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San Bernardino Community Fights Back Against Gang Violence

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Residents, merchants say “crime magnets” allowed to thrive

By Chris Levister

It’s business as usual two days after Donald Ray McCall Jr. was gunned down at East Baseline and Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino at the entrance to Waterman Gardens, a rambling public housing project long beset by poverty and gang violence. Steps away from the crime scene, the symphony of traffic, pedestrians, homeless people, sign twirlers and men pedaling pirated CD/DVDs, movies and other goods plays out under the watchful eyes of new traffic surveillance cameras installed on the intersection’s four corners. A short distance from those cameras another form of surveillance is underway. “Another drug deal in plain sight,” whispered a woman armed with a cell phone and binoculars. Hiding in shrubbery behind a tall iron fence surrounding the apartments a small group of residents, merchants, and others train their eyes on the parking lot of a community staple - Master’s Donuts. The 24-hour eatery is located directly across the street from where McCall was shot.

“This place is a known gang hangout,” said Gloria Dias who managed the former check cashing office next door. “What’s worse police know what’s going on over there. If we can see the criminal activity from Waterman Gardens, they can too.” These self-described sleuths insist the donut shop and a liquor store in a strip mall across the street and other late night establishments in the area are well known crime magnets allowed to thrive in plain view. “Thugs commit crimes in broad daylight because they know they can get away with it,” said a woman who in February moved her two sons away from Waterman Gardens. “Money is their mission.” Across Waterman at this strip mall anchored by Church’s Chicken several males move aggressively across the parking lot pass an insurance office, beauty supply and liquor store openly selling pirated CD/DVDs, movies, and other goods. The air smells of marijuana. According to patrons and several merchants who did not want to be identified, there’s ‘plenty’ of drug dealing and there hasn’t been a security guard on the grounds since 2010. “If this kind of vagrant activity takes place in plain view at high noon,” said Delacie Hobbs as she left the beauty supply. “It’s got to be ten times worse after dark.” “The children and law abiding people in this community deserve answers,” said Hobbs “not expensive cameras and an occasional police patrol.”

Yards away, at the spot where 19-year-old McCall died, the makeshift shrine of deflated balloons, teddy bears, burned out candles and plastic flowers on the sidewalk is typical of others that sprout up on these blocks when life ends violently. Dried blood stains and a CD jewel case echoed a rant from rap artist 50 Cents’ album ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ --- “Death gotta be easy, ‘cause life is hard it’ll leave you physically, mentally and emotionally scarred.” “We don’t know what brought him over there,” Sgt. Gary Robertson said of the Colton resident. “Our information is very limited for his reason for being over there or what caused the shooting.”

“He was just walking … in the area and ended up at the apartments about a minute before he was shot. We have no witnesses to the shooting.” There’s no easy explanation, police say. McCall’s death boosted the city’s annual body count to 21 and threatened to reverse seven years of steadily declining homicide totals. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that at 2:00 a.m. most of these guys over here are angling for more than liquor, donuts and coffee,” said Tamara Wyatt who lives in the shadow of the donut shop.

“Alcohol, weed (marijuana), crack, meth, heroin, anything you want. These establishments are cancerous. They’ve been allowed to fester for years,” said Wyatt. With the murder rate climbing, area residents and merchants alike are quietly launching a coordinated effort aimed at shutting down late night eateries, liquor, and convenience stores that serve as magnets for crime. “We see ramped up police patrols come and go,” said Cruz. “They cruise through the neighborhoods, make a few busts, the bad guys scatter and days later they’re back in business stronger than ever.”

Until now, residents say the city has relied on consumer complaints before moving to suspend or revoke the licenses of liquor and convenience stores. They’re hoping as part of a new City Hall approach, information pulled from 911 and 211 calls and from all city departments involved with enforcement including Code Enforcement, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, Police, Streets and Sanitation, Health and Buildings, will be used to target and shutdown establishments that harbor criminal activity.

“By identifying these establishments and encouraging people to speak out, we can send a clear message that the streets of San Bernardino belong to the children and the law-abiding residents of San Bernardino — not drug dealers and gang bangers.” “The sounds of gunfire are as common as the sounds of children playing,” said Evelyn Williams whose sister Alfie has lived in Waterman Gardens since 2008. “Residents over here are prisoners in their own homes. They’re scared to come out at night.”

“The violence and death - it’s a way of life around here,” said Alfie Williams. Williams who is confined to an electronic scooter says McCall’s murder was the last straw. “I’m moving. I’ve got two children. It’s too dangerous especially for my teenage son,” she said. “It’s nothing to do over here. It’s easy to get into trouble,” said 15-year-old Quinn Drummer. “They say go to the community center here – but it’s for little kids.” “The children have too much time on their hands. What we need is a sustained coordinated effort, not more lip service,” said Tamera Wyatt.

Rappers refer to jail or equally difficult situations as being “in the belly of the beast.” “That’s what this place feels like,” said young Drummer “its bad news.”

APATHY, LACK OF EXCITEMENT – DEFINE TURNOUT

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Voter turnout hits historic low

By Chris Levister

At this polling place off Medical Center Drive in San Bernardino the biggest news had nothing to do with the new "top two" voting method that some said would cause widespread confusion when it premiered on ballots across California on Tuesday. According to a Field Poll and based on early site exit polls the news of the day was: apathy and a lack of excitement.

“If I didn’t think my parents who fought for my right to vote would rise up from their graves and slap me, I would not be here,” said 68-year-old Eloise Webb of San Bernardino, with a big grin. “It’s not like we’re choosing between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney,” said Webb. “Democrats, Republicans, others, the candidates aren’t talking about the issues that matter to working people.”

“I think people are kind of turned off by the election process. They’re saturated with the negative ads and personal attacks. People are staying away,” said Jessie Sims, a retired warehouse worker.

Although the state has more than 17 million registered voters, only 6 million — 35 percent were expected to cast ballots, according to Tuesday’s Field Poll. It’s the lowest since the Field Poll started tracking presidential primaries in 1948. That's a long, loud yawn from where the excitement level was four years ago, when an emotional, high-profile Democratic battle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton - held on Feb. 5 in the thick of the campaign season - inspired 57 percent of the state's registered voters to cast ballots.

Analysts say the expected drop-off in voting this year is not surprising given the relative lack of political drama on Tuesday's ballot, starting at the top of the ticket. President Obama is running unopposed in this Democrat-dominated state, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney more or less wrapped up the GOP presidential race months ago. In addition, two statewide propositions on the ballot have not prompted outrage. “Most presidential primaries have something compelling to offer voters, but this one doesn't,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello agreed with the turnout projections based on low numbers of vote-by-mail returns and early voting. Scarpello and other registrars across the state say Tuesday’s election is not an indication for November when a big turnout is expected for the presidential race. Election watchers see some encouraging news on the voting front. There is a measurable increase in the number of voters casting their ballots by mail. For the first time, a majority of voters — 55 percent — did so. In 2008, it was 42 percent.

Some people predicted Tuesday would be a confusing day for some voters at the polls. It was the first statewide primary under California's new "Top-Two" system. Based on exit polls the new system posed only minor confusion. Scarpello said poll workers were well prepared to help confused voters.

Under the new system, all voters (whether they’re registered in a political party or not) saw every candidate from every party on their ballots. For example, 24 different people ran for California’s U.S. Senate seat and voters picked any one of those candidates. The top two finishers in each race will advance to the November election. The new system applies only to legislative and congressional races. The top two candidates move on to the general election, regardless of party.

Cross Word Christian Church Holds Candidate Forum

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By Natasha Ferguson

Photos by Rory O' Sullivan

Moreno Valley residents filled the sanctuary at Cross Word Christian Church recently where a Candidate Forum was held. Senior Pastor Bishop Lacy Sykes Jr. opened the forum with prayer and introduced the moderator Kristina Dixon. The format of the forum was to create a dialog between voters and candidates in a civil manner. Dixon was responsible with keeping that spirit alive and the conversation engaging. The Candidate Forum consisted of three panels. The first was for the 41st Congressional District and included: Anna Nevenic, George Pearne, Vince Sawyer, Mark Takano and John Tavaglione. After a brief introduction, the candidates were asked why they were running.

Nevenic, a registered nurse from Yugoslavia and the only female candidate expressed her desire to see more women in congress. Pearne and Sawyer both sited reasons for running to see change. Takano passionately expressed the need to bring jobs and create a sense of renewal to bring about change to the city. When the candidates were asked what they would do to improve the area, all emphatically expressed the importance of bringing jobs to the area. Sawyer said he wanted to eliminate regulations and stop foreign trades, which is currently over 1.3 trillion dollars.

Audience member Linnie Frank Bailey asked the candidates their view on President Obama’s Healthcare Reform bill and its mandate. The candidates all agreed it needs some amendment. “Part of the bill is not structured well. Pre-existing conditions are critical and I strongly feel that the current bill needs to be modified,” stated Tavaglione.

Candidate Sawyer said that everyone has a right to affordable healthcare, therefore he would repeal the current bill as it is. In addition to the reform of the healthcare bill, Candidate Nevenic also expressed a desire to see the elimination of price gouging particularly with seniors medicine. In their closing statements, Candidate Tavaglione said that he brings strong leadership to the seat with 25 years in business and two decades in public office. Candidate Takano promised to stand up for seniors and also use his 23 years experience as a teacher to help raise the level of education. He also wants to work with President Obama to help bring jobs to the area. Candidate Sawyer said he wants to represent the people and help to rebuild our current infrastructure. Candidate Nevenic said she wants to help with health care, education, and feels the necessity of investing in prevention, all of which require new leadership. The second panel for the 31st Senatorial District consisted of candidates Steve Clute and Richard Roth.

Roth’s background is 34 years serving in the Air Force including at March Field Air Base. He is a community activist who wants to help break the partisan gridlock. Clute, who made reference to a message he heard last year from Bishop Sykes that inspired him titled, ‘It’s All About Commitment,’ said he is proud of Moreno Valley being his home turf and has many concerns including education, jobs and economy. Roth said these are critical times with the rise of home foreclosures and job losses. “Teamwork is what the army is about,” said Roth. He also believes that his training in the army will help him with his work in the community. Clute said that he wants to change the current funding formula. “I know how to make Sacramento work for us,” stated 31st Senatorial Candidate Clute. He also expressed the desire to see more services for veterans, as well as the UCR School of Medicine built. A comment was made from a disabled audience member in reference to Roth’s previous support of a bill introduced by Senator Bob Dutton that did not support veterans. He clarified that he is firmly committed to equal rights for all citizens including the disabled and he gave an example of the struggle his brother-in-law went through. When asked by an audience member how persuasive would you be in the accessing of government war economy, candidate Roth noted that approximately 30,000 veterans pass through each year and a large percentage of these reside in Moreno Valley. He feels that there needs be job training and re-training programs for these vets and monies to do this. In closing, Roth reinforced his commitment on improving the quality of life for all. Clute gave a brief list of some of his endorsements including Black Voice News, the California Democratic Party, and CORE. He also stated that he wants to fight the status quo.

The third and final panel consisted of candidates running for the 61st State Assembly District, Bill Batey and Jose Medina. Medina has been a resident for 40 years and is a UCR graduate. His focus is on education, bringing jobs to the area, and he wants to make a difference overall. He also wants to see the UCR School of Medicine come to the area. He has served 13 years on the Board of Trustees.

Batey has sat on the Moreno Valley City Council for 16 years, and is a veteran and former City Fire Captain. He is passionate about education and also wants to help bring jobs to improve the quality of life in the region. One of his top priorities will be education. He also expressed his desire to improve the quality of life as well as help bring jobs to the area. When asked why they want to represent the district, Medina said he learned at an early age the importance of improving people’s lives through his strong upbringing and values instilled in him by his parents. He wants to use these principles to help better his community. When asked about the current warehouse project, candidate Medina responded, “Aside from the warehouse jobs, improvements are needed in the education system to equip people with the necessary tools to prepare them for higher paying jobs,” stated Medina. Medina, who has 35 years as a teacher, created the ‘Passport to College’ program and though it only lasted a brief time, feels programs such as this are necessary. He also wants to see improvement in tuition increases and is in support of middle class reform. He shares the same sentiments of the other candidates of a shared value for the interest and betterment of the community. Candidate Batey mentioned that instead of spending 68 billion dollars on the proposed high rail system project, he feels this money would be better spent on education instead. He also expressed the need for better accessibility to higher education, also emphasizing the importance of engaging the youth and involving them at an early age. “We need mentoring programs on local, state and federal levels,” said Batey. In closing, Batey has a background in military and as a fire captain and understands the quality of life issues that affect our community. He will use his expertise and knowledge to bring necessary resources and programs to help make citizens more productive in society. Bishop Sykes expressed the necessity to engage the community in dialogues such as this. “Christians need to be involved in the political system to see some change,” said Bishop Sykes. The Candidate Forum provided an excellent arena for the community to hear first hand these public servants’ plans for the community. It is important that everyone exercise the right to vote on June 5th.

AME Church Bishop H.H. Brookins Remembered

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Hamel Hartford Brookins, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church for 30 years, passed this past Tuesday after a long illness. Bishop Brookins was 86. He pastored the First AME Church of Los Angeles for the past 13 years. Born in Yazoo, Miss and educated at Wilberforce University and Payne Seminary, A long time community activist, Brookins began his social change activism in the 1950s when as a clergyman, he helped implement a desegregation plan ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown vs. Board of Education case. In  2002, Former President Bill Clinton joined a host of religious luminaries, elected officials and celebrities in a tribute to Bishop Hamel Hartford Brookins, the son of Mississippi sharecroppers who rose to become a Los Angeles and international champion of black political empowerment. Clinton praised Brookins, for his civil rights legacy and reminisced about the days when the clergyman ministered in a country church in Arkansas when Clinton was governor. “I still can’t quite get used to the fact that you’re wearing purple,” he said at the Beverly Hilton event, referring to Brookins’ status as a bishop. “And I got to be president,” he added. “I learned a lot by your side, had a lot of good times. But my heart will always be with you, because in sunshine and in rain, you were always with me,” the former president said. “You helped me make the country a more free, better and united place.”

Brookins, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal church for 30 years, is best known here as the former leader of First AME Church, which he served 13 years. His activism began in the 1950s when, as a clergyman in Topeka, Kan., he helped implement a desegregation plan ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board of Education case. In 1965 he worked to quell the Watts riots. He was an architect of Tom Bradley’s campaigns for Los Angeles mayor and, while working in Africa, was ousted from Rhodesia because of his work on behalf of the Zimbabwe liberation movement. In 1981 Zimbabwe invited him back for its first presidential inauguration.  A founding member of Jesse Jackson’s economic activist organization, Operation PUSH, Brookins also worked in Jackson’s presidential campaigns. He developed a friendship with Clinton while assigned to his denomination’s Oklahoma-­‐Arkansas district in the ’80s, when Clinton was governor. Brookins is credited with laying the foundation for First AME Church of Los Angeles political power and community and international influence that continues to serve the preeminent mega-­‐church today. In a prepared statement, his wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins, pastor of Walker Temple AME Church in Los Angeles, said that the services for her husband would be a reflection of his life and service to the world. Together they have one son, Sir-­‐Wellington Hartford Brookins and two-step children, Mr. Steven Hartford Brookins and Rev. Francine A. Brookins. His family and numerous friends were at his bedside when he died.

His wife, the Rev. Rosalynn Kyle Brookins and three children survive Brookins. Funeral services for Bishop Brookins will be held tomorrow at his church, First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. Interment will be held at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood following the funeral.

2012 Local Election Results

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November election run-offs pitting the top two candidates are the name of the game following Tuesday’s election results. With all precincts reporting, results are not official until certified on Friday.

This election marked the first under the new political lines drawn by the nonpartisan Citizen’s Redistricting Commission. The Inland Empire’s huge population growth in the last decade provided new assembly seats in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In Riverside, the race for 41st Congressional District ended as expected. Republican John Tavaglione will face Democrat Mark Takano in November. The 42nd Congressional District ended with Representative Ken Calvert (Republican) to go head-to-head with Democrat Michael Williamson in the Fall. The 61st Assembly District will have Riverside teacher Jose Medina (Democrat) competing against Moreno Valley Councilman Bill Batey (Republican). Both candidates garnered the necessary votes and will face-off again in November.

In the 60th Assembly District, Alvord Unified Trustee Jose Perez (D) and businessman Eric Linder (R) earned the top spots.

The hotly contested race for mayor comes down to a November run-off between Riverside City Councilman William “Rusty” Bailey and Ed Adkison. In a bid to retain his seat, of 1st District Riverside County Supervisor, Bob Buster leads Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries and California Highway Patrol officer Mike Soubirous. If neither candidate gets at least 51 percent of the vote, the two top candidates’ head to a November run-off. The race for Riverside County Superior Court Judge came down to Craig Riemer retaining his bench seat in a tight race against Supervising Deputy District Attorney John Henry. Riemer had 51.26 percent of the votes against Henry’s 48.74 percent. In San Bernardino County, the run for 31st Congressional District had Republication legislator Representative Gary Miller and State Senator Bob Dutton vying for top honor against the six-candidate field. Miller garnered 14,057 votes while Dutton received 13,088 votes. The two will face off this fall.

The 35th Congressional District will end with a November run-off with two Democrats vying for the position. Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod will race against Representative Joe Baca. Baca received 44.9 percent of the vote and Negrete McLeod received 36.4 percent. Rialto Councilman Joe Baca, Jr. and Black Voice News Publisher Cheryl R. Brown head the race for 47th Assembly District.

At the midnight hour, former Chairman of the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians James Ramos, was the leader against 3rd District Supervisor Neil Derry who is fighting to retain his seat. Both candidates will compete on the November ballot this fall. 5th District Supervisor Josie Gonzales lead over her competitors, John Taack and Silvia J. Marroquin, concluded with Gonzales winning her seat. This win marks Gonzales’ third term as the areas 5th District Supervisor.

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