More overtime or more murals?
"Their approach is suppression," Coleman Advocates youth coordinator José Luis said of law enforcement. "They get rats; they send in informants. They don't want to use prevention."
Luis knew Ele for eight years and said the latter used to help provide security at drug- and alcohol-free hip-hop shows that cops in the Mission eventually stopped.
"[Ele] on countless occasions jumped into a brawl and stuck his neck out to stop it," Luis said of the events.
Ele, who often performed at clubs in the city with the DJ troupe Urban Royalties, had big plans for his life. He was going to record an album at CELLspace in the Mission once construction of a recording studio was completed there. Then he'd planned to teach young people how to spin and record hip-hop themselves.
THE OTHER APPROACH
CELLspace is a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Bryant Street that has for the last several years served mostly as an outpost for industrial artists. Locals know it best for the acrylic bombs that cover its exterior honoring fallen graf heads and Mexican revolutionaries. The building hosted dance parties for teens in the ’90s, but they were eventually shut down by the city.
By 2003, however, CELLspace had recharged its outreach efforts, slowly building an administrative staff, acquiring grant money, and implementing new after-school programs. Staffers are working with ex–gang members and specifically targeting recent Latino immigrants, who are often recruited by gangs.
"Those of us who sort of grew up in street culture, we have more experience with what could work now," said CELLspace's 25-year-old executive director, Zoe Garvin, who was born and raised in the Mission.
The place is brimming with ideas. There's talk of outfitting a low-rider car with a biofuel engine and solar-powered hydraulic suspension. Staffers are building low-rider bikes and collaborating with other Mission-based groups to teach kids screen printing and break dancing. They even have a class for skaters, but the ramps that quietly appeared a couple of months ago at the Mission Flea Market, across Florida Street on the west side of the warehouse, will soon have to make way for a moderate-income housing complex, Garvin said.
CELLspace, she said, would have applied for Prop. A funding, but is looking elsewhere now. The Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice in early July passed over their $600,000 grant application, which would have funded a street outreach and case management program for 18- to 24-year-olds.
"I think we've done a really good job creating a sanctuary in here," she said. "You have to be careful how you do it. You can't just hire anyone."
While the city eventually found money for community-based organizations through the budget process, it's doubtful the debate over how to take on street violence issues will cease.
"Something like Prop. A," Luis of Coleman Advocates says, "was long overdue." SFBG
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