It’s a rare day when we can watch a newscast and not be overwhelmed with the violence that takes place day after day on the streets of America.
Oftentimes those involved in the violence in our neighborhoods are gang members. The term “gang related” is mentioned as part of nearly every news broadcast. We seem numb to the shootings, drive-bys, and robberies reported by the news media.
We should always remember that the mere presence of gangs in a community is dangerous for everyone, not just the gang members.
I was reminded of this fact this past month with two years-old cases that speak volumes about the innocent victims of gang violence. These cases took years to get through the courts; however, justice was served in the end.
On October 22, 2014, 9-year-old Ximena Meza was shot and killed during a gang shooting in Anaheim. Ximena and her 7- and 5-year-old sisters were playing on the sidewalk in front of their apartment when two gang members drove by searching for rivals. Unperturbed by the presence of children, one of the gang members exited the vehicle. He approached a group of young men and asked the question it seems starts every gang shooting. “Where you from?”
Without waiting for a response, he started shooting. Ximena was shot in the torso. Despite her wound, she gathered her younger siblings and ran back into the apartment. Once inside, she collapsed and died in her father’s arms.
After extensive publicity, the two gang members were identified and arrested. Nearly five years later, on May 30, 2019, they were convicted of her murder. In reaction to some perceived wrongdoing the two defendants started a brawl with each other in the courtroom after the verdict was read. The conviction, while a relief, will bring little solace to Ximena’s family.
In another case demonstrating the viciousness of gang members a man described as a church volunteer and scout leader was shot and killed by gang members after he confronted them about graffitiing walls in the neighborhood.
On July 19, 2015, David Douglas had just gotten home from a Boy Scout camping trip when he and a friend saw two young men tagging a wall with spray paint. Douglas’ friend followed the men on foot while Douglas got his car. The taggers spilt up, with one hiding in a bush and emerging with a bandanna covering his face. The tagger argued with Douglas’ friend, saying, “I own this neighborhood.”
Douglas drove up at that moment. The neighbor got into the car and at that moment they were surrounded by three of the gang members. The gang member who had argued with them had a gun and fired shot after shot into the vehicle.
Douglas was shot twice in the arm and once in the throat. His friend was shot in the arm, shoulder, and the back of his head. The cowards then ran off.
After some brilliant investigating by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and tips from the public, two men were arrested. On May 16, 2019, one of them was convicted of murder and attempted murder. The jury could not come up with an unanimous verdict on the second suspect.
Lives were forever changed because a couple of people decided to stand up to a couple of gang members tagging in their neighborhood.
While the wheels of justice turned slowly in these two cases, we need to remember gangs remain a significant problem for communities and law enforcement. Prevention and intervention are critical in addressing gangs; however, enforcement is a necessary tool and critical for keeping our neighborhoods safe.