Fresno needs to address systemic socioeconomic inequities and give young people of color a voice in how the city is governed if there’s any hope of abating an uptick in gun violence and gang activity, young Fresnans told city leaders during a summit meeting Wednesday evening.

The powerhouse discussion at the Fresno Fairgrounds involved about 50 people, including mayor-elect Jerry Dyer, six Fresno City Council members, pastors, representatives of various organizations, community leaders, police officers, and youth who were hand-picked by Faith in the Valley to discuss solutions to the increasing gang and gun violence.

“We’re here today to find short-term and long-term strategies,” Miguel Arias, councilmember for District 3 and host of the summit, told the participants. Councilmember Luis Chavez, who co-hosted, said southeast Fresno accounts for 22 of the 51 most recent shootings.

“Gangs and gun violence are the symptoms of long-term problems,” Arias told participants. “Police cannot do this work alone.”

A cry for resources

“If kids aren’t given a job, they will find a job selling dope,” a facilitator of one of the youth groups said.

Community Summit
Youth come up with a list of community needs to decrease gun violence during a breakout session at Wednesday’s city summit. Dayana Jiselle

Derrek Thomas, 18, a Fresno High senior and oldest of 13 siblings, said that his most important requests were employment and exposure to other environments.

“I want to see places outside my neighborhood and even my state,” he told Dyer, who sat in his group.

Thomas was a victim of gun violence and is currently recovering from bullet wounds to his fingers, face and hand.

Saying they want to feel safe, successful, and a part of their community, the youth also asked that the city convert abandoned buildings — like the vacant Walgreens on Ashlan and Marks and Clinton and West — into safe recreational spaces.

Other needs include reopening community centers like the Boys & Girls Clubs (which was closed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic but reopened Oct. 19); reopening schools; free bus rides; clean parks in the central, southeast and west Fresno areas; stipends to hire neighborhood mentors; and youth employment opportunities.

Others advocated for childcare and community studios that welcome them to record music as a form of expression.

“As a young mother, it’s hard to find daycare for my daughter, so I could work,” a young woman told her group.

Youth also asked that basketball nets be returned to the parks (also a casualty of the pandemic, removed to discourage group gatherings). Arias said the city would need to partner with local organizations that can assist with manning parks for work such as checking temperatures and encouraging public safety guidelines.

‘No-snitch’ mentality

One of the more intense conversations was around a “no-snitch” mentality. Youth and community leaders discussed the street code of not being able to share identities of active shooters with police.

“It’s hard when we know that the community knows who the shooters are and they don’t help us. But this conversation was really good to hear,” said Captain Mark Salazar and Lt. Andre Benson of the Fresno Police Department, who sat in on the conversation.

Salazar told The Bee that the role of police at the summit was to “listen and not offer their opinion.”

A pact to work together

Camron Evans, 14, an Edison High freshman, was cheered on by his peers as he demanded that youth involved in gun violence be counseled and not just “thrown in jail.”

“Show gang members that they matter,” he said. “When crimes are reported, they call people ‘community members’ and ‘gang members’ but those gang members are also a part of the community.”

Some youth also told members of the City Council to include their voices in the decisionmaking processes. Every councilmember attended the summit with the exception of Garry Bredefeld.

The local rap artist known as Syrup told the youth to be conscious of the lifestyle they attempt to portray: “Music these days makes you believe it’s cool to ‘catch a body’ and shoot people.”

Isaiah Green, program manager for Advance Peace, said the youth who participated were chosen because of their direct impact by gun violence and “street credibility.”

Organizations such as Fresno Barrios Unidos, Advance Peace, Fresno EOC, Fresno United and Take a Stand helped facilitate breakout sessions and communications with the youth.

Reimagining Fresno’s budget and future

Ten million dollars of the City of Fresno’s 2021 budget has been set aside for parks. The youth cheered when Arias announced that marks the biggest allocation to parks in more than a decade.

The parks budget was approved on Thursday with a 7-0 vote.

The council members and other city leaders present will review the requests and recommendations from the summit and the top 10 priorities will be decided in the next 30 days.

“I heard you all today,” said Dyer at closing. “We are going to work with you all, and that’s my commitment to you.”

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