SJ gang prevention targets kids as young as 6

September 23, 2008 11:58:52 PM PDT
In San Jose there is a new approach to confront the growing level of gang violence; they want to reach young kids before the gangs do. City leaders decided Tuesday night to spend more money on the problem than ever before.

Marie Gonzalez looks like any other mom taking her son to a dentist appointment, but 10 years ago, her life was very different.

"I had a big rose and that was a symbol of my gang," said Gonzalez, a former gang member, pointing to her hand where there was once a tattoo.

The 31-year-old's body was covered in tattoos and she was the leader of a Norteno gang in San Jose.

"I wanted to have a reputation where people were going to be scared of me and I was standing out and if my name was said, people who know would say, 'Wow. I know who that is, don't mess with her,'" said Gonzalez.

She chose to leave the gang life for her children's sake. It's a decision San Jose city leaders hope more gang members make.

"We do have a real serious issue in the city of San Jose," said Mario Maciel, the Gang Prevention Task Force superintendent.

Still, the numbers show the gang problem is getting worse.

Right now there are more than 100 gangs in San Jose. Police think gangs are responsible for 16 out of 33 murders that took place in the city last year. So far this year, 12 out of 23 murders have been gang related.

That's why the council added $1 million to the prevention program on Tuesday night. That means a total of $4 million will be put towards the following areas: educating parents about the gang life style, getting the faith based community more involved, creating more programs for young girls - since more are getting pulled into gangs, and reaching out to children as young as six about the dangers of gangs.

"Little Johnny and little Susie who are only in the first or second graders are flashing signs in class, are coming dressed in particular colors," says Maciel.

That's no surprise to Marie Gonzalez. She saw her first gang shooting at the age of four.

"I want a better education, I don't want that life," says Sabian Gonzalez, a 13 year old.

Sabian Gonzalez is staying away from gangs, even though kids in his family, neighborhood and school are already full-fledged gang members. He's instead choosing after school sports, something else the city now plans to fund a little more.


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