Community gathering and conversation on how to stop the violence in the Black community

Community activist and organizer Phelicia Jones brought everyone together for this event, and as she displays the clenched fist of solidarity, she proclaims to the world that she is unapologetically Black and Proud!

by Bay View staff 

“In order to save the people, you must serve the people. In order to lead the people, you must love the people.” – Professor Cornel West

The community gathering and conversation on how to stop the violence in the Black community took place at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 12, in the beautiful and picturesque Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. The event took place at Mendell Plaza at Third and Palou, and we could not have asked for better weather. The sky was clear and blue; the sun was shining bright. 

The mood amongst the crowd that began to gather was festive. There was a DJ and refreshments. Of course, there were masks and sanitizer available, but the tension which usually accompanies such group gatherings was not as palpable as normal. Folks in large numbers have been getting vaccinated and this was especially true with this crowd, which was made up of many city and county employees.

Community organizer and activist Phelicia Jones had brought together a “who’s who” of leaders and change makers in the San Francisco Black community. The purpose of the gathering was to create space for a dialogue with community members and the police as well as city leaders in regard to the spike in violence within the Black community here in Bayview Hunters Point.

The Bay View’s Malik Washington spoke with Phelicia Jones at length via a recent phone call and Ms. Jones had this to say: “I am not anti-white, anti-Latinx or even anti-Islander, but I am unapologetically pro-Black. There are very few people who fight for Black people. I fight for our people – period.”

Ms. Jones was very pragmatic and thoughtful in the manner with which she organized this event. She made it known that this conversation would be unique and different. She had invited ranking members of the SFPD to field questions and ideas from the community in order to come up with a plan to address the recent spike in violence in our community. There was a portion of the event set aside to give community members an opportunity to write some of their ideas on a piece of paper and then have the members of the SFPD read them in order to create a dialogue between the police and the community.

“I am not anti-white, anti-Latinx or even anti-Islander, but I am unapologetically pro-Black. There are very few people who fight for Black people. I fight for our people – period.”

Most of us who work for the SF Bay View actually live in the Bayview Hunters Point, so we are intimately familiar with the lack of communication between the community and the police. This gathering was a step toward mending the tenuous relationship between community members and the SFPD. The scars run deep and it will take a lot of work on both sides in order to create a proactive dialogue.

The community conversation began with an opening prayer by Pastor Kirk Davis of Kairos Fellowship Church right in the neighborhood. The pastor’s words were strong and passionate – he called for healing, stating some universal truths which resonated with everyone in attendance: “Hurt people hurt people,” was one of many phrases Pastor Davis used to convey his message.

The gathering attracted people from all over San Francisco. Gina Fromer from the Children’s Council of San Francisco was in attendance as was Gwendolyn Westbrook of the United Council of Human Services. Fathina Holmes from the city’s Workforce Development was in attendance and she explained how she was specifically focused on ensuring that people who had been involved with the criminal justice system had the necessary opportunities and training so that they could land a decent paying job in the construction field. 

Here we have Gina Fromer of the Children’s Council of San Francisco and Gwendolyn Westbrook, CEO of the United Council of Human Services. Both of these strong Black women are committed to serving our community!

Ms. Holmes said: “I understand the connection between violence in our community and a lack of job opportunities. I can’t do everything, but I can do my part and my part is to make sure people who are returning to our community from prison or jail have a fighting chance to succeed. I also work with the Street Violence Intervention Program in order to find the people who need our help the most.”

The Street Violence Intervention Program (SVIP) is on the front lines of the struggle and campaign which seeks to stop the violence in our community. Arturo Carrillo of SVIP was present at the gathering and he was talking to Sheryl Davis of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission about ways in which they could collaborate in order to keep our communities safe. 

Director Sheryl Davis, right, of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and Arturo Carrillo of the Street Violence Intervention Program are two key individuals who work behind the scenes in order to help make our community safe and nurturing for the youth.

There have been times when members of the SVIP were casualties of gun violence because they were actually on the streets doing the work which sometimes involves interacting directly with gang members on a personal level without the police.

Mayor London Breed was the keynote speaker at the event, and some say that this was one of the most powerful speeches they have ever heard her give. We provide here some excerpts from the mayor’s speech: 

“Today is an opportunity for us to come together. This community is hurting, and it is time for us to take that hurt and that pain and turn it into something different. All of you have unique experiences growing up in San Francisco. People think that my story is unique – it’s not unique.”

The keynote speaker at the event was Mayor London Breed. Here is London speaking with a community member. She is flanked on the left by her Chief of Public Safety James Caldwell.

“We’ve all lost friends and family members to gang violence, to drugs, to hopelessness; it just so happened that this community supported me and lifted me up and had my back and because of that support I was able to become mayor in the first place.”

Mayor Breed continued: “But I want to be the norm and not the exception. So when I make moves in City Hall, you may not always hear about them, but I want to be clear: I’m making moves because I don’t want people, especially Black people in this city, to continue to go through and struggle through what we all have had to grow up and endure here.

“I diverted $120 million to the Black community from various law enforcement resources. We are going to infuse these resources back into the Black community.”

There is no one person who can do this work by themselves. In order to create a safe community, we all have to make our contribution. Young folks, old folks, women and men and people of all races and ethnicities need to step up to the plate, roll up our sleeves and get involved in the work of community building. 

There have been questions within the Bayview Hunters Point community in respect to how these resources that were taken from the police will be allocated and utilized. We at the SF Bay View promise the community that we also have asked this question and we have been promised that there will be transparency in the manner the money is being used and we will report on this and deliver the information directly to you. Please stay tuned and continue to read the SF Bay View.

We were able to speak to the mayor’s chief officer of public safety, Mr. James Caldwell, and he had this to say: “I want to thank Phelicia Jones for organizing this event and for reaching out to the Mayor’s Office for support. Mayor Breed is very dedicated to making sure that Bayview Hunters Point has the resources it needs in order to address the problem of violence as well as other issues that impact the community as it recovers from the COVID pandemic.”

We want to speak briefly about some of the events and incidents which prompted the organizing of this community conversation. In early February 2021 Malik Washington saw a man get gunned down in broad daylight on the corner of Third and Palou. A couple weeks later, Mary Ratcliff and her husband Dr. Willie Ratcliff heard the loud report of rapid automatic gun fire as six people were shot near the corner of Third and Quesada.

Many times, Dr. Willie Ratcliff takes a walk across the street to grab some chicken wings at Peking Wok. Often, our Interim-Editor Nube Brown walks by herself to her home. Mary Ratcliff has been directed by her doctors to take a daily walk. 

We do not want any of our people to become victims of gun violence. It has been said time and time again that “a bullet has no name.” As the schools begin to reopen, we all are concerned about the safety and security of our children as they travel to and fro.

Let’s bring back the love into our community and demand that everyone in our community who wants to work has a good paying job to go to. There is a connection between unemployment and the spiking violence, so let’s urge city leaders to address these inequities in the socioeconomic system that continue to plague our community.

There is no one person who can do this work by themselves. In order to create a safe community, we all have to make our contribution. Young folks, old folks, women and men and people of all races and ethnicities. We at the SF Bay View want to thank the Phelicia Joneses and the Damien Poseys of our community, and we want to encourage more of you to step up to the plate, roll up your sleeves and get involved in the work of community building. 

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win, All Power to the People!

Bay View reporter Malik Washington can be reached at Malik@sfbayview.com. Contact him whenever you see news happening. Please visit our website, sfbayview.com, read and share the knowledge, wisdom, understanding and Black culture contained in our one-of-a-kind national Black newspaper and follow @sfbayview on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.