Walks for a Peaceful Mission

Mission Night Walks: faith communities in San Francisco’s Mission District who walk the streets, pray, and memorialize lost lives to gang violence and police brutality.

by John Montoya, Elizabeth Carranza, Emma Chiang

With his right hand grasping a golden bell, Father Richard Smith lightly swings it from left to right as an interfaith group walks in unison praying down San Francisco’s Mission District.

Mission Night Walks Produced by John Montoya, Elizabeth Carranza, Emma Chiang

On the second Tuesday and fourth Friday of every month, churches from the Mission District and interfaith groups gather to walk particular streets bringing a presence of peace to a neighborhood with high gang activity and violence. Participants carry signs that read “stop the violence,” stopping along the way to visit certain street corners and alleyways where a great number of crimes have occurred. They say a short prayer in memory of the victim, mourning family and friends and the perpetrator.

“The mission of the Night Walks is “We care, Stop the violence, and What do you need?” Father Richard Smith, the founder of the Mission Night Walks said.

Father Richard Smith speaks to the group about a recent shooting and the gangs that were involved. A group of neighborhood churches gather twice a month to advocate for nonviolence in the Mission District of San Francisco. People of all faiths, walk the neighborhood caring signs that say, “We care”, “Stop the violence”, and “Peace Walks.” They stop at different corners where gang members have been shot and killed in the neighborhood Friday February 27, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang

The interfaith group began its twice a month journey when Father Richard attended a community hall meeting near the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist. The meeting focused on issues of gang violence, gang related shootings and neighborhood safety.

“The topic of violence came up, with either people who had experienced violence or with those afraid to go out at night or come to this church (St. John’s) for events out of fear of violence,” Father Richard said. “We tried to develop some ways to get a hold of the problem, and that’s when the idea of the Night Walks came about.”

With a desire for partnership in standing against violence, Father Richard reached out to multiple churches and faith based organizations in the neighborhood. One church, Grace Fellowship Community Church, with key members John and Sharon Talbott, joined Father Richard in walking, listening and praying in solidarity with the neighborhood.

John and Sharon Talbott, members of Grace Fellowship Community Church and active Night Walk members

Each walk drew more people religious groups and nonprofit organizations who work closely with youth involved with gangs and directly affected by violence. For example, Homey, a San Francisco non-profit organization that focuses on youth development and violence prevention became a partner with the Mission Night Walk. When the staff at Homey attend the Mission Night Walks they share stories of the youth they serve and ways to best support them with resources and positive role models.

“We started to partner with the Mission Night Walks,” said executive director of Homey, Roberto Alfaro. “We’re working on a project called Calles where people from the community go and do outreach on the street for young people and we were doing that (Calles) simultaneously with Mission Night Walks.”

Homey: “Homies organizing the Mission to empower youth.”

Roberto Alfaro, executive director of Homey

A typical route of the Mission Night Walks starts at a local church in the Mission District such as the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist and the walking route changes each time depending on which church hosts.

Click on the Link below to view a route

Recently, the fatal shooting of Amilcar Perez-Lopez 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant shot to death by two plain-clothed police officers on February 26, 2015 on Folsom Street ignited a fire within the Mission District community. The sounds of drums filled the streets as members of the Danzantes Xitalai led the Mission Night Walk and community vigil.

A diverse large crowd gathered on Friday April 24 to fight for the just treatment of Perez-Lopez’s shooting. People held white candles and signs that read “Six shots in the back” and “Justice for Amilcar”, as they peacefully marched down Mission Street and later stopping in front of the Mission District Police Station on the corner of Valencia and 17th Street to explain the private autopsy report of Perez-Lopez.

Dazantes Xitali member Julia Sabory said, Perez-Lopez’s death by police hit the Mission District hard and with a peaceful march individuals would become aware that the violence needs to come to an end.

Julia Sabory, member of Dazantes Xitali

As the groups arrived in front of the Mission Police Station, Father Richard addressed the crowd with the autopsy diagrams demonstrating where Perez-Lopez was shot.

By the end of the vigil, Father Richard and others had a clear message that the violence needed to stop and there needed to be justice for Perez-Lopez and his family living in Guatemala.

Participants of the Mission Nigh Walks will continue to fight for the justice of Perez-Lopez’s family and continuing to walk the streets twice a month for the peace of the neighborhood.

Father Richard Smith, Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist
Mission Night Walk members walk the streets to bring awareness to Amilicar Perez-Lopez’s death Tuesday March 10, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
Mission Night Walk participants gather to pray in front of the Mission District Police Station for Amilicar Perez-Lopez’s shooting by plain clothed police on February 26, 2015 at Folsom Street, near 25th Street. Pastor Sharon Huey from Grace Fellowship Community Church says a prayer Tuesday March 10, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
People participate in a peaceful rally to stand up against the shooting of 20-year-old Amilicar Perez-Lopez’s by two plain clothed police officers on Folsom Street between 24th and 25th in San Francisco’s Mission District on February 26. Perez neighbors, religious leaders, community organizers against police brutality and others marched from Perez-Lopez’s memorial to the Mission District Police station and revealed the results of the autopsy report Friday April 24, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang
(Middle) Julia Sabory, dancer with Danzantes Xitlai, participates in a die-in originated from the Black Lives Matter protests in front of the Mission Police Station with other people who marched for Amilicar Perez-Lopez police shooting Friday April 24, 2015. Photo by Emma Chiang