Sunday, March 2, 2008

Local organizes truce among SB gangs


Sunday in the park with Babatunde was billed as an historic event open to Santa Barbara’s rival gang guys, neighborhood folks, politicians, cops and curious locals.
“I’m just really excited,” said Babatunde Folayemi, a few days ago in a phone conversation, before a picnic gathering assembled yesterday at Ortega Park on the city’s east side. “This is a big thing.”
Folayemi, 64, said he’s a former gang guy who grew up in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood. He’s worked with at-risk youths much of his life, he recounted, and knows the gang psyche.

Indeed, he said, he, even engaged in dialogue with the Crips and Bloods outfits of Los Angeles.
“I’m an OG,” he said, “an original gangster.”
Folayemi said the maneuver he pulled off with the city’s East and West Side gangs, engaged in a fierce rivalry — two 24-hour truce agreements — allows them to mix together peacefully.
A third temporary agreement included Goleta gangs, he said. Yesterday’s event in the park, he said, is without precedent.
“I brokered a peace treaty,” he said. “It’s the first time they’ve signed a truce.” The actual signing event was scheduled for Saturday night.
The truce pacts are the product of about a month of negotiations with what he called gang “elders.”
During a Jan. 31 City Council staff session on youth violence, an SBPD target chart displayed a bull’s-eye representing about 100 older hard core gang members in the city, of whom some had served prison time. They were portrayed as a priority group on which to mount a concerted effort to control gang crime.
Folayemi was director and the No. 2 individual in the Pro-Youth Coalition of the mid-1990s, dedicated to smothering gang violence.
The coalition’s cash, supplied by nonprofits, ran out in little more than three years, effectively ending its work.
He was recently named one of 15 members of a City Hall staff-designed Strategy Planning Committee on Youth and Families focused on fighting gang crime. Its first meeting is March 11.
His view of the coalition is that it was successful in braking gang crime. “Once the coalition started, the violence stopped,” he said.
The SBPD appears to take a different view of gang-related activity in Santa Barbara during the past 15 years, including the three-plus years of coalition activity. From 1992, a year marking a surge in youth violence, through 2007, there were a dozen homicides, Deputy Police Chief Rich Glaus told the Jan. 31 session.
For his part, Folayemi said, most of the violence was instigated by out-of-town gang members.
Two more gang get-togethers are planned using the 24-hour truce system, he said — next Sunday, March 9, at Bohnett Neighborhood Park on the West Side, and at the Isla Vista Teen Center in Goleta, on Sunday, March 16.
To make sure reporters were aware of yesterday’s event, he said he contacted media a few days ago. The only caveat was that no stories were to be released before Sunday.
Covering all of his bases, he said he briefed the SBPD on the happening, and even met with the city’s top cop, Chief Cam Sanchez, last Wednesday. “He wished me luck,” he said.
He made sure City Hall was in the loop, too. Last Monday, he dropped by Don Olson’s office to make sure folks there knew about the gang happening. Olson is the city’s special projects manager.
In the spirit of good will,” Olson said, permits and fees were waived for the three events.
Olson said he passed the information along to the mayor and councilmembers.
Folayemi was elected to City Council to fill out the term of Councilmember Marty Blum when she was elected mayor in 2001. But he was defeated in his reelection effort in 2004.
Gang violence has risen significantly in Santa Barbara, up 68 percent in the past two years, according to police records.
Youth crime exploded into a hot issue in March 2007 following a gang melee on State Street, resulting in the knifing death of a 15-year-old boy. Another gang-related homicide was recorded by police last July on the west side.
With his appetite whetted by a stint on City Council, does Folayemi want to use his at-risk youth activism as a platform for jumping into the mayor’s race next year?
“No comment,” he said.
“I don’t want politics involved” with the truce gatherings, he said.
Apparently, Folayemi did not pull off the truce compacts single-handedly.
He was contacted last fall to work on an anti-gang violence team put together by Fernand Sarrat, 57, a former IBM executive in New York, who has lived in Santa Barbara for the past seven years.
There are more than a dozen individuals working in Sarrat’s Intervention Now program. Included are former gang members who work the city’s neighborhoods, establishing dialogue with at-risk youths and their families.
Three team members, including Folayemi, on the team that hammered out the truce pacts, Sarrat said.
A native of El Salvador, Sarrat finances the operation on a separate track from City Hall’s anti-youth violence efforts. “These are angry kids,” he said in a recent interview. “They have to see a way out of their situation.”
Sarrat said he planned to attend the Sunday picnic with his wife.
There are some individuals in the Santa Barbara community who commend Folayemi for his efforts, but say that his push to bring together rival gang members is not unprecedented.
Matt Sanchez, a former Santa Barbara gang member who owns a Montecito barbershop, said he was involved in working with youths from rival gangs while in the Pro-Youth Coalition. The only difference with Folayemi’s method, he said in a Saturday conversation, is that there was no written truce.
For example, said Sanchez, 48, he brought gang kids together to play football on a neutral field at Bishop Garcia Diego High School in Santa Barbara. He also recalled winter treks with gang teens to the popular Mammoth Mountain ski area. He said he’s still involved with at-risk kids through his All for One nonprofit.
“I’m just a poster child” of guys trying to do something for youngsters, he said. “I can bring in dozens of kids,” now grown men, “who we turned their lives around.” When the coalition was running, he said, “we were a successful program.”
Still, he said, Folayemi is doing good work. “He brings an understanding” of the perspective of young people, he said.
Another Santa Barbara resident, who recalled the work of the coalition, raised questions about Folayemi’s role in putting together the temporary gang agreements. In his view, he said, Folayemi doesn’t have the same neighborhood connections he had in the 1990s when “he was at his peak.”
The individual requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the truces. “If he can do it, more power to him,” he said.
Councilmember Iya Falcone, who planned to look in on the Ortega Park picnic celebrating gang détente, said in a Saturday phone conversation that bringing rival gang guys together is “a great next step” in defusing tensions. “The idea is to keep talking together.”

Ron Soble can be reached at

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