Anti-Gun Violence Advocates Call for Safer Communities During Friday March and Vigil

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All photos by Stephanie Rivera. 

They marched for an end to gun violence, for comprehensive gun control laws and for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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With anti-gun violence signs in hand and a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe leading the way, a group of about 50 marchers made their first stop at Eighth and Chestnut in downtown Long Beach.

A short prayer was said and a bouquet of poinsettias was placed on the floor, along with a battery-powered candle to remember the life of Douglas Jerome Wilson—a 37-year-old black man who was fatally shot June 22 on the 800 block of Chestnut Avenue.

The same was done on Fifth and Chestnut, close to where, on September 7, James Monroe Ratliff was shot and killed. The 34-year-old black was found lying in the driveway of a residence on the 400 block of West Fifth Street.

“We bear witness this day to their lives lost,” said Ricardo Avila, associate director of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, who led the marchers. “We bear witness and say that peace is what must reign in this earth. We leave a poinsettia and candle in his memory. Flowers that symbolize growth even in the bleakest of times, in the winter.”

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The group—made up of partially Willmore area residents—was one half of about 100 members of religious and gun violence prevention groups that marched to the steps of the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse in downtown Long Beach Friday evening to call for safer communities and remember the 28 lives claimed by guns in the city this year.

Avila and his followers began their trek at Drake Park, a place where residents have seen their share of violence. In late October Jesus Pimentel, 22, was fatally stabbed on a street near the park.

“Drake Park is an area with ​​extremely low resources,” said Alicia Carrera, a member of Comunidades con Poder por Cambio (Communities with Power for Change). “People live in small apartments so they need space for children to play, run and jump.”

According to Carrera, while the park serves these needs for the children, it is also the place where gang members congregate.

She recalled a time this summer, during which CPC was running a Be S.A.F.E. Long Beach recreational program at the park, when two individuals passed by them with guns in hand.

“How are we going to help our children live in a peaceful place when around us it is filled with people who are shooting?” Avila said. “If people stop going to parks, it is as if they are leaving an open land and they come here to sow more violence in our neighborhood.”

Avila and his group met up at the courthouse with marchers coming from First Congregational Church.

At the courthouse, organizers led prayers and songs and called out the names of the 28 Long Beach victims as well as the locations of recent mass shootings.

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Rev. Gary Commins of St. Luke’s, one of the march and vigil’s organizers, shared with attendees how gun violence has personally affected him.

Commins spoke of ministering to families whose children committed suicide, were killed by friends or fatally shot by strangers.

“We are divided between people who believe in an absolute right to gun ownership on one hand, and on the other side people who believe in the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Commins said. “We cannot have both. We have to choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

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