Four years since forming the grassroots group Comunidad 27, Northside resident Arnoldo Hurtado believes the crime that had long plagued his neighborhood — gun violence, drugs, prostitution — has largely subsided.
Comunidad 27 has grown into a multifaceted volunteer effort with around 25 active members, an active Facebook page, regular public meetings and events, crime prevention initiatives, and, more recently, efforts to improve the quality of life along NW 27th Street, where Hurtado grew up and currently resides. On Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon at Franko’s Market (2622 Azle Ave.), Comunidad 27 will host a free public event billed Paint a Mural! Food will be provided by the public-private partnership Blue Zones Project and a local church. Volunteers and staffers from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth will paint the 110-foot mural and hand out free museum passes. The aim of the event is to foster pride among area residents and to connect community members.
The artwork is a “mural of community and inclusion,” Hurtado said. “If we spend more time together, we can solve more issues. The images [on the mural] reflect the culture of the North Side. Hopefully, that excitement translates to the community.”
The grassroots effort began four years ago as a way to address crime in Hurtado’s neighborhood and an alleged lack of interest from the Fort Worth police department, Hurtado said.
“That was the moment we realized that something needed to be done,” Hurtado said. “We could hear domestic abuse occurring. There was fighting and shouting. There were a lot of crazy things happening. We reported to the police, but there wasn’t much being done about it.”
With alleged late responses and little follow-up by police, Hurtado said his family decided to discuss the problem and other petty crime issues directly with neighbors. Hurtado quickly realized that, while area residents were witnessing the same problems, they weren’t discussing it. One early breakthrough came when Hurtado connected with Rosalinda Mendoza, a crime prevention specialist for the Fort Worth police department.
“She was instrumental in getting us organized,” Hurtado recalled. “She gave us advice, like to park our cars in the garage and turn on the porch lights at night.”
Part of his work included overcoming mistrust between the local Hispanic community and law enforcement. In late 2016, dozens of Fort Worth police officers, including Chief Joel Fitzgerald, joined the residents of NW 27th Street for the annual crime-prevention initiative National Night Out.
“That’s when our relationship with Fort Worth police started getting better,” Hurtado said. “People in the North Side have a lot of negative views toward the police. There’s a sentiment that the city doesn’t listen. When we’ve called in the past, they would not respond, or there wasn’t any follow-up. It was really hard in the beginning to get the community to believe that things could change.”
After residents in Hurtado’s neighborhood began taking crime prevention seriously and coordinating those efforts with crime-prevention specialist Mendoza and other police officers, “word got out” that residents were no longer tolerating criminal activity, Hurtado said. He said incidents of break-ins and petty crime have dropped significantly in recent years. I reached out to Fort Worth Police Department for crime statistics over the past four years but was told the data wouldn’t be available in time for this story.
Hurtado’s neighbor, Nancy Sepeda, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, credits the recent community meetings and a new street light with making safety in the area “a lot better.”
There were “a lot of gang-related [robberies] going on,” she said. “We still have some of that here and there. Now that we are watching out for each other here, there has not been” as much crime.
Comunidad 27 is now focused on the revitalization and beautification of the neighborhoods around NW 27th Street. The group regularly collects signatures to take advantage of two city programs that provide free trees for eligible neighborhoods. Recently, and at the behest of Comunidad 27, ESCOS Construction donated time and manpower to pick up trash along NW 20th Street for Earth Day.
The grassroots work has cut down on crime and cleaned streets, according to Hurtado, but infrastructure improvements such as improved street lighting and safe sidewalks lag woefully behind. He said many residents remain frustrated at the lack of information coming from city officials about plans for economic development in the area. Sepeda said she would like to see city officials recognize the progress that has happened under Comunidad 27 and to use the grassroots model to improve neighboring Northside communities.
Councilmember Carlos Flores, whose district encompasses NW 27th Street, said in an email that his office has offered advice and support for the mural.
“I had the pleasure of knowing Arnoldo before being elected to city council,” he said. “Comunidad 27 is an active and upcoming group in the North Side. They are exploring ways to positively impact their neighborhood area.”
Completion of the massive mural project could take a month or longer, Hurtado said. The mural’s central theme is a rendering of North Side High School’s Mariachi Espuelas de Plata. The award-winning mariachi group, whose members recently performed at Carnegie Hall, reflects many of the Northside values that should be championed, Hurtado said.
“I went to North Side High School,” Hurtado said. “I think they’ve done some marvelous things. These are the heroes of the North Side. Mariachi is such an old tradition. The fact that these teenagers have been drawn to this tradition is beautiful and speaks to what people value in this community. These kids are clearly valuing their heritage. The mural is trying to accomplish a lot of things, and we are always looking for heroes.”
Paint a Mural!
7am-noon Sat at Franko’s Market, 2622 Azle Av,