Our View: Something must be done about gangs

April 5, 2013 

The gang-related homicides of three young people last Saturday night in the Atwater area once again brings up the topic of gangs, and what to do with them.

The deaths of Matthew Fisher, 19, Samantha Parreira, 16, and Bernabed Hernandez-Canela, 18, marked the county's deadliest shooting in recent memory. The killer remains at large.

Merced County residents have been confronting the gang issue for years, but we're not even close to winning the battle.

The statistics are appalling. Last year, Merced police made more than 1,000 gang-related arrests. Overall statistics show that 1,862 Merced residents are involved with gangs.

Clearly more must be done to reduce gang membership and activity. Sheriff Mark Pazin and police chiefs in the county's six cities need to ramp up their efforts to make Merced County an uncomfortable place for gangs to operate.

Still, as a community, we need to be proactive, not just reactive. That's going to entail more than relying on law enforcement to fix the problem. Until the culture of violence that produces gang members is changed, the cycle is only going to continue.

Now is the time for policy-makers and community leaders to make violence among young people their No. 1 priority. There should be round-table discussions between local leaders to formulate ideas and actions to break the cycle of violence. A countywide task force to end youth violence would be a step in the right direction.

We applaud those who've already contributed efforts to offer possible solutions. Groups such as Merced's Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force and the local Boys and Girls Club have recognized the importance of reaching out to children at a young age.

This month, the Livingston Police Department is launching its Community Enhancement and Safe Environments program, which focuses on kids in elementary and middle schools, with the hope of steering them away from the gang lifestyle.

We need to expand such programs, and the private sector should do its part to support them financially.

There needs to be a concerted effort countywide to recruit role models -- particularly young men -- to help children set goals and provide a vision of a bright future that doesn't include crime or gangs.

We need more young men like Tunde Osungboye, a 24-year-old resident who volunteers his time every week with children at the Meadows Avenue apartments, in Merced's Loughborough area. It's not uncommon to find Osungboye helping a child with multiplication tables, or gathering volunteers to pick up trash around the neighborhood. We need more of that self-starter, community spirit to take hold among adults, to show children there's a better way.

It's sad to think some families have several generations of gang members. How can we expect an 8-year-old to resist the temptations of gang life when members of his own family are proud of that lifestyle? This depressing fact makes having community role models all the more important.

We clearly need more partners who are active in efforts to eradicate gangs. Local politicians, educators, social workers, members of law enforcement, recreation leaders and community groups need to redouble their efforts to blot gangs from the county's landscape.

It's a dead-serious matter that needs to be addressed right now. Our quality of life is being held hostage while gangs are allowed to brazenly operate.

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