Richmond attempts to address mental distress amid rising violence


Otilio “Nico” Martinez, 18 (pictured), had graduated from high school in June. The kid whose “smile lit up the world” had a job and his whole life ahead of him.

That all came to an abrupt end Monday night. As he was walking home from work, Martinez was fatally shot in front of Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 5150 Bayview Ave. in Richmond. A motive isn’t yet known for the murder.

He became the latest young victim of a rash of gun violence sweeping the city that has amounted to 21 homicides in 2016, equaling the homicide total from all of 2015. In 2014, there were a decades-low 11 homicides.

Martinez was well-loved among family and friends, according to the Richmond Street Angels, a community outreach organization which posted about his death on Facebook. The consequences of his murder stretch further than the loss of a valuable, promising life, according to local officials working to address persistent violence in the community.

To a number of community leaders, the teen’s killing in front of a local church was a grim symbol that more intervention strategies are needed to prevent violence — and that a significant part of the solution may lie in the ability of the community’s faith organizations to identify and respond to post-traumatic stress symptoms among families and youth.

“When a traumatic incident is happening, maybe it’s depression, anger, something else, how do you get that person help?” said Michelle Milam, the city’s Crime Prevention Manager.

As many local people suffering from mental distress don’t often trust police or government officials, faith leaders may be in the best position to respond, Milam said.

While there are a number  of useful resources in the community that support victims of violence or attempt to prevent retaliatory acts — such as the city’s widely recognized Office of Neighborhood Safety, which sends peacekeepers to intervene in disputes — Milam said there has been discussion among community groups on new ways to provide faith leaders with the tools to intervene.

That’s the intention, for example, of a Mental Health 101 training that will be held at Hilltop Community Church, 3118 Shane Drive, on Oct. 1 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Milam said.

The hope is to empower faith leaders, and hopefully the community as a whole, with the ability to identify a person who is suffering from mental distress, and also with the tools to effectively help them before they make a drastic decision.

This particular mission began last year following the July 2015 fatal shooting of 29-year-old Fontino Hardy Jr. at Monterey Pines Apartments. The incident was believed to be a source for retaliatory attacks.

Richmond homicides, general crime uptick causing concerns

Hoping to prevent further violence at the time, Kathleen Sullivan, the resident services coordinator of the Pullman Point housing complex, sought help from a number of local resources, including the police chaplains, local clergy, the Men and Women of Purpose and Milam.

Sullivan wanted to know how to get children and families affected by the violence some mental health assistance. After the violence, the kids appeared to react with a shrug, as if to say, “that’s the way things are,” Milam said. They appeared desensitized.

The fear goes beyond even the threat that desensitized youth may be more prone toward or accepting of violence as a response to strong emotions. A study by the California Department of Public Health (DPH) revealed that those who suffer from childhood trauma are more likely than non-sufferers to struggle in school. Later in life, they are also more prone to suffering from depression, substance abuse, obesity and heart attacks.

“One in four California children experience three or more repeated traumas, such as family mental health, incarceration, violence, and substance abuse issues,” said Dr. Steve Wirtz, Chief of Injury Surveillance and Epidemiology at the California Department of Mental Health and co-author of the study. “It is the cumulative impact of these multiple adverse events that take such a toll on our children and their full potential. It’s a problem that warrants more attention from parents, community leaders, and state policymakers.”

Knowing this, Milam contacted Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who helped start the RYSE Center assisting local youth, and Duane Chapman, chair of the Contra Costa Mental Health Commission. That led to several meetings with faith groups and a new initiative to teach faith leaders and community organizations how to identify and respond to mental distress among youth and families.

The Richmond Standard will continue to update the community on new steps taken toward this effort, so stay tuned. The Mental Health 101 workshop on Oct. 1 is free and open to clergy, ministry and community-based organizations.

Also on Tuesday, Sept. 27, a West County Children’s Behavioral Health Roundtable is set to run from 9:30 – 11:00 a.m. at 303 41st St., Richmond.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here