By Joaquin Palomino
and Kevin N. Hume
Linetta Cooper said she can no longer live in North Richmond, a place she’s called home for 54 years. “You’ve got people riding around with guns,” Cooper said. “I’m ready to move.”
Her remarks came during Sunday service on Sept. 29 at North Richmond’s New Hope Missionary Baptist Church following a recent spate of violence in the neighborhood.
Two days earlier, 30-year-old Rylando Matlock was shot multiple times late at night on Silver Avenue, according to the Contra Costa County Coroner’s office. He died of his injuries Friday morning. Later Friday afternoon, 20-year-old Antonio Tavares Solomon Jr. was shot and killed blocks away from where Matlock was slain, according to the coroner’s office.
Last week’s homicides were the first in North Richmond this year, and they broke a relatively peaceful spell for the small, unincorporated community. Between 2005 and 2010, the 1.5-square-mile neighborhood averaged nearly five homicides a year, according to previous reporting by Richmond Confidential.
Cooper, along with about 30 other members of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of North Richmond, gathered Sunday morning and reflected on the two killings.
Cooper, who lives in public housing in North Richmond, said she is going to apply for a transfer to housing in Brentwood. “I haven’t even been [to Brentwood], I just know they haven’t had any violence there,” Cooper said. “I want to be able to see my grandbabies run around and play, I don’t want to bury them to violence…I’ve buried too many friends already.”
Matlock’s mother attended the service. As parishioners discussed how to prevent future violence, her sobs reverberated throughout the building.
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church participates in the violence-prevention group Ceasefire, which is a partnership between clergy, police and community members. Ceasefire targets people at-risk of committing violent crimes and offers them referrals to services, such as job training and counseling.
“We’re doing everything we can as a church, we march, we protest, and they’re still killing each other left and right,” said North Richmond resident and Ceasefire activist Valerie Duncan.
Throughout her youth, Duncan said she had a similar lifestyle as those she’s now reaching out to. “I’ve run the streets, I’ve carried pistols, I’ve ducked lead and bullet fire, sold dope, I’ve done all of that,” she said.
Duncan’s history allows her to connect to those she’s reaching out to, she said. Still, the recent killings underscore how hard it is to curb violence in North Richmond. “I’m tired of going to funerals. I’m tired of talking to morticians to see if they can fix our loved ones’ bodies up enough for the viewing,” Duncan said, as her voice cracked and tears welled in her eyes.
During Sunday’s service, members of the church discussed ways to prevent future bloodshed. Juana Thomas has lived in North Richmond her entire life. She blamed the lack of services in the neighborhood for the violence.
“The children are misguided, scared, depressed, anxious, because they don’t know what their future holds,” Thomas said. “If we give them something to look forward to, they may feel like they have something to live for besides the streets.”
Thomas added that in recent years, the city of Richmond has invested heavily in community programs. Unfortunately, violent feuds have made some North Richmond residents wary of seeking services in Richmond proper.
“I have family that lives in central Richmond,” including five children who are now adults, “and they don’t even want to come here to go to church with me,” Thomas said. “It didn’t used to be like that. I grew up in central Richmond, was raised in a church in North Richmond, and went to school on the south side, and I could go anywhere without worrying.”
The service closed with a prayer by Rev. Stephen Katzenberger, who called for peace in the neighborhood. “We don’t have to be stuck. We don’t have to hide in the shadows. We can come forth into the true light,” the reverend said during the sermon. “We may have things in us that aren’t right yet, because we’re human. But like a banana, you can peel away the peel and we’re good inside.”
Note: Richmond Confidential is a project of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and a KQED News Associate.