Free community forum to focus on gang awareness

By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Following a recent uptick in gang-related violence, Lincoln police have scheduled a town forum on gang awareness for Wednesday. The free event, hosted by police, the school and the city of Lincoln’s recreation department, will be held at 7 p.m. in the Lincoln High School Theatre. Discussion topics will include why children join gangs, the importance of community collaboration, identifying gang behaviors and how to get help. Though planners said the event has long been in the works, last month’s crime wave makes the meeting particularly timely. “We’ve had these Sureños and Norteños gang members – it’s the same throughout California and, unfortunately, we have to deal with it in Lincoln,” said Lincoln Lt. David Ibarra, who will speak at the event. Since early March, Lincoln police have handled four alleged gang incidents. On April 15, a 12-year-old suspect and Marcelino Rodriguez, 18, both armed with knives, confronted and threatened a 15-year-old headed to Glen Edwards Middle School, police said. Earlier, on March 10, police arrested the same 12-year-old and two other Lincoln juveniles in a gang-related stabbing at Second and L streets. The victim, a 16-year-old boy, sustained stab wounds to the chest. A 15-year-old boy was arrested March 24 in an assault at Third and O streets that left one teen in the hospital after being struck with a shovel. And on March 3, Lincoln Police officers responded to a fight at Third and D streets between several subjects armed with baseball bats. Joshua Logue, 19, Thomas Soutiea, 18, and a 17-year-old juvenile, all from Lincoln, were arrested and booked on charges including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and probation violations. Ibarra chalked up the rise in assaults to the population increase. “We’ve been keeping gang activity down with suppression efforts, but as our population grows, we realize we need the assistance of the community to keep it under control,” he said. Partnerships are key to making strides against gangs, as demonstrated by the success of the San Jose Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, Ibarra said. “I know San Jose serves a million-plus people, but they have an excellent program in place,” he said. “It’s made them one of the safest large cities in the country.” Esther Mota, of the San Jose task force, will speak about the program’s history and benefits at Wednesday’s forum. In the 1980s, several San Jose neighborhoods were plagued by gang violence and drug use. While local police were able to respond to individual cases, city leaders decided to pilot a more comprehensive program to attack the problem from all angles – combining prevention, suppression, and intervention. They created the task force – a collaboration of private citizens, city, county officials, local organizations, schools, parents, the faith community and law enforcement. Lincoln officials hope to enact a similar program, led by community stakeholders – including city officials, council members and community organizations, Ibarra said. One of those organizations is Redirect, a new nonprofit aimed at providing activities to keep kids busy – and out of trouble. “We’re mostly working with low-income, Latino families in Lincoln, trying to redirect kids – keep them on a good path,” said group spokesman Dave Santos. “We find a lot of kids are left unsupervised. Maybe both parents are working and the kids are home by themselves, and they start hanging out with kids they shouldn’t hang out with.” Santos said the program plans to set up after-school tutoring, help expelled students get back into school and provide translation services between parents and schools. The language barrier is a major obstacle to gang prevention, he said. Because many parents don’t speak English, they avoid communicating with teachers or signing their children up for extracurricular activities like sports leagues. Often times, Santos said, parents move to Lincoln from larger cities to escape gang activity, but don’t realize it follows them. “Kids get here and find kids from a similar gang,” he said. “It’s easy for them to roll right back into it. It’s hard to move away with English as a second language. (Kids) tend to migrate towards kids of the same culture. And if they don’t have a lot to do, they will easily be influenced by the wrong people.” Redirect also provides education for parents – such as how to identify clothing, symbols and hand signs used by gangs – and will be on hand to answer questions at Wednesday’s event. Like Lincoln police, Redirect will rely on partnerships to build strength. “Right now, we’re just starting,” Santos said. “We’re really looking for other resources willing to partner with us, maybe some with the same focus.” Along with Ibarra and San Jose’s Mota, featured speakers will include Lincoln Police Chief Brian Vizzusi, Recreation Assistant Director Mandy Walker, Police Det. Jeromy Henson, and Pastor Dan Beltran.