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Be aware of gangs in Lincoln

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No one likes gangs. Using Lincoln Police figures, gang members in Lincoln have increased from between 8.7 to 14 percent since June 2009. Forty-six gang members lived here, as of June 2009, according to Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra 17 months ago. That included 40 Surenos and six Nortenos, ranging in age from 14 to early 20s. Now, between 50 and 60 gang members call Lincoln home, according to interim Lincoln Police Chief Joel Neves on Tuesday. Lincoln’s gang problems are thankfully minor, in comparison to bigger cities such as Sacramento and San Francisco. Still, having no gangs in our city should be a priority for both police and residents. Unfortunately, Lincoln has a “hard-core” gang presence since 2004, when Hispanic gangs including the Surenos and Nortenos, expanded here. That’s according to Ibarra, a Lincoln Police officer since 1989. And the interim Neves, a retired Roseville police chief, told The News Messenger last week that he was “surprised” at the abundance of tagging and gang graffiti throughout Lincoln. So how does Lincoln eliminate gang activity? Ibarra credits police prevention and intervention efforts in curtailing gang violence. After a gang shooting in 2007, Ibarra told The News Messenger, his department stepped up prevention and intervention and “turned to activities like PAL (Police Activities League) and Re-Direct.” ReDirect offers alternatives and opportunities to at-risk youth, according to Karen Hernandez, the nonprofit ReDirect’s president. “There are so many new people moving into town, some of whom are experienced gang members,” Hernandez said. “With the economy the way it is, more sophisticated older gang members are moving in to recruit middle school and sometimes fifth-graders. Kids want to be cool and will do stupid things.” “Joey,” a 16-year-old Lincoln High junior and a ReDirect member, said there are five gangs in Lincoln. “They always fight, even in front of the public,” Joey said. “It’s sometimes at school and sometimes in an alley.” When a member wants to fight, according to Joey, “one says something, there are gang signals and more gang members.” He knows between “40 to 50” gang members here. Hanging out all the time, gang members consider each other family, Joey observed. Members join for protection. “If one gets hurt, they have a lot of friends to help them,” Joey explained. While a problem the previous two years, Joey said, gang members are not an issue on campus this year because members who like to fight are no longer at the school. Although invited in middle school to join, Joey said, he isn’t in a gang. He wants to set a good example for his younger brothers and sisters. “Gangs are not a good thing. If there’s a sport or club you can join, do that,” Joey said. “If you’re in a sport, then you’re busy doing something else than being with those bad guys.” Thirteen-year-old “Bill,” a Glen Edwards School seventh-grader and ReDirect member, also stays away from gangs. “They’re people not to play around with,” Bill said. “If you do, if you flip them off, they’ll come after you or one of your family members.” Bill’s friend upset Lincoln gang members. “He said to them, ‘Sur, go to hell,” Bill said. “They were looking for him but his family moved.” Bill literally looks the other way when he by chance sees members. “If you see one, don’t stare at them,” Bill said. “If I stared at one, it’s like putting one down and they’ll retaliate.” He says there are two “real” gangs in Lincoln –“the VNG and SUT.” The others are wannabees, Bill said. “They try to represent but they can’t. The real gangsters aren’t in school,” Bill said. Although young, Bill already knows a lot about how gangs operate. “You can get in with the Nortenos by 14 seconds fighting them,” Bill said. “Surenos, you could go kill someone or just jump in (get butt kicked). Gangs cause trouble, Bill said, “by picking on kids, showing them the wrong stuff like weed.” They also “look for trouble at parties,” according to Bill. It’s sad that these two Lincoln teens know so much about gangs. But it’s also good that they’re aware. Hopefully, the general public will also gain an awareness and demand that we say no to gangs in Lincoln. Even 50 or 60 gang members are too many for Lincoln. Carol Feineman can be reached at carolf@goldcountrymedia.com