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WJCF In the News!

Najeeba Sayeed-Miller sent us word that the Western Justice Center Foundation (www.westernjustice.org) has been in the news recently. The Pasadena Star-News reported on the WJCF’s work facilitating community-police dialogue around a recent wave of violence in Pasadena. We’ve included the text of the article below:

Forum seeks cure for wave of violence

By Mary Frances Gurton Staff Writer
Pasadena Star-News

PASADENA – On the heels of another arrest by Pasadena police in connection with a spike in gang-related crime early this month, officials and community members met Wednesday evening at Jackie Robinson Park to discuss collaborative solutions for the crisis.

“Some parents in Pasadena are deathly afraid for their children,” police Chief Bernard Melekian said to the crowd of about 125 in the park’s gym. “Others are afraid of their children.”

Eduardo Mendoza Solorio, 30, of Pasadena became the fifth suspect arrested in connection with the wave of violence that left two men dead on May 6 and 7, according to Pasadena police Lt. John Dewar.

Solorio was arrested in connection with a stabbing that occurred at 4:50 p.m. May 7 in the 700 block of North Orange Grove Boulevard, according to police spokeswoman Janet Pope Givens.

As a result of one of several search warrants served, police also seized a significant amount of drugs, as well as police scanners and surveillance equipment, Dewar said.

The stabbing was among four gang-related violent crimes, including three shootings.

A bold daytime attack at 1:50p.m. in the 100 block of Washington Boulevard left Jamal Varcasia, 21, and Tony Walker, 37, dead.

Jose David Elias, 20, of Pasadena; Eric Perez, 22, of Azusa; and Joseph Raymond Ruiz, 22, Alhambra, all admitted gang members, were arrested and charged with two counts of murder in connection with those deaths.

Another shooting, at 11:30p.m. May 6 at the Super Liquor store in the 100 block of East Orange Grove Boulevard, left Christian Peralta, 19, paralyzed for life, according to Melekian.

A 15-year-old Latino boy was arrested in connection with the shooting and will be tried as an adult on charges of attempted murder, police said.

Melekian said the police department would continue its two-fold effort – concentrated on prevention and law enforcement, with an emphasis on clear communication throughout the community to avoid and quell rumors – to put an end to the violence.

“Half of the most recent cases have been solved by community members who saw something and had the courage to come forward,” he said. “The other half have not been solved because, although there were witnesses at the crime scenes, people are too afraid to come forward. We must put an end to that kind of fear.”

There were also many youth attacks, most in the city’s Northwest – 56 in 2006 and 12 in the first quarter of 2007, which were racially motivated – most of them African American against Latino, according to Melekian. Other attacks were harder to define and were seen as robberies.

Those attacks culminated in the late August and early September deaths last year of Erica Hindman, 21, and Fortino Acevedo, 20, he said.

After hearing remarks from Melekian and a panel of councilmembers and other officials, the crowd was asked to break into dialogue groups facilitated by the Western Justice Foundation Center to offer ideas on new methods for social change to stop gang culture and youth homicides.

Mike Peterson, 38, a former member of the Raymond Avenue Crips street gang, who says he now does outreach work with Common Unity Reaching Everyone, a gang abatement group, emphasized better communication in the session he attended, he said.

“We need to open up lines of communication between Hispanics and blacks so you don’t have these wildfires to put out,” he said, referring to the racial make up of several of the most recent crimes. “You have to get in the trenches and deal with the actual problem with the gang members.”

Many during one dialogue session addressed the notion of parenting and personal accountability.

“The solution should take place in the home,” said an African-American man. “It should start with parents. Parents.”

Skyler Jackson, a representative from the Bridge Summer Art Program, said the inclusion of the teenager discussed in such dialogues was crucial.

“We need to get the youth we’re talking about involved in the dialogues were using to discuss them,” he said. “Kids just like the ones outside in the park should be in here now with us.”

Assistant City Manager Brian William, who organized the event, said his aim was to quell rumors by helping community members become more familiar with each other.

“The government can’t solve all the needs of citizens,” said Williams, who is African American and lives in Pasadena.

“As a father of two young boys, I want the city safe for my kids,” he said.

Although he wouldn’t discuss the racial aspect of the crimes – all involved African-American or Hispanic males – he said, “We need to empower the community to work together and not allow a small group to have control over us.”

Similar dialogue sessions to continually address the youth crime issue in Pasadena are offered each Tuesday at the Western Justice Foundation Center. For more information, call (626) 584-7494.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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