Stop Killing, Offenders Warned
S.F. Pledges Crackdown On Rival Groups If Attacks Persist
About 30 young men from violence-scarred Bayview-Hunters Point and elsewhere in San Francisco have been told to stop the violence or feel the full weight of law enforcement.
In a Hall of Justice courtroom, the young men identified by police as chronic violent offenders were instructed last week by judges, prosecutors and cops to put down their guns.
The stern message -- aimed in part at ending the feud that has claimed the lives of more than 20 young men in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood -- is part of a new violence-prevention program called Operation Ceasefire, modeled after the praised Boston Gun Project. That program is credited with sharply reducing the homicide rate in that city since 1996.
The young men now on probation or parole were told, "When the next body hits the ground, we will look at the group involved, and everyone here -- police, prosecutors, federal drug, the FBI, probation, parole -- is going to figure out what they can do to sanction the group, and we're going to do it," said David Kennedy, a researcher from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government who crafted the Boston Gun Project.
Kennedy was hired by the mayor's office to try to cut the homicide rate in San Francisco, where 66 people have been slain this year.
'LOTS OF MINOR CRIMES'
"The fact is, these groups are enormously vulnerable to focused law enforcement attention," Kennedy told The Chronicle. "They are selling drugs, they have outstanding warrants, they are routinely violating their probation and parole conditions, they are typically driving unregistered cars, they aren't paying child support, they are carrying weapons when they aren't allowed to, they are committing lots of minor crimes."
The message was delivered Thursday afternoon in two separate sessions. One was attended by young men affiliated with Big Block, one of two groups that have been armed and feuding for several years in the city's Hunters Point projects and adjacent Bayview flatlands. The other was attended by their rivals from the group Westmob.
Previous offenders from the Western Addition also attended because that area has been identified as one of the city's most violent neighborhoods.
Gregg Lowder, director of the mayor's Criminal Justice Council, said Operation Ceasefire is prompted in part by research that found half the homicides in San Francisco "have been connected to violent groups. There are 30 of these violent groups identified."
The program, which also involves social service agencies, employs a carrot- and-stick approach. Those who cooperate will be offered education, job training, substance abuse counseling and other services, he said.
"We are hoping the community really works with us," Police Chief Fred Lau said. "The community has to support our efforts to get some of these folks back in school. We have to get the people from the clergy to help us support the families."
SUCCESS IN BOSTON
When the Boston Gun Project took effect, Kennedy said, homicides of victims 24 and younger dropped by two-thirds in just a couple of months.
"That held for about five years and is edging back up," he said.
Overall, homicides dropped in Boston by about 50 percent, though those numbers are now edging up as well, Kennedy added. Prompted by those increases, he said, Boston is studying how to revamp its program.
Kennedy said that while "the violence (among young people) is concentrated in drug-dealing groups, most of the actual trigger is not business. It's respect issues and personal issues, but those sorts of things become violent."
". . . You sit people down on either side and say what started this in the first place and they don't know. They've forgotten or they never knew in the first place. It's 'Enemies of my friends are my enemies,' and everyone gets drawn in."
NOT UNIVERSAL SUPPORT
Not everyone is enthralled with the program.
Teresa Coleman, executive director of Ujamaa, a tenant advocacy organization in Hunters Point, questions the approach.
"If they can send 20 probation officers to round up these kids for this stop-the-violence meeting, then why can't they give the community 9-to-5 programs giving these young men education and job training?" she asked.
The Rev. Cordell Hawkins, director of the district attorney's victim assistance program, said, "You can haul in a group, but they have to know who's doing the shooting. They have to have proper evidence."
James Garbarino, a Cornell University expert who has written a book, "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them," said the Boston Gun Project's results are so promising that it is really a "good investment" for San Francisco to try and duplicate it.
For his part, Kennedy said he has found young men carry guns because they are scared "and they are right to be scared. In this small active population, they are far more at risk than being in the infantry in Vietnam. . . . One thing they have in common with the police is no one wants deaths. Everyone wants the killing to stop."