By Sharon Byrne and Joel Garcia
Westside gang: you defaced the Cacique underpass Tuesday morning.
You might think you had a bit of fun. Maybe you did it as an initiation. Maybe you did it to mark some turf, and put a rival gang on notice.
It’s highly unlikely that you’d be willing to come and sit down with us and talk about this, but we need to find some way to reach you. Thus, we’re writing to you, from two viewpoints:
– the personal, in the form of an ex-gang member that knows where this path leads
– the collective, from a neighborhood activist working with an area struggling to revitalize itself.
Joel Garcia was a San Diego gang-member, federal prisoner, and now street evangelist. He works to get kids out of gangs, one at a time. I brought Joel in to help the lower Eastside after neighbors there contacted us. The area had been struggling with violence, intimidation, and vandalism for years. A brutal beating death in the neighborhood in late 2010, followed by a stabbing at Art’s market in early 2011 was the final straw.
No one should have to live this way. No one should be afraid to get out of the car to go into their home. No one should have to live with police constantly speeding to their street to respond to the latest 911call. No kid should fear trying to make it to the bus stop just to get to and from school.
Everyone deserves a safe neighborhood. It is our right as citizens of this city.
We worked together with the neighbors to create a safer place. Safety is one of our most basic human needs. The police gang unit moved in, calming things down. Neighbors started a watch, and began clean up efforts. Joel began to work with the kids in the area.
For the past year, it’s been relatively peaceful. The underpass at Cacique opened at the beginning of April, and marked a huge improvement to the area. A neighborhood formerly closed off now had an easy two-block walk to the beach. Families began using it for evening strolls with children and dogs…. enjoying it.
You marred that ray of hope for this area.
We’re inviting you, with this letter, to participate in a conversation, even if only as a fly on the wall to start:
Sharon: While irritated by graffiti, I have often felt wall scribbles were somebody’s way of saying “I was here. I am trying to matter. Somehow.”