The Housing Chronicles Blog: Urban gangs increasingly re-locating to Central California

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Urban gangs increasingly re-locating to Central California

Gang-related crimes, once confined to the inner parts of larger cities, have in recent years expanded to various suburbs as far-flung from South Central L.A. as the Antelope Valley and the Inland Empire. Now it seems that the numerous small towns and cities that make up California's Central Valley have also seen sharp rises in gang problems that have caught many off guard. This is also an excellent -- if early -- example of the theory that today's suburbs will become tomorrow's slums. Want to jog around your neighborhood wearing a red shirt? You can't do so anymore safely, as that color could be viewed as a taunt. From a story in the LA Times:

Along the 450 miles of the Central Valley, an explosion of gang violence in recent years has transformed life on the wide, tree-lined streets of California's agricultural heartland.

As jobs and relatively affordable housing in the fast-growing region have attracted families from the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas, law enforcement officials say, some have brought gang ties with them, aggravating the valley's home-grown street crime.

"What we are seeing is a migration of gangs from larger cities . . . to more rural areas," said Jerry Hunter, who oversees state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown's anti-gang units. "The gang activity . . . is a huge crisis for those communities."...

Some graffiti cleanup crews in Stanislaus County have bulletproof vests or police escorts. Lifeguards in Turlock no longer sport traditional red or blue swimwear -- those gang colors might provoke gunfire. Schools in many places have adopted anti-gang dress codes, and rumors of impending gang attacks sometimes scare students from classes. Fear has silenced witnesses to gang crimes.

Up and down the valley, task forces have been formed as evidence mounts that street hoodlums are committing homicides, robberies and car thefts and trafficking in drugs. Some communities have taxed themselves to pay for more police. Local, state and federal sweeps have produced thousands of arrests -- but tens of thousands more gang members remain on the streets, authorities say...

The lower end of the valley has long been known as the Mason-Dixon Line of California's major Latino gang rivalry. But now clashes between the Sureños, or southerners, and the Norteños, northerners, have migrated through the state.

"In the eastern part of the county, families are moving in from the L.A. basin," said Kern County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Whiting. The gang members who come with them, he said, "are small fish there, but they can be bigger fish here."...

Police, school officials and community groups say gang violence cannot be curtailed without prevention and intervention. Some towns teach parents to be on alert for signs, such as red or blue clothing, shoes and handkerchiefs, that their children might be drifting toward gangs. Other towns have stepped up recreational activities to keep youngsters busy...

The Bulldogs have adopted the red theme and menacing mascot of Cal State Fresno's athletic teams, sometimes blurring the visual lines between gang members and others. "An Hispanic group occasionally will be in a compromising position at a mini-market or walking down the street . . . because they are wearing . . . Bulldog-related clothing," said Fresno Police Sgt. Bill Grove. "It poses problems for law enforcement as well. . . . We come into contact with known gang members and they claim they are just fans of the teams."

University officials say they are not about to surrender their mascot to gangs. "By changing our name, it would reward them," said Paul Oliaro, vice president for student affairs...

n the Stanislaus County community of Ceres, an alarming number of reports of shots fired prompted Police Chief Art de Werk to begin keeping count. Last year, more than 160 were logged in the town of about 42,000.

Some people, he said, "are virtual prisoners in their own homes."

Police Sgt. Rick Armendariz of Modesto supervises the Central Valley Gang Impact Task Force, an alliance of local, federal and state agencies that exchange intelligence and keep tabs on gang members on parole or probation.

"Gang members do not heed borders," he said. "Gang members move here but do not cut their ties."

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