Richmond police are concerned about an uptick in unrest between gangs that has led to an increase in shootings and homicides in the city.
From January through July, police have received 748 calls for service about shootings in Richmond, a 9-percent increase from the same period last year, according to data compiled from the department’s Shotspotter and police call logs. While the incidents have occurred throughout the city (see map below), many are concentrated in areas known for gang activity. There have also been 10 homicides thus far this year, one shy of the homicide total all of last year.
Police believe an ongoing dispute between gangs, beginning with the Jan. 13 killing of 23-year-old Sirmonte Bernstine in Richmond’s Crescent Park Apartments, has been responsible for a lot of the violence. The incidents have caused the community to question whether the city’s drastically-reduced crime rate of recent years can be sustained.
Bernstine’s murder, according to gang detectives, is related to a number of subsequent shootings over the first half year of 2015, including the killing of Fontino Hardy Jr. at the Monterey Pines Apartments on July. 14 along with a presumed retaliatory shooting hours later at the Pullman Point townhouses.
Monterey Pines, where Hardy (pictured below) was killed, is a complex known for gang and narcotic activity controlled by the “Manor Boys,” (the complex was formerly known as Kennedy Manor) whose territory stretches from S. 37 and Cutting Boulevard to Berk Avenue, down to Potrero Avenue to Carlson Boulevard and also Hershey Court, the detective said.
The Manor Boys are aligned with the “Crescent Park Villains (CPV)” and the “Smash Team,” but have several rivals including “the Lils,” “Deep C of Central Richmond, North Richmond and “Easter Hill Boys,” the police report said.
In the month prior to the shooting that killed Hardy, the detective said he saw several spraypaintings on Monterey Pines walls reading “F— the Lils” and “F— Sirdy.”
Sirdy is the nickname for Sirmonte Bernstine (pictured below), the January murder victim who police described as one of the leaders of the Lils. Police believe a Manor Boy killed him. The murder apparently led to the killing of Keyon Wilson in Vallejo on Feb. 4 along with a number of other shootings and homicides.
The war has continued with the death of Hardy in a parking lot at Monterey Pines last month. Less than two hours after Hardy’s murder, three people were struck by gunfire in what was believed to be a retaliatory shooting at Pullman Point.
The original cause of this war, including the motive for Sirdy’s murder, is not clear. The cause of most of these disputes are difficult to pin down for those who are not close to the parties involved. Reasons may vary from territorial to interpersonal disputes to power struggles, officials say.
Shootings continued to plague Richmond this week, with two occurring within an hour apart in the Iron Triangle on Sunday injuring three people. One of the victims, a man in his early 20s, is on life support after being shot in the head. He was not in a gang or considered an at-risk youth, according to police Capt. Mark Gagan.
Many residents are concerned about a possible return to eight years ago, when the city was ranked as one of the nation’s most dangerous. Gagan says an uptick in shootings stemming from gang activity can leave neighborhoods feeling less safe, which can contribute to crime.
Gang activity is not the only thing responsible for the uptick. Police Chief Chris Magnus and Gagan have noted several other possible reasons for an increase in crime, including Prop. 47, which reduces penalties for nonviolent drug-related offenses, and also the 2011 state prison realignment bill, which led to a reduction in prison terms for nonviolent offenders. They have also cited funding reductions for police services locally, federally and via nonprofits, along with cutbacks to help solve the city’s budget deficit.
Magnus also noted that a continued lack of “economic and educational opportunities” in Richmond contributes to crime.
“You get a number of people off the streets, either those who make better and different life choices and in other cases, they’re incarcerated, and then you have this lull,” he told Bay City News. “The problem is, you also create a vacuum that is not necessarily being filled by great things.”
When it comes to gang activity, police are continuing their tactic of increasing patrols in gang territories and working with community members, including faith leaders to intervene in disputes before violence breaks out.
Gagan believes steps that have already been taken to reduce Richmond’s violence in recent years must be continued if the city wants to further shed its dangerous image. Along with community policing strategies that enlist support from community leaders and neighbors to denounce crime, programs must be provided that offer youths opportunities that are more attractive than gang life, such as education and career connections.
“Our plan of action is to organize stakeholders that can help focus on young people,” Gagan said. “We’re seeing that young people are being manipulated and encouraged to involve themselves in street-level gunplay and violence at the pressure from older gang members.”
Neighbors, school officials and local businesses — all community members — can play a role in providing and preaching alternatives to youth, Gagan added. Members of faith groups like the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) are being encouraged to continue intervening in disputes and drawing community support through events such as Ceasefire walks (see below).
Rev. Andre Shumake, a police chaplain who visits crime scenes to console families of victims, agreed.
“In the midst of the great work [to quell crime], we as a city cannot become complacent,” Shumake said.
Shumake was at the scene of the Sunday night shooting, and said he struggled to watch loved ones of victims dealing with deep pain.
“When we let up for whatever the reason, when we don’t stay focused, when we get too comfortable with the great news that crime in Richmond is down, that’s when this stuff starts happening again,” Shumake said. “We just have to stay vigilant and stay focused.”