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We Are Not OK, but We Will Go On: Life, Death, a Community Coming Together in the Tower District

IN THE June 1 ISSUE

FROM THE 2013 Articles,
andArts & Entertainment,
andCommunity,
andStrolling The Town,
andTom Sims
SECTIONS

by Tom Sims

Tom Sims has been covering the Tower District and Downtown Fresno for KRL for the past couple of years so we have decided to turn this into a monthly column which will go up every second weekend of the month. We are also adding to the mix articles on Old Town Clovis. We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling Through Town!

“It is not acceptable.”

“We are not OK with this.”

“Think of him as your son.”

These are some of the words we heard as we gathered in a parking lot across the street from the scene of violence to
honor the life of Eric Catlapp Sunday night.

Memorial Service

Eric was an emerging and, in many ways, accomplished filmmaker. He was an active member of the Hashtag and CMAC (Community Media Access Consortium). He was a friendly face in the community, a friend to many, a helpful collaborator, and a loyal friend. He was a neighbor, a son, and a brother.

Eric Catlapp

It was, by all that can be ascertained, a random and senseless act of violence. No one knows exactly what happened or why it happened. Early Friday morning, Eric left the Hashtag for a little while. He returned bleeding and collapsed on the sidewalk near the 24 hour workplace.

On Sunday night, somewhere between 250 and 300 people gathered to remember Eric, denounce violence, and dedicate themselves to taking their neighborhood back. Irma Olguin, owner of the Hashtag, led local business owners to organize the event and spoke on behalf of them all when she said, “We are not OK with what has been happening in the Tower, with what happened to Eric … We are a family.”

Irma Olguin speaking

Since I have started writing this column, I have covered three of those businesses and the vision of their owners along with their passion for their community: The Hashtag, the Succulent Shack, and Café Corazon.

Irma admonished the crowd to stay Tower Strong!

Eric’s father, Mike Catlapp reminded the crowd that God had a Son who had died for them all, but that Eric had never tried to push his faith on anyone. Eric accepted people where they were and for who they were. He was passionate about his work and his community. For that reason, he said, “Don’t lose your community; it’s yours; it’s yours to have, to walk around with your children.

H. Spees

H. Spees, Pastor-at-Large at First Presbyterian Church said, “It is unacceptable, in my community, to have a kid, a young kid or a 32 year old kid, die of gunshot or stab wounds. He then admonished the crowd to do three things:

1. Stand with Eric’s family. Several members of the Catlapp family were present including Eric’s brother.

2. Stand with each other. Stand together in the pain. Don’t deny the pain. We need to grab it and draw it to ourselves in order to find healing.

3. Stand against violence, poverty, and gangs.

4. Stand for peace, for each other, for our neighbors, and for our community.

There was a moment of silence where everyone was invited to enter into their own “faith-space” and exercise their solidarity in the midst of diversity. Then, Spees led a prayer.

Candles were lit. Tears were shed.

One comment from Spees resonated and is reflected in the coming together of the community around the tragedy. In his travels, he has noticed that in times of disaster, tragedy, and violence around the world, there have been fleeting moments of opportunity where communities have been able to coalesce around a common cause to end suffering.

“These times are critical.”

The service was punctuated with beautiful music from a local folk singer, and a violinist. A video retrospective of some of Eric’s work at CMAC was played during and after the gathering.

After the service itself, about 50 people went to the scene of the violence to “purify the space that had been marred, by violence.” They recited a litany of rededication, renouncing the violence, calling upon the help of God.

People lingered, embraced, conversed, and stood around supporting each other.

Businesses reopened.

Hundreds of tributes poured into social media. Below are some links where some of these can be read.

Yvonne Gillingham Schwemmer said, “I am blessed to have met Eric on his way out of CMAC last night – a place I know he loved dearly.”

He gave her enthusiastic introduction to the program and declared that he could be found there almost every night. He made an impression and four hours later, he was gone.

Another member of the CMAC community said that Eric had worked with her on a project recently that had won an award. They were projecting a trip to receive that award and she had been looking forward to a lifetime friendship and collaboration.

In a news release, CMAC said, “Today we learned that one of our kindest, most productive and helpful members, Eric Catlapp, passed away. Eric was so excited about video production that he recently purchased his own camera equipment and was seldom seen without at least one camera and often more. He was a fixture here at CMAC and could often be found hanging around talking with members about projects and new ideas. Eric was always willing to help anyone who needed it and worked for hundreds of hours on his own and other members’ projects. He loved CMAC and was devoted to our mission and our members. We will miss him greatly.”

Eric operated “The Filmakers Workshop,” and was always found working, either at CMAC or editing at The Hashtag. In a recent interview, he expressed his appreciation for Fresno.

“There is a great art and film community here, and this is where I found CMAC [Community Media Access Collaborative]. I was able to co-produce a show called “Live From Fresno.” We aired 22 shows on a local cable channel, showcasing all kinds of talent, like comedians, the NOtown Roller Derby girls, and all kinds of bands and musicians. I’m very grateful to this town and community because the people are amazing — there is so much talent here. And I feel there are no limits to my creativity or what I can do here.”

He then, told of his experience at The Hashtag. “I was introduced to this place by Bryan Harley, who is the operations manager at CMAC. Most days they [CMAC] close down at 6 p.m. After complaining to Bryan that Starbucks closes at 9 p.m. (which is totally lame for night owls like me), he recommended I check out The Hashtag… The problem with CMAC is, there is always something else cool to do there. Here at The Hashtag, I can finish all the projects that I shoot in the field and at CMAC. The internet is fast, and you can work any time, 24/7, on weekends and holidays. Whenever a deadline is closing in, I’m definitely here at The Hashtag. When you’re an editor, you need to sometimes disappear into your own world. You can definitely do that at The Hashtag. There is plenty of deskspace/workspace. I can leave all my stuff out when I use the restroom — you can’t leave your expensive equipment anywhere else, because it may not be there when you get back. You have cameras here, and no one can get in without a security code. Plus, the people are awesome, and very much like family. So you are working in a very safe environment, which really helps and frees you to focus on your project.”

Inside Hashtag

That is how he felt about his community. It is how his community feels about itself. It is the sort of community for which they are willing to take a stand.

Mike Catlapp pleaded with the Sunday night crowd. “Please do not remember him just for the way he died, but for the way he lived.”

Irma Olguin knows that the Hashtag and the other Wishon businesses will go on. They are committed to the safety of their customers as Olguin stated in a news release after expressing deep sorrow at the loss of Eric Catlapp, “The safety of our members is and will continue to be a priority. At no point during these events was the security of The Hashtag breached. In the coming days we will be working with neighboring businesses and the Tower District community to determine whether there is anything that we can be doing to improve safety in our neighborhood. The Hashtag is cooperating with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation.”

The residents of the Tower are determined to keep their community strong and safe.

A concert at The Starline, in Eric’s honor, raised nearly $4000 over the weekend for a program called Tower Patrols. It is a form of Neighborhood Watch with more extensive training and more intense commitment. Linda Whisenant from Free Bird Company said that, “they are a group of Volunteers who are part of the Neighborhood Watch system, but they function on a higher level of training. They have taken it upon themselves to get trained by Fresno PD to patrol the Tower neighborhoods and report any suspicious activity. On a private schedule, they travel through the Tower in cars marked Neighborhood Watch, or on bicycle or on foot. There are currently about 12 people actively patrolling but more are signing up.”

The project is coordinated by Christy Lynn Orozco

Nothing about the tragedy seems to have diminished the determination of the Tower people to remain Tower strong. They will look more carefully around their backs, perhaps walk together a little more closely, and look out for each other a little more, but they will go on. No one will steal their community. They will thrive!

Eric Catlapp’s legacy will not be his manner of death, but the way he conducted his life.

So it will be for all the residents, business owners, and visitors to Fresno’s Tower District.

If you have any information on the Tower District stabbing, you’re asked to call the CrimeStopper’s Hotline at 498-STOP.

Eric Catlapp’s Facebook Page with Tributes: https://www.facebook.com/eric.catlapp

The Hashtag’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/HashtagFresno

Statements from The Hashtag: http://hashtagfresno.com/2013/05/tower-strong-standtogether/ and http://hashtagfresno.com/2013/05/a-hashtag-update-on-a-tragedy/

Statement from Café Corazon: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=530054453707777&id=144425112270715

You can find more of Tom’s Tower District and Downtown Fresno articles here.

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.

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