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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 7, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 7   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Survey: spiritual nation awaits Pope
Town hall meetings, choir auditions lead up to Cathedral dedication
St. Anthony Parish
counters church shooting

Gunshots outside the church where a large overflow crowd had gathered to mourn the death of a slain youth. A 13-year-old hit in the foot by a stray bullet. Terrified people rushing inside to escape being further targets. Mothers and fathers flinging themselves onto the floor on top of their children or in-between the pews to protect them.

Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz reflects on his personal experience and its meaning in a special commentary.
Those five minutes of pandemonium the night of March 24 took place during the vigil service for 15-year-old Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez at St. Anthony Church in Oakland. The teen was shot to death March 19 in an East Oakland neighborhood by police officers after he allegedly leveled a .22 caliber rifle at them. They say he was the member of a local gang.

For St. Anthony pastor Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz, those brief minutes interrupting the parish recitation of the rosary “seemed an eternity and they marked me forever.”

For Marisol Preciado, parish council chair, the terrifying incident was a “this is it” moment, the galvanizing event which has propelled parishioners to demand increased police protection and to step up their own neighborhood watch crime prevention actions.

“This neighborhood has been terrified by gang activity, drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes,” said Preciado, a lifelong member of St. Anthony’s and a kindergarten teacher at the parish school. Preciado, who grew up in the San Antonio neighborhood, said it “has never been 100 percent clean and safe, but this incident was the final straw.” The final straw, she reiterated, for a tightly-knit “great neighborhood community, where church members are rooted in their faith, and come to this church, regardless of race.”

On March 26, Father Nieto-Ruiz, Preciado, and fellow parishioner Christy Hogan, an Oakland Community Organization staff person, held an open meeting for the neighborhood to organize around the theme of “Safe Communities NOW!” Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker, members of the crisis response support network from Catholic Charities of the East Bay as well as school, parish and community members attended.

The meeting did not go quite as they had hoped. Their request to Chief Tucker for more continuous police presence at St. Anthony Church was turned down because, as the Chief explained, his understaffed department “is not in the position to have someone in a patrol car parked in front of the church.”

But Tucker did the next best thing. He skipped going to his own parish — Transfiguration in Castro Valley — the following weekend and came to Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s. In a Voice interview at press time, Tucker said that his acting district commander, Lt. Lawrence Greene, also arranged to have seven or eight cruisers in the parish area at various times.

Tucker, who also belongs to St. Patrick Parish in Jackson, said he decided to go to Mass at St. Anthony’s because “it’s important for those who have been involved in traumatic situations to know that there are people who are concerned about them and who want to make things better.” He said he planned to attend a few services on the first weekend in April — although probably not on both days. “I’d like to go to my own parish,” he said.

Asked how parishioners could help the police department deal with crime, the chief stressed the importance of “getting organized and attending regular monthly meetings of the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council,” an organization where people can talk with neighborhood police officers concerning the needs of their community.

Tucker said there is no reason for police to believe there will be more violent traumatic incidents at St. Anthony’s. That one was gang-related, he said. “It’s not likely that we will have opposing gang members in that neighborhood now. “ He does anticipate some retaliation, however, but believes it will happen “much further east in the city of Oakland.”

Catholic Charities also was present at weekend Masses following the March 24 shooting. CCEB Executive Director Solomon Belette, Millie Burns, head of the agency’s new Crisis Response Support Network, and Roy Hammond, director of counseling services, reminded parishioners that Catholic Charities is available to provide crisis counselors at the scene of a crime, hospital or family home.

Hammond told parents about the effects of trauma and how it impacts children. Crisis response volunteers were at the vigil when the drive-by shooting took place, and addressed parishioner concerns at the March 26 OCO meeting as well.

On April 2, CCD parents were given the opportunity to hear a presentation on gang prevention by Julio Escobar, director of Comunidad San Dimas in San Francisco, an ecumenical ministry which works with at-risk youth. Escobar was scheduled to present a history of gangs, their current status in the Bay Area, and give information about firearms, violence and drugs as they relate to gangs.

Father Jayson Landeza, an Oakland police department chaplain and pastor of St. Columba Parish, said that violent incidents around St. Anthony’s reflect an increase in gang activities. According to “on the street information,” there has been an influx of gangs from Central America to the Oakland area, he said. “It’s all about drug stuff.”

As of April 1, there have been 36 homicides in Oakland.

(To volunteer your time and/or talents or to make a donation to gang prevention services at St. Anthony, you can contact Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz at St. Anthony Parish, (510) 534-2117.)


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