Gang Violence Leaves Phoenix Families Looking For Partnership With Police

South Phoenix residents, who have seen over 20 shootings in their neighborhoods since June, come together to discuss solutions. [Photo by Barrett Westberg]

Multiple shootings in South Phoenix have resulted in the deaths of several children and left others in critical condition over the last month. As a result, frustrated South Mountain community members came together and discussed possible solutions, Tuesday night.

Community leader Melissa Gallegos began the event with a prayer. Later she shared that she lost her son Damion who was the victim of a home invasion. She reached out to At Risk Youth to stop the violence in her area, but they didn’t help. The neighborhood block watch told her that they would have officers patrolling more often, but that only lasted a week. The block watch then installed cameras around the neighborhood, but Gallegos found out later that they weren’t recording anything. Still looking for a solution because none had been offered her, Gallegos asked for answers from the audience.

“What are your ideas? We want more police presence here. We don’t want to defund the police. We have to come together, black, white, red, purple, green, whatever, we have to come together as human beings. We need more police interaction with the community, so we don’t have the mistrust,” Gallegos said.

Children in the neighborhood are being recruited into the local gangs leaving the community in the crossfire. Gallegos felt that if the neighborhoods had more speed bumps, it could hinder those who participate in drive-by shootings. “We need parents to be involved in their kid’s life. Check in on everything. Make sure there’s no contraband, no guns, no nothing. If there is, turn it in,” she said.

State Rep. Walt Blackman said that it isn’t about politics, it’s about life and death. He would like to see a closer relationship between the families and the police. Money that is supposed to go the community is ending up in “someone else’s slush fund,” Blackman said. He quoted that 80% of young black males who end up in prison come from fatherless homes and 87% of violent crimes in the black community are black on black.

He reiterated Gallegos’s point that women of black communities have been “holding up the mantle,” and “it’s only the mother who’s running the homes.”

82-year-old Freddy Harris has coached sports in the community for over 50 years. “If there was a shooting nearby, I’d grab my kid and show him and say, ‘that’s how you get out of a gang.’ It’s time to pull the rags off their heads,” Harris said.

Because of COVID-19, after school programs have been shut down and crime in the neighborhood has gone up. Much of the discussion was about how to change the narrative and mentoring the children who need it most. They agreed that it is not up to the police to raise their kids and all relationships start at home and what they learn follows them to school. The problem is that the parents need to be more involved in their kid’s life.

South Mountain Precinct Commander Nick DiPonzio said that there have been 20 shootings in the neighborhood since June. “You guys have more cameras than we do. We need your partnership,” Diponzio said.

State Representative candidate in LD27, Tatiana Peña, who knew Harris growing up, said that everyone should keep an extra eye out for fatherless homes. No matter the neighbor, she thinks people should introduce themselves. She has walked through her entire district and everyone was friendly with her. “My husband grew up without a father, but he had his community. Every community needs consistency. You never know how you’ll affect someone’s life,” Peña said.