Depravity of gang life outlined

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comNovember 15, 2012 

A 90-minute presentation gave some teens and their parents a clear picture of gang life, which inevitably gets members killed or sent to prison, according to police.

Detective Eduardo Solis, who specializes in gangs, spoke to Los Banos Junior High students about choosing to live a gang life and told parents and teachers how to notice early signs. His presentation focused on Norteños and Sureños, which are gangs that originated in prison with the Nuestra Familia and Mexican Mafia, respectively.

"It seems glamorous, doesn't it?" Solis said, pointing to photos of apparent gang members in photos with stacks of cash.

"This is the reality -- this guy got stabbed in the back, some are dead, he's still a gang member even though he's got a dead brother ... "

Solis relayed, in both English and Spanish, the prominence of the colors blue and red and numbers 13 and 14 among those gangs.

Jennifer Barcellos, an English-language development teacher, organized Wednesday's presentation. She said a couple of students in her class have been hurt after making bad choices in the last few years. One student was assaulted at a party after she got drunk, and another boy was shot.

"It just kills me that bad things are happening," Barcellos said, her voice cracking and eyes welling up with tears.

Barcellos said she plans to hold another meeting in coming months.

Gang-related activity has become a concern in Los Banos, with more than 26 percent of all gang-related violence in 2011 involving a gun and more than 12 percent involving a knife. Gun use was nearly triple that of 2010, 9 percent, and knife use was down from 18 percent.

Chief Gary Brizzee said those numbers are down in 2012, in part because of Operation Red Zone, a multi-agency operation spearheaded by the Department of Justice that targeted members of Nuestra Familia.

Of the roughly 500 validated gang members in Los Banos, the largest is the Norteño street gang at about 300, police said.

Brizzee asked students to think about how many retired or old gang members they see around -- not many, if any, was the consensus.

"You and only you live with the decisions you make," Brizzee said.

He didn't let parents off the hook, urging them to stay involved in their children's lives, whether or not they resist or get embarrassed.

Armando Fuentes Sr., a school security guard and baseball coach, said coaches can be part of the effort. He said he pulls youngsters aside who show some of the early signs.

"Coaches, a lot of times, are players' second dad," Fuentes said, "sometimes, their only dad."

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

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