By I. smiley G. Calderón | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fresno streets are tough—and deadly. Depending on the neighborhood, drive-by shootings may feel commonplace—unexpected, yet, not entirely unfamiliar. At least that’s how I feel living in District Seven. I hear random gunshots almost every other night. A vicious, fatal drive-by happened just a block from my home not too long ago as if it were a routine occurrence. And innocent bystanders have been mowed down one too many times by these homicidal street sociopaths and their unforgiving guns.
I often wonder if I’ll be next. I constantly look over my shoulder with wary, anxious stares, ready to run at full speed or throw myself to the ground in case the wrong car shows up, spraying bullets. It’s psychologically and emotionally exhausting.
However, I was pleased to learn that violent crime in Fresno has recently taken a surprising downturn. There have been about 50% fewer homicides to date than this time last year. There were 71 homicides in 2021—3 less than 2020—and at our current rate, we’re on track to cut that number in half for 2022. This is a strong testament to the great work the Fresno Police Department has accomplished under the careful, steady leadership of its 23rd chief, Paco Balderrama. He has been instrumental in coordinating multi-agency joint law enforcement efforts that have targeted some of Fresno’s most violent street gangs.
Earlier this spring, the Fresno-area Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC) successfully made 47 felony arrests and seized 30 illegal firearms. Chief Balderrama said this about the combined efforts: “This operation is the largest of its kind in recent history in our state…It has yielded multiple arrests of violent felons, taken many illegal firearms off our streets, helped solve at least three homicides, and stopped half a dozen anticipated shootings that we are aware of, including two potential mass shootings.”
But will this type of proactive policing help our mass shooting problem here in America?
Balderrama continued describing how the operation’s success was rooted in the teamwork of multiple agencies with a single focus. “Strong partnership and collaboration with our state and federal partners is necessary to succeed in bringing safety to our communities,” he explained. “We know all too well the violence affecting our city and what must be done to turn the tide and increase community safety. We thank the California Department of Justice and state partners, our federal partners, and our local law enforcement agencies for playing such a critical role in the success of this operation, but the ultimate credit goes to the faithful men and women who have put in countless hours on this operation by doing this difficult work. Today is your day, and our community is safer for it.”
And it’s not only Fresno city officials who are proud of the progress that has been made against gun violence here in Fresno. California Attorney General Rob Bonta also poignantly praised the recent achievements. “Today, Fresno is safer thanks to collaboration, determination, and swift action. No family should ever have to worry about drive-bys or other forms of gun violence in the neighborhoods where their children live and play. As a result of this joint law enforcement effort, we’re taking guns off the street and putting suspected gang members and their associates behind bars. Together, we’re putting public safety first. Thank you to our partners in Fresno and across the state for working with us day-in and day-out to protect the people of California.”
In late May, Chief Balderrama and his team were at it again as they concluded Operation Safe Neighborhoods, a month-long strategic policing approach to street violence in and around the city, including the surrounding county islands and some parts of Clovis. It ultimately resulted in 288 felony and misdemeanor arrests and the confiscation of dozens of illegal guns. At least one was a particularly undetectable gun known as a ‘ghost gun,’ lacking a serial number, making it untraceable— i.e., unregulated. Anyone can order one online as a ‘gun kit’ and easily assemble it at home. The kinds of people who can’t pass a routine background check are the kinds of people who obtain these kinds of guns. In two recent California mass shootings, in Saugus, 2019, and Tehama County, 2017, the criminals used these ghost guns to shoot dozens of people. Many died because of them, and it’s a serious problem across America, including Fresno.
But who are these ‘bad guys with guns, and what do they look like?
Well, the perpetrators are diverse. Not all of them are Brown and Black gang members, as many would imagine. For example, the horrific massacre on May 14th in Buffalo, New York, where ten innocent shoppers were gunned down, was done by a young White man—a white supremacist who purposefully targeted Black victims. Yet, authorities were able to arrest this shooter peacefully—and without injury. Something that People of Color know all too well would not happen if it were them. But that’s a conversation for a different day.
The point is that now more than ever, white supremacists have become emboldened to commit acts of violence – not just because of their twisted beliefs but also because of their protected, legal, and easy access to weapons of mass destruction in the United States.
So you see, gun violence results from illegal and legally obtained firearms by a broad spectrum of perpetrators.
I think we can all agree that we have a severe gun problem here in America.
The Uvalde, Texas incident at Robb Elementary School on May 24th was just ten days later, rocking the nation at its core. This mass shooting, while shocking and disturbing, was also stereotypically American. A total of 19 children and 2 teachers—dead—coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the original horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, America’s deadliest elementary school shooting. The common denominator problem? Guns. And, access is way too easy. The Uvalde shooter legally purchased his semi-automatic firearms and ammunition.
And there have been more mass shootings since.
You may not be keeping count, but there have been more than 250 mass shootings here in the U.S. since the beginning of the year. (for clarity, ‘mass shooting’ refers to any shooting with four or more firearm-related injuries or fatalities, not including the shooter). In a parallel universe where guns are better regulated or outlawed in the U.S., trigger-happy psychopaths would simply be out-of-luck. These kinds of senseless mass shootings and horrible massacres would become a myth.
Or, as some would suggest, is more guns on the street the answer?
In response to the Uvalde massacre, Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene retorted: “The only thing that Congress should be working on this week is how to stop people from being able to kill kids in school…Now let me tell you: that does not involve gun control. That involves protecting our kids with guns.”
But isn’t that like trying to put out a fire with more fire? Without guns, psychopaths and murderers would be out of the mass shooting business entirely—right? So, removing access to firearms makes more sense than putting one in the hand of every so-called ‘good guy.’
If we didn’t have our streets and stores flooded with firearms in the first place, we’d never have to worry about school shootings. Ever. Simply put, if fewer guns existed, there would be less opportunity for these kinds of criminals to get a hold of them. Other countries don’t experience mass shootings like we do because guns are not readily available; they are prohibited.
In our crazy upside-down modern American society, where profits from firearm sales trump human lives, the real winners today are our heavily-armed unfriendly neighborhood anti-socials and psychopaths. And there is no friendly neighborhood Spiderman to save the day.
Good guys with guns aren’t going to save the day either. In the case of Uvalde, all the guns in the world didn’t do a thing to stop the egregiousness that transpired.
Central Valley pastor, Rev. Samuel S. Colley-Toothaker, Dean of Fresno’s St. James Episcopal Cathedral and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, understands the seriousness of our gun addiction. In a Valley Voices opinion article with the Fresno Bee, he reflects on his substantiated fears of living during such a volatile, vulnerable, and deadly time: “The rash of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States is a public health crisis. It has been for a long time, for decades. It is evil. The cost for the economy is incalculable…No sector of our society has been spared this grotesque violence, and we are all suffering for it. The mental health toll doesn’t just impact those closest to the gun violence. It spreads, like the contagion it is, throughout the community and the nation,” Rev. Colley-Toothaker warned. “The stress caused by this senseless violence is no respecter of age, gender, ethnicity, creed, or political party. This mental health crisis is felt everywhere…The toll in human life and suffering for the victims, their families, friends, and the first responders is abominable. The impact on individual and collective mental health is…well, words fail me…”
There may not be words, but there may be strategies.
Strategies that involve teamwork at the grassroots level, organizing and creating awareness, civic engagement and community dialogue, and discussion with authorities and local business owners. This includes working with our community police departments in sending the strong message to every gun-toting criminal that we won’t tolerate the terrorization of our communities any longer!
But not only that, we need America and all of its corporate interests to know that we Americans don’t need unlimited access to guns. And, we don’t need more guns. We may not have all the answers, but more guns or easier access to them is not the answer to the gun violence problem.
As Chief Balderrama emphasized at the press conference after Fresno Police Department’s very successful Operation Safe Neighborhoods: “We’re not done. We’re not where we need to be…There is still a lot of police work that needs to be done in order to keep our streets and communities safe.”
Now more than ever, criminals with guns need to be held accountable. Like Chief said about increased policing, “You should get used to it.”
We have to get these guns off our streets if we have any hopes of saving them.