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Family's best efforts didn't keep party safe
Text messaging seen as a culprit in event that took deadly turn
Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, April 2, 2006
Aderian and Afeni Gaines thought they'd found a solution to the problem of kids not having anywhere safe to go, or anything positive to do, on the weekends -- they started hosting house parties for neighborhood youth.
They took pains to ensure the gatherings, which would draw dozens of teens to their south Berkeley home, remained safe. They searched people for weapons, forbade backpacks and purses, and kept a tally of how many kids came from each neighborhood, so as not to upset the delicate balance of turf.
But despite their best efforts, things went horribly awry last weekend when a partygoer fatally shot Aderian "Dre" Gaines after the 36-year-old disarmed the teen and kicked him out of the house.
It was the second time this year a party grew larger than anyone expected before turning violent and leaving someone dead. Juan Carlos Ramos, 18, was stabbed Feb. 11 during an unchaperoned party in the Berkeley hills that drew more than 100 teens.
In both cases, police said the parties simply grew too large as word spread via the Internet and cell phone text messages.
Although police say that the fatalities are anomalies and that they haven't seen an increase in large parties or violence resulting from them, some wonder whether the gatherings are a good idea.
"It's extremely common for word to get around (via text message) when you have no idea whose house it is," said Kaila Harrell, a freshman at Berkeley High School. "Normally, it's no big deal. But if the wrong person finds out, it can all go bad."
Even some who joined the Gaines family in throwing the parties have had second thoughts.
"It was a good idea to try to help kids with those parties, but they let it get out of control," said Ernest Carroll, a longtime neighbor and family friend who chaperoned several of the Gaines' parties. "If they just kept it to 20 to 25 friends, it would have been cool. But you can't have 60 to 70 kids coming from all over Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and everywhere else in the East Bay and expect to stay safe."
Police said Aderian Gaines was shot twice in the chest on March 25 by a teen at the party.
The family told The Chronicle last week that the gunman was part of a group from West Oakland who was denied entry before chaperones relented. Inside, someone saw a pistol tucked into the suspect's waistband and alerted Gaines, who threw the teen out of the house. He returned, shooting Gaines and wounding another person whose name was not released. Police said that there are conflicting reports of exactly what happened just before the shooting but that they are certain who is responsible.
Police arrested suspected gang members James Freeman, 29, and Antonio Harris, 18, Wednesday night. Police believe that Harris was the gunman and Freeman the getaway driver. No one at the party, which was intended only for minors, knew the two suspects, who live in West Oakland, but beat officers there identified Harris based on descriptions partygoers gave Berkeley police.
The party was the fourth the family had hosted since January.
Previous parties went off without a hitch because the Gaines children and their friends would alert chaperones if someone who didn't belong showed up or if trouble erupted, Carroll said. He noted that previous parties had been marred by one fistfight, "and we ended that one quick."
But this party apparently grew too fast and got out of control as word of its location spread via cell phone text messages.
"There were at least 60 people there. I saw at least 20 arrive all at once (about 9 p.m.) but from different directions," said Carroll, whose girlfriend, Natasha Jackson, was the party's DJ. "That house is too small for that."
But Berkeley police weren't worried. They had stopped by a couple of hours earlier after someone complained about the noise. They talked to Gaines and left satisfied that everything was under control.
"The beat officer went and spoke to the Gaineses, and the beat officer thought that they had some thoughtful measures in place," Berkeley police Lt. Mary Kusmiss said. "It was well before the noise ordinance kicks into effect at 10 p.m. There was no reason to shut the party down then."
Even before the Gaines killing, Berkeley police compiled a list of tips for avoiding trouble at parties, Kusmiss said. They include common-sense suggestions like limiting the size of a party and admitting only guests you know.
Oakland police said they support parents who, like the Gaineses, strive to provide a safe environment for teens to gather, but they too advise caution.
"People need to know who is coming to these parties and who their kids are hanging around with," said Officer Roland Holmgren. "Parents should set an upper limit (on attendance) from the beginning and say this number is non-negotiable.
"Most of all, you should just trust your instincts -- if it feels like a party is starting to go in the wrong direction, shut it down."
But others with experience hosting such gatherings question the wisdom of opening your home to large numbers of youth.
Deane Calhoun runs the Oakland nonprofit Youth Alive, which teaches young people how and why to avoid violence. She said house parties -- with or without chaperones -- have long been problematic. All it takes, she said, is one troublemaker.
"Young people will go to parties and act up, and use alcohol or drugs and get in fights," she said. "The things that have changed are that everyone has a cell phone to spread the word quick and that some kids carry guns."
But Youth Uprising, another nonprofit in East Oakland, hosts hip-hop "dance battles" and other contests and has had no major problems. The events have strict rules and many chaperones who insist that the youth center is neutral turf.
"We've had as many as 400 people in here," said board member Jacky Johnson. "It's amazing we don't have more problems. But I think it's because of the culture we keep here."
Security personnel are quick to turn off the music at the first hint of trouble. Respect is given to all, and all are expected to reciprocate. That means that although someone might throw gang signs or call out their neighborhood or city, it doesn't escalate into violence, Johnson said.
"We understand that people are proud of where they are from, and we respect that," Johnson said. "But we also want them to know that when you're here, we're all family. You leave the rest of that outside the center. What we do here works because everyone knows it's a safe place."
The Berkeley Police Department offers these tips for hosting a party:
-- Limit the size of the party to 50 people.
-- Don't promote the party through e-mail or text messaging, and ask guests to respect that.
-- Do not admit strangers.
-- Do not supply alcohol to underage guests.
-- Once guests leave, do not allow them to return.
-- Notify the police immediately if you suspect someone is armed or if there is a disturbance.
-- Alert your neighbors to the party ahead of time. Have a time in mind to shut it down, and stick to it.
E-mail Jim Zamora at firstname.lastname@example.org.