to shoot them.
I did not want to believe her, and now this article confirms what she said. "The victim is often in the wrong place at the wrong time, a victim of indiscriminate gunfire."
That this is disturbing is putting it mildly. Something is very very wrong.