Sacramento clergy leaders seek tax funds to battle gangs

Published: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 12:17 am

Despite his good grades, his athletic prowess and what his mother described as his "good spirit," DeAndre Ellison couldn't resist the magnetic pull of south Sacramento's gang life.

By the time it lost its luster, it was too late.

"Unfortunately, on his way out, his past may have caught up with him," said his mother, Tamesha Ellison.

On Jan. 19, 2011, the 20-year-old Ellison was fatally shot in a Del Paso Heights drive-by. Two years later, his mother is joining Sacramento's clergy leaders in pleading for an end to such street violence.

"People, this is an urgent alert," Ellison, 36, said at a news conference outside City Hall. "The killings have to stop."

The clergy leaders, who comprise the nonprofit Sacramento Area Congregations Together, held the conference to begin their campaign for a portion of Measure U tax revenue to expand the local Ceasefire project.

The sales tax increase, approved by voters in November, will generate $27 million a year. Sacramento ACT representatives are asking for $2 million of that.

"We know Ceasefire has worked for our community and it can continue to work," said Pastor Pat Rivers of For His Glory Baptist Church in Del Paso Heights. "We cannot, we should not wait until Sacramento reaches even more disastrous levels of violence to make serious investments in this issue."

Created by an epidemiologist in Chicago, Ceasefire is a violence-intervention model that targets gang members who drive crime in communities and offers them services such as education and job training. The program has been duplicated in cities across the nation with measurable results. It began in Sacramento in 2010.

But as the city's Ceasefire partners have suffered budget cuts, the program has suffered. Rivers said that in 2010 and 2011, partners reached out to 113 of the city's gang members. In 2012, they contacted 13. Meanwhile, gang violence escalated, she said.

"We could become a model for the nation in reducing the shootings," Rivers said.

Clergy leaders also expressed support for gun control measures being considered in City Hall, including stricter regulations on firearm dealers and certain types of ammunition.

They also announced that nearly 25 congregations would be participating in the "Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath," a national effort to start conversations in church about the subject.

Ellison stood before the group as an example of the tangible impact of Sacramento's violence. Nervous and barely audible over the scream of passing sirens, Ellison talked about her lasting pain.

"I miss him so very much," she said. "Programs like Ceasefire can help save lives and families to avoid tragedy like mine."

In a later interview, Ellison said her son fared well in school – his favorite subject was math – and that he excelled at multiple sports, gaining the attention of Fox40 sportscasters for his success in Pop Warner football. He had many friends. She thought he'd be immune to the gang turmoil surrounding them in Valley Hi, but he wasn't. She said he lost his way in 10th grade.

But he eventually got married and became a stepfather to his wife's young son. He decided he wanted a better life for himself and got two jobs. He said he wanted out.

Ellison said nobody has told her exactly what prompted the shooting, but it was clear his past played a role. In Sacramento Superior Court, a jury convicted three young men of second-degree murder – they were 20, 17 and 16 years old at the time of the shooting – and found it was committed for the benefit of their Norteño street gang.

Ellison said families and residents need to take a stand against the violence, to do what it takes to stop it.

"It's like the kids are running the community," she said. "I say no. I say no to gangs."

Call The Bee's Kim Minugh, (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter @Kim_Minugh.

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