I just got a call that--while I was at a meeting with Presbyterian pastors about a "Gang Initiative" helping involve churches in these very neighborhoods--there was a shooting. Some rival Norteños came through the Cannondale Lane projects where we are spending more time, saw some former Sureño boys hanging out, and opened fire on them.
I don't think anyone was hit. But there has been a year long break from shootings, and this could ignite a series of retaliations. I am on my way to be present with the guys. I don't know what I'll say or do.
Please pray for God's presence and peace on Cannondale Lane in Mount Vernon, WA today. Bless the boys who were shot at (as well as the shooters) that they can process the fear and anger and not turn to the weapons I hear they are already gathering as I write this.
Thank you for praying yesterday, those who got the message about the potential violence right away.
Good news. I'll write out the story in full.
The way I found out about this volatile situation in the Cannondale Lane projects was through our friend Amy, part of one of our insider apartments in the neighborhood there. She is dating one of our adopted homies in recovery, Porky, and the two of them were at that same Presbyterian lunch, where we prayed for them as our "house of peace" in that area. So within an hour of that lunch, she identified the situation after the fight, texted me the summary of the rival gang's arrival and "rumble" with local boys, and their plots for revenge. Normally, I would find out about these problems too later, days later. Amy dispatched me and put it all together: she managed to invite the furious crew into her apartment to stay safe, and told them I might be coming in, to let me in if I knocked.
I rolled up to the apartment after sending the email to you all, and they peered out the blinds to make sure it was me. Once inside, I talked with four jittery young men in oversized clothing, scars and scrapes all over their faces. One guy, "Mr. Peewee", got out of the shower and showed me massive bruises all over his shaved skull.
We talked about how just as a child who is bored starts hitting another, more mature child, who is busy coloring or doing homework, hoping for retaliation, so these enemies are hoping for some action, because they have nothing going on in their life. I told them they have a lot going on in their lives (some starting school, another entering his daughter's life again), and not to stoop to the "kids games" their enemies want to drag them into.
Then a very simple idea came to me: "Let's get out of here, buy a lot of pizzas, and go to the beach." They all looked at each other to make sure no one thought this was weak or uncool, realized they all wanted to get out of the hot area, and we bounced.
For the next three hours, four homies I hardly know and I drove through farm roads, ate too much pizza, walked the cold Northwest beach on the Puget Sound, and laughed as boys. These kids are young, with a lot to prove to themselves and the world. Mr. Peewee, the leader of the crew, had the typical shades, flannel hoodie, and lack of eye contact. They whispered in Chicano slang about money they were collecting for guns, forgetting that I've probably been involved with gangs longer than they have by now, and I know all the lingo. They were shocked when I told them that there is a WA State mandatory 5-year prison sentencing for a "firearm enhancement" on any crime with a gun. They were speechless when I talked about what it was like the last time I sat with the family of a kid who was shot dead two summers ago, how the mother and girlfriend shrieked and wailed and rocked back and forth.
We kept walking the trails, and sat in a forest near the shore. Three bald eagles swooped through the clearing where we sat, closer than I'd ever seen. Wild bunnies hopped through winter grass and birds bounced along the wild blackberry vines. They admitted they needed jobs, and despaired of a way to legally get an income to support their babies' mamas.
I eventually dropped them off at four separate locations, instead of the projects where they wanted to plan revenge. One homie said in my front seat as he got out, "I'm homeless. My mom kicked me out last week. This is just where I'm crashing right now."
Mr. Peewee's mom was yelling at him on the phone the whole way there, and he insisted he was with a Christian pastor, in Spanish. When we got there, his diminutive mother approached me suspiciously, and grilled me to see if I was really "Christian." "Do you read the Bible?" Of course, in the jail, etc. "When are your services...?" and so on. She wasn't interested in coming. I know when I'm being sized up by a religious parent. She spoke loudly of how naughty her son was, how he wouldn't listen to her about the word of God--all the while he stood mere feet away with his head hung ashamed and awkward. And I thought, No wonder this kid wants to roam the streets and avoid her tirades. No wonder he embraces his identity as bad, malo, the worst.
As she went on preaching to me about pretty legalistic and eternal requirements, I remembered that most MS-13 gang leaders in Guatemala City, an urban pastor told me on my first visit, are sons of fiery storefront evangelical authoritarian pastors. Severe lines between in and out. Harsh consequences. An entire spirituality of being unwanted, eternal rejection and inadequacy. It made me want to consider this connection further.
One kid feels rejected explicitly by getting kicked out, but this kid grows up daily facing the rejection that he is not good enough for his mother, her morals, or her God. I told her I think these guys go where they're loved, wanted. And she could begin to win him back tonight by beating him with big hugs. "Show him more acceptance than his homies, and he's yours," I ended with a wink, and honestly felt pretty awesome. I love seeing a fearful, disapproving parent's gaze change as they look at their son through new eyes for the first time.
So, there's a happy ending this one day, at least. The streets are quiet tonight, and I feel I am part of a network being orchestrated by a larger Love: from Amy, to me, to all of you praying, to how smoothly everything went. It felt too easy. And too fun.
Please pray for these four boys, as embers of pride and gang pressure can be blown back into flame later this week.