Redeemer Community Partnership is a nonprofit, Christian community development corporation that builds better neighborhoods in South Los Angeles by creating safe, healthy, opportunity-rich communities where children, youth and their families thrive.
Isaiah is skipping preschool today. I kept him home because of an individual who verbally threatened his teachers yesterday. We are fortunate to have a very secure facility, and our teachers are savvy. But after a restless night I didn't feel peaceful about sending him. The person causing problems lives very near the park, and his household was involved with several criminal incidents this fall. Our block club has been working with our LAPD senior lead officer to curb the threat they pose to our neighborhood's safety. But outside of television dramas, stopping perceived bad guys is a slow and fragile process. The policies and bureaucracies that preserve our civil rights sometimes leave preschoolers more vulnerable than we would like.
Ironically, at 10:00am today the LA City Council started debating a proposal to eliminate one of our best tools in neighborhood crime prevention. Richard is at City Hall right now speaking for our community in support of the City Attorney's Neighborhood Prosecutor program. In 18 years of work around public safety concerns, we have often run into the limits of what the police can do. For the past 7 years, the Neighborhood Prosecutor has filled this gap in critical ways. When our community organized to shut down a liquor store on Jefferson we worked with the Neighborhood Prosecutor. When the Raymond Ave block club succeeded in shutting down a crack house it was through the efforts of the Neighborhood Prosecutor. When the neighbors around our tutoring center stopped a bar from opening across the street they worked with the Neighborhood Prosecutor. And the Neighborhood Prosecutor is helping our block club address the latest threats to our children's safety within the local park.
So often the forces that most affect our health and safety are silent and unseen. We did not hear about this city council vote until yesterday afternoon. And amidst the many budget cuts our city is considering, this won't be one to get front page attention. But we who live here remember what it was like to live down the street from a liquor store. We remember what it was like to walk our Adventures Ahead kids past prostitutes and drug dealers on their way to our facility. We remember what it was like to have shootings, stabbings and robberies on Raymond Avenue. And we remember that the relative peace we now enjoy in these places came through hard won victories. These victories might not have been won without this program connecting our community groups to real legal muscle.
Will our park remain a safe place for families to play? Will our preschoolers and their teachers remain unharmed? Will the marijuana distributor around the corner and the liquor stores on Adams and Normandie be held accountable for nuisance activity? Will residents of our neighborhood feel like they can speak, act and organize to bring about change? Much depends on the how our city council votes with regard to this program.
Things to pray for:
Preparations are already well underway for this year's Harvest Carnival. Members of our church and community are coming together as we have in the past to host a huge block party on Raymond Avenue, where hundreds of neighbors can come together on Halloween night to celebrate not darkness or death, but light. Our neighborhood is not a safe place to walk around at night, and families who want to trick-or-treat often have to drive to wealthier areas to do so. More importantly, as we bring in bright lights and bring families out into the street, we are creating a safe space for our community, declaring that at least for one night, neighbors can come together safely.
Although we take many precautions, we cannot actually create a safe space on our own. Last year we planned to hold the carnival on Raymond Ave., but a week before the event, there was a shooting just around the corner. Because the young men involved lived in the area, retaliation was a very real possibility. The carnival was moved a few streets down to Brighton Avenue, and took place without incident, but this reminded us how fragile our sense of safety can be.
Each Sunday at church we have a testimony time when people can stand up and share what they have seen God doing during the past week. Yesterday several people shared amazing stories about real, tangible ways that prayers have been answered and lives have been changed. Two people also shared about two different shootings that occurred in the last week. I was struck by what sometimes appears to be a connection--as spiritual headway is made, violence often seems to intensify as well.
For all of these reasons, it is vital that we pray intensely for the Harvest Carnival. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the . . .spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." As we plan this year's event in the midst of a particularly violent season here in South Los Angeles, would you commit to interceding especially for the Harvest Carnival this month?
Please pray above all for safety and for peace, for an end to this season of violence. We are also praying that God would prepare people spiritually to meet our church at the carnival. In this time of logistical preparations, we are also asking that he would bring many of our neighbors to volunteer, and help us to build relationships as we serve together. Check back for more updates as we get closer to the big day!
Yesterday afternoon I noticed helicopters circling Loren Miller Park again. Isaiah had stayed home sick from preschool, but I felt a kind of virtual dread at how often we are still playing on the slides and swings at this hour. I wondered if any of his preschool buddies were present when whatever the incident was occurred. And how could we possibly be having another incident already?
The helicopters were still circling when I left the house around 2pm. At 6:30pm, when I returned, patrol cars were parked throughout the neighborhood and the sidewalks were crowded with bystanders. It turned out that a group of gang members had opened fire on some people they had just robbed. Again, God's shielded our community from harm. No one was hit, and an LAPD patrol car happened to turn the corner just as the first shots were fired. Officers arrested 5 men who will be charged with attempted murder.
I rejoice in God's mercy that no one has been harmed. But I also feel how precarious life is in a place where bullets fly. The families who live on the corner of Dalton and 27th feel it even more, and one friend has told me, "I don't know if I can live here any more." I would say the same if it were happening in front of my house.
There are some steps that can be taken, ways that neighbors can decrease and prevent this kind of activity. But such work requires time, effort, teamwork and a degree of risk. Last Sunday, the day before the first shooting, Richard and I hosted a block party for community members interested in forming block clubs. This group shared a potluck meal and talked at length with our LAPD senior lead officer. Attendance was 25 adults and 12 kids. About 10 more are interested in block clubs but couldn't make the party.
After our guests left, Richard and I did some fancy junior high math to figure out how many new relationships our block club gatherings have produced. Not counting people who knew each other previously, we estimate the number is about 332. That's a lot of relationships, and could be the foundation for some powerful work in our community!
Would you pray for these new relationships to continue growing, and for trust to develop across the barriers of language and culture and background? And pray that God will lead us in how to address the violence of the last ten days.