Gang violence is a scourge and blight on the community.
Sadly, it almost always is out of sight, out of mind for many people.Except when it involves kids.
So when a 13-year-old boy is gunned down in cold blood, shot twice in the back, just a few blocks from Santa Cruz’s main tourist area, the level of horror and demand for answers ramps up, as it should.
Never mind that the child, according to police, had gang ties, strange as that may seem for someone so young. Police say that increasingly gangs are going after younger kids, finding fresh recruits within a vulnerable population. The murdered boy, Joey Mendoza, who lived with family on Bixby Street, had attended a local middle school. As of this writing no suspects have been identified, though local law enforcement believes the killers are connected to Watsonville-area gangs.
Joey Mendoza’s distraught mother told reporters her son was not affiliated with gangs — an understandable assertion that goes against what police say is documented evidence that he was. In gang cases, parents are often in the dark about what is going on with their children.
Inevitably, a gang killing in Santa Cruz gets more attention than one in, say, Watsonville. Many Santa Cruz County residents think most gang violence occurs in the South County, and while there is an unacceptable level of gang-related shootings, stabbings and other retribution there, the rest of the county is hardly immune.
On Oct. 16, 2009, 16-year-old Tyler Tenorio was stabbed to death in a gang-related altercation on the streets of Santa Cruz. The resulting community uproar ended up with various promises and pledges to not only crack down on gangs in the city, but to provide alternatives in the form of sports and after-school programs for at-risk kids.
Two men have been convicted of manslaughter in the Tenorio killing, with two more suspects still being sought.
A little more than six months after the Tenorio killing, 19-year-old Carl Reimer was shot to death near a Westside Santa Cruz apartment complex . No one has been charged with his murder. Police believe the shooter was a local gang member who mistook Reimer, who had no known gang ties, for a rival member.
Sentinel files show 13 suspected or confirmed gang killings in our small county since 2010.
As we’ve written on numerous occasions over the past few years, the roots of gang violence run deep and are not easily pulled out. The solutions have ranged from community law enforcement task forces to more after-school programs to better job opportunities for youths to intervention when early signs of gang involvement are spotted. It’s far easier to turn around a gang wannabe than an entrenched banger.
Getting parents, including single moms, to recognize the signs and then to seek help, while ending the culture of denial also is part of the solution.
Even then, it’s an uphill battle. The child killed Wednesday night was shot while returning to his neighborhood from a county schools’ sponsored football practice, according to family members.
In another irony, within moments of the shooting, a gang task force vehicle with police officers from Watsonville and Santa Cruz was on the scene; at least one task force member administered CPR to the victim, to no avail.
Will the community be outraged over the death of a 13 year old who, according to police, was already involved in gangs?
Local history says, for a while. Then public interest will dwindle — until the next time.
This post is the Santa Cruz Sentinel Editorial for Aug. 10, 2012