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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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