Police: Outrage over homicides leads to tips

Major leads in recent East Palo Alto killings mark turning point for community, leaders say

After decades of adhering to a "no-snitch" culture, East Palo Alto residents are coming forward with tips about recent murders as they never have before, East Palo Alto police are saying.

That sea change, prompted in part by the June shooting death of 3-month-old Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia, has been crucial to solving murders that have rocked the city since July 13, police Chief Ronald Davis said last week. Within 48 hours, police received several credible tips that led to the identification of three suspects in two killings and a possible connection to a third that occurred July 24, he said.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the willingness to come forward is coming from young people, community leaders said.

"People are drawing a line in the sand and saying they are not going to tolerate this violence. Three homicides in a week is crazy. We should be outraged," Davis said, just days before 19-year-old Kevin Guzman was gunned down outside an East Bayshore Road pizzeria -- the fourth homicide in 12 days.

Davis all but predicted the renewed violence after a July 6 summit of federal, state, county and local law-enforcement agencies, where Davis publicly vowed to shut down the entrenched Norteno and Sureno gangs.

The first of the four homicides occurred a week later. Nineteen-year-old Menlo Park resident Catherine Fisher was fatally shot as she and two others sat in a car. Police said she was not the intended target.

Two East Palo Alto residents, Jabari Banford, 23, and Hugo Chavez, 26, were gunned down July 18 and 19. Then Guzman was killed and an 18-year-old was wounded on July 24.

"How I feel about these recent deaths is certainly disgust," East Palo Alto resident Whitney Genevro, 23, said in an email to the Weekly. "I cannot understand these killers' minds, and how they must not have any love inside of them. I know anger is a strong emotion, but it should never be an emotion that drives the uncontrollable desire to kill a human being.

"I hope others are willing to break their code of silence because they might have information to bring justice to these murders, and we need more people to stand up and do what is right. At my age, we have a great influence on the younger children and teens. If we are good role models, who knows the types of crimes and mishaps that can be avoided?" she said.

Near the spot on East Bayshore Road where Guzman was killed, two young men discussed the city's homicides, including the June 5 death of the infant, Izack. It was a turning point, they said.

"The killing of a 3-month-old baby -- that's just too much," one of the young men, who asked to remain anonymous, said on Monday.

The city's faith leaders said the turn-around goes against decades of ingrained fear.

"Now there are a whole lot more people saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said Rev. Paul Bains, pastor of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ. "In my years of being in the community since 1961, it's not like it was in the past, where people said, 'I don't want to be involved.' The stop-snitching culture has taken a turn.

"Our city has grown socially. People are not tolerating what they tolerated before. What had once not been tolerated by the few is now not being tolerated by the many."

Tips from the community led to the identification of three suspects in the Fisher and Chavez homicides: Christian Fuentes, 20, Jaime Cardenas, 19, and Fidel Silva, 24, all of East Palo Alto. Fuentes was arrested last week for violating parole, police said.

The three have also been implicated in a string of crimes and homicides in Colorado, and police are looking into the possible involvement of one or more of the suspects in Guzman's death. Fabian Zaragoza, 17, was arrested for Izack's killing within hours of the shooting due to tips from the community, police said.

Young people said they are tired of living in fear.

"Friends I know who were once fine walking to and fro in the city have been staying indoors lately for fear of a stray bullet," Tameeka Bennett, 24, said in an email to the Weekly.

"The chief is doing what he can, and I respect and appreciate that -- but I strongly believe that is time for people of faith to stand up against the reckless violence in our community.

"I refuse to be scared to step outside or walk down the street. I live here. This is my community, this is home."

Genevro agreed.

"As a community, especially in the faith-based community, we have to stop being afraid, and start speaking up, and spreading the love of God. ... Parents should worry about whether or not their child will get picked for the varsity team at school, or if their child's grades are good enough to get into a university, not whether or not this is the day they'll get the call to identify their child's body," she said.

Larry Moody, director of the nonprofit Making it Happen for Our Children Promise Neighborhood, which aims to provide cradle-through-college educational help for youth in the Gardens neighborhood, said the mood is definitely changing.

"I had a conversation with eight teens recently, and without a doubt there's a sense of being sick and tired of being sick and tired with the violence," he said.

Operation Cease Fire, which offers social, medical and job resources to gang members who agree to leave the criminal lifestyle, has generated some interest on the street, he said.

"Folks are talking about the program as a way out, which is a good start. Education and jobs are the key. Even gang members will agree," he said.

At a July 21 meeting at The Lord's Gym Community Center, 15 religious leaders discussed ways to stop the recent violence.

Bains said they are taking "Jesus' approach" by going out among the people to communicate their message of hope.

On the city's most inflamed streets, the faith leaders are making contact with known crime perpetrators to talk about ways they can choose an alternate lifestyle.

Other residents are trying to galvanize the community.

On Tuesday (Aug. 2), Moody's group will host National Night Out, a nationwide community-cohesiveness event, with four block parties on Runnymede Street, Joel Davis Park, Newell Road and East O'Keefe Street, event organizer Lisa Moody said.

The City of East Palo Alto will host a town hall meeting with Mayor Carlos Romero and Davis to discuss a summer violence-reduction plan on Thursday (Aug. 4) from 6 to 8 p.m. at East Palo Alto City Hall, 2415 University Ave.

Lisa Moody said last year residents on Runnymede boarded up an unsafe house and did weed abatement to reduce crime during National Night Out.

"We will take back our city one block at a time, if we have to," she said.

Bains said he wishes the media would stop referring to when the city was branded the national "murder capital." That was in 1992 -- nearly 20 years ago, he said. The city has had years of single-digit, steadily decreasing homicide rates. The constant branding does the community a disservice, he said.

But he isn't naive about the current violence, he added. Community leaders will continue to push to solve the underlying causes of the violence, he said.

"Violence is a reaction to something else going on. We are offering parenting classes; coaches are making an impact, teaching conflict-resolution skills. People need jobs. The unemployment rate in East Palo Alto is 28 to 29 percent," he said.

"We will push the community and push getting to know your neighbor.

"One death is too much. Every life is precious. I can't wait until we get to that zero death rate in East Palo Alto. I want it to be in my lifetime. That will be a year of celebration -- and that's coming," he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

Hope it works but the cops arent making it easy. Just this morning i was pulled over cause Im a black male from East Palo Alto. Since alot of crazy stuff has been going on so they are pulling people that fit the profile, lucky me. Cop asked what I was doing? where I was going? and I told him "Im taking my 7yr old son to summer school before I go to work". The cop then said "oh hes in summer school cause he is a problem kid with bad grades aye". WTF I told him my son was top of his class and I have to work during the summer so he is in summer school. My son asked me "why did he say that about me?" I told him dont worry about it and just have fun at school but I could see the anger in my sons face. And they wonder why the citizen/cop communication is barely there. Just cause he is black and in summer school the cop wanted to question my sons intelligence and behavior. But I bet they think little white kids go to summer school to polish their skills. I dont teach my son to hate cops he develops his own opinion of them from his encounters with them. Its like a never ending cycle from generation to generation. Cops built this brick wall dividing the citizens and the police and while some maybe trying to break down that wall other cops are adding more bricks to it.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:02 am

Wow, that was some lousy comment that cop made. Mr. Ironic. I know black men who get pulled over for - you got it - being black. It happens all over. One of them is an ex-cop w/a law degree. He gets pulled over in Mt. View sometimes. Two other men I've worked with, one a drug counselor, one a teacher, have gotten pulled over pretty regularly for "DWB" - driving while black. That's lousy enough. But to have one be mouthy & rude? Unacceptable.

Yes, when I was a kid, since I'm white, my summer school was to polish me - "cotillion", before finishing school ;-) Summer school, summer camp - kids have to be somewhere safe when parents have to work.

Once again, even though we live in the same place, the racial divide is a shocking reminder that my white privilege is just that - a privilege, not something I've earned. I am sorry that this is what your son has been exposed to, due to this guy's snideness & lack professionalism. Hang in there.

Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:08 am

Mr. Ironic

I feel for you and your son and want to try and understand. What was the race of this particular "cop"? If he is judging you by race then we should be able to judge him by his race.

Hopefully, you can teach your son that it is individuals inside the uniform that makes each cop different from each other. There can be "bad cops" and there can also be "good cops", and that they shouldn't all be judged the same just like all black people or white or blue people shouldn't be judged the same.

Hope your son is enjoying summer school.

Like this comment
Posted by Pursue apology
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:40 am

Mr. Ironic, if I were you, I'd pursue an apology from this "officer". Write a letter to community relations or visit them and pursue this in a polite manner. It will demonstrate to your son that this isn't acceptable, and I can't imagine that you won't get some response. Good luck!!! This kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated.

Like this comment
Posted by G TOWN
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2011 at 10:51 am

HOW ANY MURDERS HAVE EPA POLICE SOLVED?Not many at all sorry to tell you.More have went unsolved than solved.What yall need to do is pay people like me and others who lived or from the hood to break the cycle.Create a big brother club.My people will never listen to the system.I PROMOTE PEACE AND WHEN IM AROUND THATS WHAT IT IS.Not saying that young people will take all that im teaching in and turn there life around,but getting someone atention is the point.I hate what goes on in my hood.My blood was spilled in the streets of east palo alto on Jan.2 2010 when J.R. WAS GUNNED DOWN.I wish things were different but the hood has no love.Police need to do there jobs the right way.Humble and mild spirit might help when you guys have an aproach instead of cocky LIKE YOUR BADGES MAKE YOU UNTOUCHABLE.

Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 29, 2011 at 11:56 am

GTOWN is right we need more programs for the youth plus we need people closer to their generation with experience that they can relate to. I worked at a school for group home kids and at risk youth and they respected and listened to me cause I could relate to them.

I cant complain to the police about the police. Ive tried before. Ive walked into the EPA police department to complain about being constantly profiled and my complaint basically was swept under the rug with the lady at the front desk telling a long story about how hard it is to be a officer and to just hang in there. Then I became more of a target. A judge told me I should write my congressman cause I would get bogus tickets and have to appear in his court hella times (losing hours at work) just to get them thrown out due to the fact the cops would never show. They hide behind that badge and gun. The cop this morning who was asain seemed like he was trying to get me to jump out the pocket so he could have an excuse to beat me down, shoot me or arrest me. You learn to roll with the punches. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Mr. Ironic, a name and badge # would go a long way towards correcting the type of behavior you experienced at the hands of this officer. You also know where you were and what time it was when you were pulled over and subjected to racial harassment. Somebody knows who this officer is, and you can bet that this was not an isolated incident. He needs to be removed from public service ASAP.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Mr. Ironic, sounds like you're wise enough to pick your battles. Your story reminds me of the Latino man who recently was targeted by the cops after his home was wrongly raided. It's fine for all of us to suggest you file a complaint, but only you know if that's the best thing for you. Like you said, just rolling w/it is sometimes the best way to go.

When women in my area were systematically being harassed one summer, I confronted the stalker outside my bedroom window late one night & dialed 911 at the same time. Can you believe that one of the arriving cops - a deputy w/the S.O., actually lectured me - yelling at me - about not managing to hold the guy til they arrived? Seriously. I slammed the door in that cop's face because I was so disgusted. But I got a phone call of apology from his sergeant because the other cops could tell I was one angry citizen. Guess what happened to that deputy? He eventually got into trouble for domestic violence. I wasn't going to file a complaint since he was one of our beat officers & who knows? I may have needed his help in the future. It comes down to picking your battles. I wish I could offer you more than sympathy & a bit of understanding.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jul 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Mr. Ironic,

Did this happen in Palo Alto or with East Palo Alto cops?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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