■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
The Hemet Gate Keepers held a special community rally for the public Saturday morning, June 24, at Hemet Christian Assembly Church, which left many Hemet residents incredibly motivated.
“With all of our help – working together, we can make this a safe, clean, economically safe, sound city,” began Mayor Linda Krupa, a Hemet resident for 41 years. “But it takes all of us, and not everyone can do the same job.”
Pastor Steve Norman, founder of the Hemet Gate Keepers, followed with his story, and how he ended up in Hemet.
Norman and his family moved from Minnesota to Hemet in 1999. Looking to make a “fresh start,” Norman and his wife quickly became involved in the church; she playing the piano and he leading worship. Eventually, the pastor of Hemet Christian Assembly (HCA) left, leaving Norman to steer the ship.
Norman would watch the goings-on in Weston Park for months before he walked over and introduced himself, “getting to know” the regular occupiers. He set up in the park one day and grilled burgers and hot dogs for his newfound acquaintances. The church’s feeding program eventually grew to prepare five to six hundred plates a week.
“That was my mission. That was my call in life,” said Norman, despite being advised to step back by both law enforcement and city officials. However, after about two years, Norman said that the people in Weston Park started to get even more out of control, explicit, and violent.
“I started looking at these people and then I recognized that, everything in Weston Park dies,” continued Norman. He said he lost hope after attending funerals, and watching the death persist. “So I just stepped aside for quite a while.”
After being vandalized and robbed by the newer, more hostile crowd that had moved in, Norman sought security for his church. Failing to find it, Norman reached “rock bottom,” ready to leave town about two years ago, but his daughter convinced him to stay.
He then was compelled to purchase a retired police vehicle that he bought in Baltimore, and began patrolling the church’s premises. His new colleague, Jim Lineberger, director of the Hemet Community Pantry, started joining him in his patrols. According to Norman, it was effective. They started with two local doctors, who were violently attacked by the “hostile” occupiers of Weston Park.
“The pastors are the gatekeepers of the city, so I felt that was an appropriate name…but I didn’t know what was in store,” said Norman. “Measure U is not our savior; it’s going to take much more than Measure U to combat the crime that has infiltrated our city.”
The following people were recognized as honorees Saturday morning: Code Enforcement officer Americo Giordano; three officers of Hemet Police Department; Lindy and Cheyenne from Hemet Community Pantry; Prophetic Glory Ministries, a religious organization who recently conducted their own community cleanup; and three Hemet firefighters that responded to an incident in which Norman’s grandson, Abishai, was locked in a hot car. Norman even promised that Gate Keepers would help fund the kitchens at Hemet Fire Stations 1, 2, and 3.
Christian Martinez, a paraplegic man bound to a wheelchair who voluntarily cleans up graffiti around town, was introduced at the end of the rally. He was greeted with thunderous applause from the crowd.
“I’m tired and I’m angry,” said Hemet Police Chief Dave Brown, who showed up out of uniform. “I’m tired of this national—and in some cases, local—dialogue, that says [we are] the problem. I’m tired of it, and it makes me mad. I’m tired of the laws in the state of California that continue to tie our hands.” Brown said that while the criminal element in the City of Hemet upsets him, he is also inspired and encouraged by what he sees every day in the community.
City Councilwoman Karlee Meyer also shared her support by retelling stories about her childhood growing up in Hemet, and Fire Chief Scott Brown highlighted the importance of the people of the community.
“Not to be negative, but to be bashed by The Valley Chronicle newspaper, saying I’m uncompassionate; that I have an agenda – is hard,” said Jim Lineberger. “Here’s what works; it’s not that the homeless don’t want help, it’s not that they chose that lifestyle. We have to educate people…it’s not the food that’s going to help them, it’s the compassion of talking with them.”
“We changed our approach,” continued Lineberger. He claims that after the third night of patrolling, he and Norman started talking about softening their “bad guys” procedure. “This ain’t who we are…we have no agenda.”
As of June 26, Norman said that his organization’s focus will change from security patrols to cleaning up blighted areas of the community.
Starting July 10, and continuing every Monday morning through the summer, the Gate Keepers will allow navigators to suggest areas to clean up, and they welcome members of the community to volunteer. A $5,000 lawnmower has already been donated for their weed abatement services.
To volunteer, call 951-531-1388.