Recent shooting sparks another peace walk in southwest Fresno

The Fresno BeeMarch 2, 2014 

Hundreds of people held hands Sunday during the opening prayer of a peace walk that drew a group of pastors and churchgoers into a part of Fresno marked by poverty, neglect and crime.

In response to last week's shooting that killed one man and wounded another, pastors from various churches including Saint Rest Missionary Baptist Church and Rising Star Baptist Church needed fewer than 24 hours to organize the event in southwest Fresno.

Thursday's shooting came on the heels of another incident the preceding weekend. Less than 300 feet from Saint Rest Missionary Baptist Church, a man was fatally wounded during an officer-involved shooting in the Bigby Villa Community. A peace walk after that shooting only brought out about a dozen participants, however.

The diverse crowd gathered outside of Saint Rest, the starting point of their hourlong walk to spread peace, stop violence and create opportunities in the neighborhood.

"There's a lot of beautiful things about this community, but there's also an element of fear," said Jamie Wise, who has lived in southwest Fresno for six years. "The violence needs to stop."

The most recent shooting hits close to home for Saint Rest, because the young man wounded is a cousin of deacon-in-training Walter Hewitt and his wife Betty. The couple said the family is grieving and hopes young people can learn from the tragic event.

"It's a sad thing that this is going on in the world today," Walter Hewitt said. "Kids think a pistol makes them more of a man, they think they're invincible."

Marchers walked a few blocks to the scene of Thursday's shooting. One man led the march shouting "take a stand," while the crowd responded "stop the violence." Once at Lily and Church avenues, the group held a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence. But organizers said it wasn't just for the victims of recent shootings.

"It's for every single life that has been lost in the city of Fresno," said Bryson White, community organizer for Faith in Community. "It's for every city where violence has controlled neighborhoods."

After each person who had lost a loved one raised their hands -- more than half of the 200 people -- the crowd walked back to the church singing "Amazing Grace."

Sunday's walk is part of the Night Walks movement, a coalition of pastors, community organizers and lay leaders who walk the streets of Fresno spreading a message of peace and hope.

Pastor Natalie Chamberlain with the United Christian Church of Fresno said she was very pleased to see how many people showed up, especially since it was planned at the last minute.

"People have been told a story about what West Fresno is, and the folks that showed up today are changing the story," Chamberlain said. "This is a place where dreams will come true."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, daguilera@fresnobee.com or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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