‘Violence is not the solution’: current ex-gang members call for peace

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When Alvin Hayes was a kid in San Diego, his mother told him to go outside and play.

“Now you don’t see any kids going out unless they’re accompanied by their own parents,” Hayes, 62, said.

It’s the consequence of gun violence in many neighborhoods, especially in underserved communities where gangs are a way of life, as Hayes and other men recently noted on a panel.

The group met last month at the Charity Apostolic Church in National City, where they not only called for inter-gang peace, but also spoke about the effects of violence on communities and the need to offer young people with alternatives to gang life. It’s a lifestyle that most men are familiar with. The panel included one gang member and five former gang members.

The July 28 discussion was organized by Shaphat Outreach, a ministry of Charity Apostolic Church. This was part of Shaphat Outreach’s ongoing work to help prevent gang and gun violence.

Authorities say several recent shootings in San Diego were gang-related. Prosecutors say a gunman fatally shot and killed a Little League coach in the Ridgeview/Webster neighborhood on July 17 in a gang-motivated act. In a separate case, San Diego police say a teenager issued a challenge to gangs before a 14-year-old boy was gunned down July 10 on a sidewalk in City Heights.

“We have to teach these kids that violence is not the solution,” said Michael Singletary, a former gang member from southeast San Diego who later worked in case management and customer service for the city ​​of San Diego and who is now retired. Violence, he added, solves nothing.

Michael Whyte, who identified as a gang member in southeast San Diego, echoed Singletary’s comments.

“Peace benefits everyone,” including mothers and sisters who suffer the repercussions of violence, especially when the boys or men in their lives die or land in jail or jail, said Whyte, who works for Pillars of the Community, a non-profit organization that promotes social justice.

Five years ago, Whyte said, he served 10 years in prison for a shooting. Whyte, 44, now thinks of all the time he missed with his mother while behind bars.

Hayes, who left gang life behind and works as an interior and exterior painter, said peer pressure is what sometimes makes kids feel like their only option is to join a gang.

Terry Patrick, 53, a former San Diego gang member and former co-CEO of Break Bread Records, said he followed his brother into joining a gang. “In almost everything he did, I was right behind him,” Patrick said, adding that the gangs provided a sense of unity.

The panelists highlighted various issues in the life of gangs who use young people, including drugs. Some of the panelists said they sold and used drugs while in their gangs; others have not touched drugs.

Now, there are also social networks. Young gang members post on social media and the posts show their location, which sometimes leads to trouble if rival gang members show up at their location.

And the guns. It’s relatively easy for young people to get their hands on guns, the panelists said, adding that in their day, only a few gang members carried guns.

“We used to fight physically,” Hayes said, adding that guns had become more prevalent among gangs in the late ’80s. “Now it seems like everyone has them now.”

He and others added that young gang members revere murders at the hands of their gangs.

“Let’s not glorify any murder,” Patrick said.

Panelists said violence traumatizes gang members and yet sometimes pushes them deeper into gang life. Singletary said he was 14 when his friend was shot and killed in front of him outside the Ocean View liquor store in San Diego’s Mountain View neighborhood – a tragedy that didn’t scare him from the life of gang.

“What it did was make me more dangerous,” said Singletary, 54.

He said he left gang life behind in his mid to late twenties, with the help of a former high school baseball coach who pointed him in the right direction.

Several of the panelists said they just broke away from their gangs one day. Hayes, who spent 31 years in prison for murder, said he had sworn to walk away from gang life after 30 years. He was in prison when the 30-year-old mark arrived and he changed the course of his life.

Panelists said young people need to realize that they too can change their lives. But there are barriers. Hayes admitted that when he was young, he ignored any talk of changing his ways.

Another issue is that communities lack resources and programs to keep young people off the streets, panelists said.

“We want them to put their guns down, but what do we have to pick up?” Hayes asked.

Asadullah Johnson said “economic resources” were his way out of gang life. He called on elected officials to invest more in jobs, mental health treatment and little leagues.

The panel floated the idea of ​​calling for a ceasefire between gangs in certain places, such as churches and schools. Such agreements would be small steps that could lead to bigger changes, Hayes said.

Clyde Price, 44, a former gang member from Southeast San Diego who now owns a clothing company named Footprints, said he takes responsibility for his part in the ‘mess’ – the violence created by the gangs – and wants to help clean up the “mess”. .”

“What are we really doing, if not preventing us from thriving? ” He asked.

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