Community and city leaders in San Diego on Thursday announced a series of events they said will engage communities, including youth and gang members, in an effort to promote peace and curb gun violence over the summer.
The effort is part of a campaign dubbed Season of Peace. It will run July 4 through Sept. 5 and will kick off with a barbeque and potluck on the Fourth of July in Mission Bay. Other planned events include roundtable discussions on gun violence and memorials at the gravesites of young men, including victims of gun violence.
As part of the campaign, former gang members will set out to connect with active gang members, asking the latter not to engage in violence and offering resources to persuade them to leave behind the gang life.
Season of Peace comes just after the start of summer, a period in which police say violence spikes, in part because people spend more time outside.
“We’re here to advocate for one thing — and that is to call for peace throughout the city as we enter into the summer,” San Diego City Councilmember Monica Montgomery Steppe said Thursday during a news conference outside the County Administration Center. “We absolutely need peace for our young people (and) for all of the residents of our city.”
City Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera spoke of the impacts of gun violence on young lives. He said youths thrive when they and their communities are supported, but COVID-19 “robbed” them of programs, services and extracurricular activities that had kept them busy.
Elo-Rivera pointed to the city’s recent efforts to invest in young people, including plans to provide $19 million in city funds toward Employ and Empower, a city-run internship program.
San Diego has taken other steps to curb gun violence. Councilmember Marni Von Wilpert noted that the city was the first in the state to ban ghost guns, firearms without serial numbers that are often assembled at home with parts from kits.
The first Season of Peace campaign in San Diego was launched in late 2020 and included an event dubbed Cruise for Peace, a cavalcade in which roughly 150 lowriders and classic cars were driven through Oak Park, Paradise Hills, National City and City Heights. Another Cruise for Peace is planned for this summer.
The last Season of Peace took place between March 19 and April 15.
Bishop Cornelius Bowser, co-founder of Shaphat Outreach, which leads efforts to organize the events, said that during the last campaign held earlier this year there were no fatal shootings and only one shooting that resulted in an injury in Districts 4 and 9. The two City Council districts include neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego, where many of the Season of Peace events are focused.
“We do have a lot of work to do,” Bowser said, “and that’s why we’re launching our Seasons of Peace again.”
He and others said community-led efforts against gun violence are important.
“We are making a difference, and it’s not just the police that can get guns off the street,” he said, adding that his organization, in collaboration with Paving Great Futures, a nonprofit that supports youth, recently helped a young man turn over a ghost gun to police.
Bowser said former gang members are trusted members of their communities and hold the power to engage in meaningful conversations in hopes of preventing or disrupting gun violence.
Among the speakers during Thursday’s news conference were women who spoke about losing family members killed in shootings.
“We definitely need (an end to shootings) in our communities,” said Essie Mae Horne, whose husband was killed in a 2006 home invasion in San Diego’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. At 29, she became a single mother to their two young children.
Horne’s twin brother stepped up and acted as a role model to her children, she said. Then, 10 years after her husband’s death, her brother was shot to death, too.
Maria Gaspar talked about the shooting that killed her 12-year-old nephew, Angel Gaspar Gallegos, during a family gathering last Thanksgiving.
“He had many dreams…” she said of her nephew, who was killed when a stray bullet pierced a backyard fence and struck him.
Gaspar said she experienced survivor’s guilt in the aftermath of the shooting. She asked herself, “Why him?” She said she has tried to overcome her own trauma and anxiety to “keep fighting for those whose voices have been silenced.”
“Together we can end gun violence,” she said. “I will be their voice. Will you join me?”
The Fourth of July event will begin at noon at the Mission Bay Beach Club. For more information about the campaign and other events visit corneliusbowser-gangs.com/no-shots-fired-campaign.