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Post  Drop Out on Tue May 13, 2008 5:55 pm

...In a move that made police at the time roll their eyes and still makes some gang members laugh, the city at one point installed "Sharkie" and "Cherrieville" signs at the parks, giving something of an official nod to the gangs.

The Sharkie sign even depicted a fierce shark and a number "12," symbols of Pomona 12th Street.

The signs didn't last long, though. Rival gang members drove cars through each others' signs.

"That was the end of that," said Detective Marcus Perez.

Conflicted city

As the gangs evolved, slowly becoming more sophisticated, so did efforts to combat them.

By the tail end of the '70s, the Police Department had organized a gang unit to focus on its mushrooming gang population.

A computerized gang tracking system came in 1984, courtesy of a federal grant, making Pomona one of the first cities in the country to get such technology.

But new gangs competing for territory, the rising popularity of drugs such as crack and the influence of powerful California prison gangs led to the most violent years yet.

"Pomona has always had the gang reputation, but it just really surfaced probably in the mid-'80s with guys trying to claim their territory," said Sgt. Mark Warm.

The black-on-brown violence dating back to the Watts riots rose sharply. The number of gang members and homicides swelled, reaching their height in the late '80s and early '90s.

"It was a lot worse than it is now," said Perez, who heads the department's gang unit. "I think a lot of Pomona's reputation is based on what happened in the past."

Some say one part of the problem began to turn around in 1990, when changes to the way the city elects council members brought attention to long-neglected parts of the city.

Until then, citywide elections meant the large voting bloc in the north side of the city essentially decided who Pomona's lawmakers would be. Suddenly, each newly drawn district got to elect its own representative.

Complaints about the condition of parks, the lack of youth activities, graffiti and the general sense the city didn't care - all things that contributed to children joining up with gangs - now came to light.

Council members would try a number of things over the ensuing years: hosting graffiti workshops, fixing up parks, doling out bits of federal funding to nonprofit groups in each district.

But the new council structure eventually also led to parochialism, where council members became so focused on their individual districts they sometimes overlooked the good of the whole city, said Mayor Cortez and others.

Former Councilwoman Carrizosa said she tried to convince other council members to do something about the gang threat in her district.

"Unfortunately, I didn't see that much interest into focusing on what I was saying," she said.

It wasn't until two teenage boys were shot and killed just outside her Philadelphia Elementary School office in April 1998 that other council members supported a community center and youth programs near the school, she said.

Meanwhile, the efforts of police and community groups had continued to evolve.

In Robison's north Pomona neighborhood, a group of about 25 concerned residents formed a citizen's patrol and with some training from the police, began patrolling the area in cars. Others simply walked through the neighborhood with flashlights at night.

Then-Councilman White got together with the mayor and police chief to arrange monthly meetings with the area's apartment owners.

Until then, problem-causing tenants who got kicked out of one apartment complex would simply move to another one nearby. Suddenly, landlords could begin to identify bad tenants for each other and make sure they stayed out of the area.

"You've got to let these people know you mean business when you're cleaning up the neighborhood," White said.

Down in the Angela-Chanslor neighborhood, a string of homicides in the mid-'90s pushed police to hold briefings in the streets several times a day and station two officers in the area to get a handle on the violence, Warm said.

Across the city, arrests began to get gang members off the streets for long periods of time, he said.

About the same time, religious leaders and community activists began stepping in to organize meetings with gang members, city officials and police, where, similar to "Gang Boy" of old, they formed a truce.

At-risk youth came under the wing of ministers, who helped them develop job skills. Violence waned, but after more than a year and a half of modest success, complacency set it.

"Those years came and went," Cortez said. "The violence went down. People lost interest. Programs lost funding."

Interest and funding, he said, would continue to be major obstacles in the fight.

Pomona Unified School District's flagship effort at gang prevention, the Gang Risk Intervention Program, died when funding ran out around late 2002.

Project LEADS, a nonprofit youth counseling and gang prevention program, has temporarily shut down three times in the last four years.

On the police side, a 2001 audit of the department showed it lacked funding and manpower, officer morale was low and frustration with city officials was high.

While officers say their situation has since improved, the threat continues; one of this year's budget proposals - that the city ultimately rejected - called for cutting the Police Department's staff by 24 positions.

All the while, continuing gang violence - like the murder of two black men by Pomona 12th Street member Tony Barron in 2003 - failed to produce the lasting community outcry that might have made anti-gang efforts more of a priority.

Time for change

CHP Officer Thomas Steiner had just finished testifying in five traffic cases when police say 16-year-old Valentino Arenas, hoping to gain status with Pomona 12th Street, shot him in the head.

Of the hundreds of killings in Pomona's history, the response to this one was unlike anything the city had ever seen.

"As unfortunate as it is, sometimes it takes something terrible like an officer being shot on the steps of a courthouse to mobilize a lot of entities to work together, because a lot of times entities compete with each other," said Councilman George Hunter.

An army of police from 26 agencies across the region descended upon Pomona streets May 3 at dawn.

More than 400 heavily armed and armored officers, with instructions to detain anyone with weapons, drugs or gang paraphernalia, raided 140 homes where gang members on parole or probation were thought to live.

Police arrested 51 in the show of force.

The same day, the California Highway Patrol announced it would loan 35 officers to patrol Pomona, freeing up more Pomona police to fight gang activity.

The state Attorney General's Office, joining in, later sent two gang suppression units to aid in what Police Chief James Lewis said will be a "fairly aggressive enforcement program."

And at three city-hosted forums on gang violence, one in May and two in June, community leaders and residents turned out to call for more gang prevention efforts and more than 100 signed up to be part of a new gang task force.

"If we are going to win the battle of gangs versus the community, the community has to be involved," said Councilwoman Norma Torres. "People want to help right now. If we don't take advantage of that next week or next month, they're going to be less interested in doing something."

But youth workers, gang prevention experts and history itself warn that success will likely prove elusive unless the city's many groups - schools, police, youth programs, churches, residents - unite under a comprehensive strategy, and stay united for the long haul.

"You can put a police officer on every corner of this city and it's still not going to change the culture of where we're at," said Larry Ortega, who grew up in Pomona and now runs a technology training program for youth elsewhere.

John Owsley, who has worked full-time with at-risk youth in Pomona since 1964, said it's going to take commitment from a huge number of volunteers to undo the grasp of gangs that have identified with the city for half a century.

"If it's short-lived, it's not going to work," he said. "The gang members will wait it out. They've already lasted 50 years."

One problem, he said, is there hasn't exactly been a waiting list of volunteers wanting to work with highly at-risk youth. Many who do get involved want to get something out of their service and end up calling it quits when they don't see tangible results right away, he said.

Councilman Dan Rodriguez, who once worked with the school district's Gang Risk Intervention Program, said it's a trend he's seen as well.

"I see a lot of folks who come and go, who say, 'We're here until the wheels fall off the cart,' and then they end up packing," said Rodriguez, who along with Hunter and Cortez is heading up the new gang task force.

The task force, Cortez said, will work to build cooperation between agencies and keep the anti-gang momentum going.

Already, its leaders said several positive steps have been taken or are soon to be taken.

In the last few months, community leaders have met with former gang members and parents of gang members who don't want the next generation of children to follow in their footsteps.

Police, in addition to their stepped-up crackdown efforts, are raising money for computers for the Boys and Girls Club. They've also met with residents to discuss how they can build a stronger relationship with the community.

The city expects to open a new community center in west Pomona this month.

Efforts are continuing with Project Renaissance in the Angela-Chanslor neighborhood, a collaboration between Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona Unified School District and the city to clean up the area and provide training and education to residents.

The Pomona Youth Commission, resurrected by Rodriguez after it fell apart from a lack of interest a few years ago, is back on its feet and meeting regularly.

Youth workers say they're encouraged by the shore-up of attention to the gang problem, but wonder, how long will it last?

Will the community, like Robison with her bullet hole-punctured window, remind itself of the need to build a better future for its youth?

Or will the sense of urgency, as in the past, slowly deteriorate until the next disaster?

"It's my biggest fear," Cortez said. "If there's anything I fear about this, it's that people will become complacent."

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Post  {~Vicente~} on Sat Aug 02, 2008 8:28 am

Cops are doing a terrible job in completely preventin gang activity(which will never happen)

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Post  POMONASUR3CE on Sat Dec 06, 2008 5:35 pm

POMONA - Kneeling at the altar in church, deep in prayer, 17-year-old Jamie Ruiz tells God her secrets every Sunday.

She holds her hands to her face. Tears slip between her fingers and run down her arms.

This is the only place she allows herself to cry. Outside, she must be strong. Survival requires it.

In Jamie's neighborhood, even stop signs bear graffiti with the names of gang members. Most of them belong to her friends.

She lives with her grandmother in the heart of Pomona's gangland, the territory of the city's most dangerous street gang, Pomona 12th Street.

While she is not a gang member herself, Jamie has seen more violence and crime than many see in a lifetime. Her father, a gang member, died in a driveby shooting when she was 3. Soon her mother began prostituting herself to support a heroin addiction. Later a relative molested her. Even in the last year, she has watched friends kill, and be killed.

"It would be so much easier for me to give up on myself and join a gang, like my aunts and uncles," she says, brushing long black hair from her face. "But I don't want my kids, if I ever have any, or my brothers and little sister to ever have this kind of hard life. In some ways, I feel like I'm the only one who wants something different."

Across Southern California, thousands of children are born into similar circumstances. Many pass from broken families to failing schools to jail - or worse.

"It's heartbreaking," said Jose Espinoza, a Los Angeles Police Department detective who has spent 36 years working gang neighborhoods. "Those kids didn't ask to get born into this cruel world."

Nevertheless, gang activity is on the rise nationwide, he said. Gang-related homicides rose 50 percent from 1999 to 2002. And more kids are joining.

"For some kids, joining a gang gives them some sense of family," Espinoza said, "Though many disadvantaged children never join gangs, and either path is ultimately chosen."

For Jamie, choosing the gang life would be the familiar path - blazed by friends and family, and requiring little effort.

"In Pomona it's normal for us to watch our friends die or go to jail," she said. "You just go numb to it."

Born into the life

In some Pomona neighborhoods - and in similar communities throughout the nation - gang affiliations are passed down like old china, and coming of age often involves a tiny tattoo between the thumb and index finger. Tattoos vary depending on the gang.

Experts, whether they be scholars, longtime observers or even former gang members themselves, say it's a vicious cycle: Children are born into communities of crime and violence, become gang members and bring their own children into the same circumstances. Their children in turn inherit the lifestyle.

"Sure, there's a problem here, and there's the same gang problem throughout the Southland," said Pomona Councilman Dan Rodriguez, who was raised in south Pomona. When he was 18, a gang shooting left him wounded.

"These are children growing up in violence and despair. And like Frankenstein these children are pieced together - piece by piece. These children are the disconnects, and they are falling through the cracks. It's up to everyone to admit it and try to change it."

The Pomona Police Department has registered more than 200 members and affiliates for Pomona 12th Street and more than 1,000 gang members throughout the city. There have been 50 gang-related homicides since 1999.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more black youths died in homicides than any other cause. It is the second leading cause of death among young Latinos.

Paradoxically, many join gangs in the interest of survival.

"You've got to have a gun in your hands in south Pomona, that's what the kids around here say," says one former 12th Street gang member. "There's nothing here for these kids but to get caught up in all this madness."

At 52, Jessie, who won't give his last name, is a "veterano," the street word for an old Latino gang member, and has spent most of his life behind bars.

Now he's a churchgoer, attending services at Southern California Dream Center, the same church Jamie attends, just down the street from her house.

Pastor Eddie Banales was a gang member himself, but has now committed himself to helping others escape the life he once embraced.

"Many of these kids only have each other," says Banales, who runs a "Gangs to Grace" program at the church. "They don't see anything beyond their own barrio, and we have to find a way to reach them sooner before they give up everything."

Jamie, he says, is a success story: "Jamie is special. She has found a way to maneuver through the neighborhood and survive."

Jamie's story

Jamie Ruiz sits in her room reflecting her life and hoping for a better future. (Thomas R. Cordova / Staff photographer)
Jamie has few memories of her father - his smile, mostly. What she knows of him, she's picked up from family members.

"Everyone says I have his face," she says. "I get told I look like him all the time."

Her father, a Montclair gang member, died in 1989 in a drive-by shooting on Mills Avenue in Montclair, where he was visiting friends. She and her elder brother, Junior, spent the next six years as transients, living with their mother who was addicted to heroin.

"She would stick that needle everywhere," she says. "In her arm, neck, face, her ass, her toes. It made me sick. I loved her but I hated seeing her that way. I hated her for what she did."

As she got older, maybe 6 or 7, Jamie would break the needles that her mother left behind. She still remembers the snapping sound they made.

Junior took care of Jamie while their mother walked the streets, but eventually he was initiated into his father's Montclair gang.

Jamie was left to sit alone watching television all day, waiting for someone to bring her food. Terrified at first, her lonely days became routine.

Among Jamie's most disturbing memories are the sores her mother developed from dirty heroin needles.

"When I was little I thought my mom was sick and taking medicine," she said. "But her sores were the worst. She would clean them out with a toothbrush. Digging deep into her wounds on her arm. I guess that's because she used dirty needles."

Finally, after almost seven years, a 9-year-old Jamie went to live with her grandmother. Still, Jamie would often see her mother walking down Holt Avenue.

"It disgusted me," she said. "When I'd see her I would turn my head away hoping she wouldn't know it was me."

In June, Jamie's mother was arrested and jailed for drug possession. She was sent to a rehabilitation facility and given one final chance to clean up. If she violates her contract with the court, she will be sentenced to five years in state prison.

"I like it better when she's in jail," Jamie said. "At least she's gaining weight and not using drugs. She's safe there."

After Junior and Jamie, Jamie's mother had three more children, two of them hospitalized at birth due to heroin addiction.

"I never want to be like my mother," Jamie said.

Nito, 10, Angel, 8, and Tiffany, 5, live with Jamie in the custody of their grandmother.

"The reason I've lasted this long is for my grandchildren," Mary Mendoza said. "I know now what my purpose in life has always been, and it is them."

Mendoza, a quiet Latino woman, commands tremendous respect from her family. Her love for her grandchildren is evident when she lies with Tiffany for an after-school nap or plays outside with the boys.

And though her 1940s Spanish-style home is in the heart of Pomona 12th Street territory, she does her best to make it a safe and loving place.

Still, gang ties exist even within it. Jamie's Aunt Mona lives with her husband Carlos in the back guest house. Carlos, a former gang member of Pomona Sur 13, a rival of 12th Street, spent time in prison for dealing drugs.

Now he seems an oldtimer to Jamie and her friends.

"After the age of 30, most kids in the barrio call the older gang members oldtimers, or `veteranos' from the old school," Jamie said. "It's just that you're pretty lucky if you can survive."

Family ties


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