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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.”

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