By Chris Levister
Twenty-two people have been killed in San Bernardino this year – 5 in a week - 12 in May, a toll on par with the 1990s, when gang-related killings peaked earning the 1977 “All-America City” the nickname Murder Capital.
Police have arrested a 21-year-old Rialto man in connection with the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old San Bernardino man early Tuesday as he visited a memorial where his friend was fatally shot two weeks earlier.
The city’s response to the spate of killings has become the subject of withering criticism from some residents and families of the shooting victims.
After a Rialto woman was gunned down in San Bernardino May 4, Police Chief Robert Handy said, “Anytime there’s a homicide we’re, concerned, but I don’t think we’re at the abnormal pace from last year. It comes in clusters.”
“We have a dysfunctional city with a police department that operates like a turn style saying not enough people have been murdered,” said Wesley Person who was shot in the leg by a gang member in 2009. “How many people have to die before someone gets serious about stopping these thugs?”
“Gang violence is not a new phenomenon in this city”, said Wilson Perris a North San Bernardino businessman, referring to the tragic killing of 11-year-old Mynisha Crenshaw who was killed by a stray bullet in November 2005 while eating dinner with her family in San Bernardino.
“You can’t sit back and wait on this to get out of control then expect a good outcome,” said Perris.
Handy defended the city’s response to the violence saying the department is deploying more officers, despite being understaffed.
“Even though we are not at the level of manpower I would like to see us at, that is not the reason behind the recent rash of homicides plaguing our community,” Handy said. “Officers and detectives have done a phenomenal job and have been very effective in solving crimes.”
The spike in gun violence has prompted the police department to deploy more resources, in so-called gang hot spots including an area that encompasses East Highland, East Baseline, North Waterman and Sierra Way.
Police Capt. Gwen Waters said during a news conference at police headquarters that the entire department is committed to the city’s war on gang crime.
"Homicide cleared two cases in two days and have been working day and night," Waters said. "The other divisions have jumped in too, helping each other out during this time; we're short staffed and overworked."
Sixth Ward City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson cautioned residents not to panic or compare the 1990s when gang violence peaked in the area with the latest rash of killings.
“One murder is too many which is why we are working hard to solve these cases and keep residents safe. By deploying more officers in gang hot spots such as drug houses, liquor stores, after-hours clubs and other hangouts we’re sending a message that we are serious about rooting them out,” said Johnson.
“Gang violence is a nationwide problem. It’s complex and difficult to control. We must remain focused and vigilant. It’s going to take patience and the eyes and ears of everyone in this city to help us get a handle on these killings. If you see something…Say something.”
Parents Confront Worst Fears
At this family gathering in Wildwood Park Monday, the sweet smoky smells of hot dogs, hamburgers and even marshmallows over a fire waft through the air. Under the watchful eyes of parents, children beat the heat as re-circulating water sprays, gushes, dumps and pours from a variety of whimsical devices.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have lost their lives in our nation's service. But for some gathered in the park the conversation was more about safety and the spasm of gun violence that took the life of a Fontana girl celebrating her 16th birthday.
Ashley Caldera was shot and killed Saturday night while with a group of friends at a Fontana city park. Family members who gathered near a memorial on Sunday evening said the girl and a few friends were on their way to another friend’s house to spend the night. An aunt said Caldera was celebrating her 16th birthday. The shooters were not acquainted with the group, police said.
“You live with that constant fear,” said Star Gibson. “You say to yourself – but for the grace of God, that could have been my baby they killed Saturday.”
Some parents confessed that they monitor their children obsessively in a way not possible a generation ago, tracking their location through iPhones, or calling and texting them repeatedly, even if – especially if – there is no answer.
For Cheyenne Blevins the rules of parenting suddenly seemed flimsy, and the world became a scarier place when her friend Mynisha Crenshaw was killed seven years ago.
Blevins now 19, is still traumatized by the gang related shooting that spawned Mynisha’s Law.
“I have broken sleep which is usually disturbed by really bad nightmares,” said Blevins holding her sleepy one-year-old daughter close to her bosom.
“When she’s near a man or stranger she doesn’t know, she finds it difficult to breathe,” said her husband Botti. “She becomes very sweaty and her heart races.”
With one eye on his six daughters dodging in and out of water sprays and the other on family members gathered around the hot grill, Devon Johnson confronts the threat of violence with road rules of parenting.
“You have to teach children about the dangers that lurk around every corner; self defense, avoid strangers, teen drinking, drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd.”
“Every day you have to put your faith in those rules and send your children, with a silent prayer, off into the world. It is our relation to circumstances that determines their influence over us,” said Johnson.