Church plans prayer rally in stand against youth violence

Published: Sunday, Apr. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 21, 2013 - 7:39 am

The night that gunfire rang through an apartment complex on 47th Street in south Sacramento County, a Bible study group assembled at a church next door.

It did not take long for the congregation to feel the impact: The aunt of the victims – a 27-year-old paralyzed as the result of his injuries and his wounded 17-year-old stepbrother – is a member of This Is Pentecost Ministries. Her church family moved into action.

Youth mentor Greg Hall visited the older victim in the hospital. Though the man could not speak, Hall prayed over him, and talked about hope for the future.

"I could tell in his eyes – there was so much life left in him," said Hall, 31. "My prayer was, 'God, allow this young man to be an example as far as making a change in his life.' "

In a prayer rally scheduled this afternoon, Hall and other members of This Is Pentecost say they want to inspire troubled youth to rethink their lives and opt for change over violence.

"What we really want to do is reach out to the youth, just letting them know there is another way," said church member Joyce Thompson. "We want to be there for … those that say, 'I'm tired of this type of lifestyle.' "

Pastor Tamara Bennett and her flock are preaching peace at a time of escalating violence in their Fruitridge-area neighborhood.

The shooting at the apartment complex – south of 47th Avenue – was the last of three on April 10 believed to be part of a war brewing between rival gangs, according to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

Late that morning, 25-year-old Alonzo Walsh was fatally shot on the sidewalk of East Nichols Avenue, south of 14th Avenue. About 8:15 that night, a 44-year-old bystander was struck when bullets began to fly in the 3700 block of 46th Avenue. The shooting next to This Is Pentecost erupted about 90 minutes later.

Detectives have not made any arrests in the shootings.

Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Ramos said that detectives have not definitively linked any more crimes to the possible gang war, but that they continue to deal with the "fallout" of the morning homicide.

Ramos declined to name the gangs but said the tension is creating problems in Meadowview, Oak Park and the unincorporated Fruitridge area south of Oak Park.

Detectives suspect the tension between the gangs might be fueled by a series of videos recently posted to YouTube. Though gang members traditionally have made videos boasting of their own exploits, some recent videos have shown men challenging their rival gangs.

In at least one video, gang members filmed at a notable landmark in their rivals' territory, which Ramos, a former gang detective, described as "one of the ultimate forms of disrespect."

"We think that's a huge part of what's keeping it going," Ramos said of the tension.

Sacramento police Officer Doug Morse said his agency in recent weeks has seen an increase in criminal activity involving people with gang ties.

Gang detectives have responded to many of those crimes, Morse said, including the shooting of two people near Franklin Boulevard and Brookfield Drive on Thursday night and a homicide in North Sacramento the next night.

Morse, however, said it is not clear whether those crimes are gang-motivated or whether they involve people with gang affiliations but other motives.

Bennett, who has been the pastor at This Is Pentecost for almost 14 years, said the rising tensions and recent violence near her church provide further reason to take action.

"If they can be bold enough to shoot in our streets, I can be bold enough to pray in our streets," she said.

Bennett and other church members gathered Saturday to pass out fliers in the neighborhood, inviting residents to attend today's rally.

She said two former gang members who overhauled their lives will talk at the rally about their experiences and how those who feel trapped in the street life can break out.

Bennett said the community needs to do more to offer hope and direction to young people who have lost their way. She envisions one day opening a service center next to her church, where people can learn job skills or seek counseling, and law enforcement, in a satellite office, can be a visible presence in the community.

"We can't let the lack of funds stop us from coming together … bringing our best resources together," she said. "The kids aren't stopping. Our jails are still crowded, our courts are still (crowded). We can't stop."

Helping prepare for today's rally was 17-year-old Ali Haynes. She said she and her younger brothers spend a lot of time at the church, often outside. Her request is simple: "I want to feel safe going outside."

The recent shooting on 47th Street called into question her sense of security there, she said. She noted that she once had family living in that complex.

"That's really close," she said. "Anyone could've gotten hurt."

Though Hall, the youth mentor, has hope for the future of the young man paralyzed in that shooting, he wants to see others change their course before something so drastic and life-altering happens to them.

The rally, he hopes, will plant that seed.

"People get in a lifestyle and they think there's no other way," Hall said. "This is an event meant to help the next young man from continuing on in that lifestyle."

PRAYING FOR CHANGE

This Is Pentecost Ministries will host a prayer rally to inspire youth and denounce violence at 4:30 p.m. today at its church, 6489 47th St., Sacramento.

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

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