Although it's a sensitive topic, I think we should stop tiptoeing around the gang problem in Carson City. It's a problem that involves all of us, and most particularly the local Hispanic community, which accounts for nearly one-fourth of our town's population and suffers more than its fair share of gang violence.
I decided to write this column after reading recent investigative reports on local gang activity, first in the Appeal and then in the Carson Times. Neither report mentioned the words "Hispanic" or "Latino," which is a head-in-the-sand approach to the problem because most of our local gang-bangers are immigrants, legal or illegal, from Mexico and Central America, where some of the most violent gangs are based.
Although I realize that it isn't politically correct to single out Hispanics, I feel that it's time for our city's leaders to confront the gang problem head-on. So even though the PC Police will come after me and call me a racist, the underlying problem is too important to ignore, and the Hispanic community has too much at stake to remain on the sidelines.
I was pleased to note that District Attorney Neil Rombardo has announced an anti-gang initiative called Operation Crossroads. "It's not going to be the schools, the police, the DA's Office or the Department of Alternative Sentencing that does it alone," Rombardo said in the Carson Times article. "It's going to be everybody." So far so good, but where is the Hispanic community in all of this?
The Department of Alternative Sentencing is headed by a very competent and hard-working Nicaraguan-American, Claudia Saavedra, who already handles a heavy caseload. Among the city's other Spanish-speakers is Javier Ramirez, a very low profile "citizen outreach coordinator" who, when asked about increasing gang violence earlier this year said, "They should do something about these problems." But these aren't "they" problems; they're "we" problems, and everyone should be involved, especially the Hispanic community, which is most often the target of gang violence.
Recent incidents have included a January shooting in which members of the Bambino gang fired upon a local sheriff's deputy; a March 17 stabbing at a fast-food restaurant; and a high-speed March 30 car pursuit involving members of the Lima Street gang. Carson's oldest Hispanic gang, the Eastwood Tokers, has also contributed regularly to drug-related violence over the past few years, as have a few biker gangs in our area.
As the father of two adult Mexican-American children, I take this problem very seriously because gang activity smears the reputations of my kids and the vast majority of law-abiding Hispanic and Latino residents of Northern Nevada. Most Hispanics want what everyone else wants - an opportunity to raise their families in a safe and secure environment and to share in the American Dream. After all, that's why most immigrants come to our country. But a few of them come here to cause problems, and local Hispanics should take a stand against these troublemakers.
DRUGS AND GANGS
DA Rombardo said the city's new anti-gang initiative includes a "secret witness" tip line (322-4900) along with stepped-up law enforcement and community education programs. But will Spanish-speakers be able to call the tip line, and will the educational programs be offered in Spanish? Because if not, these admirable programs will miss most of the people in their primary target audience.
A recent Appeal editorial endorsed the DA's anti-gang initiative and opined that the Sheriff's Office should be able to crack down on local gangs without a major budget increase. Well maybe, but what the city really needs is more Spanish-speakers, both in law enforcement and in social services. As the Appeal noted, a secret tip line "allows people to phone in crimes who may otherwise have feared being identified by the criminals." That's a major problem for law-abiding Hispanics: They fear reprisals from violent gang-bangers in their neighborhoods.
In my occasional work as a courtroom interpreter, mostly in Lyon County, I often deal with gang members who are involved in the drug trade. The gangs are usually based in Mexico and Central America and the drugs come into Nevada through Arizona and Southern California. Many of my court clients, so-called "mules" who are recruited to transport drugs, are virtual illiterates in their own language with a sixth-grade education, at best.
As drug trafficking increases, so does drug-related violence, and we now see the evidence of that violence on the streets of Carson City and other nearby cities and towns. It will require the concerted, coordinated efforts of all of us - Hispanics and "Anglos" alike - to combat gang activity and to stem the tide of illegal drugs coming into Northern Nevada.
Mayor Marv Teixeira was right when he said that "gang membership tends to run in families," and now is the time for those families to take responsibility for their children by cooperating with the police to combat the drugs and violence that affect them before their nefarious activities spread to the rest of our shared community.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has been a part-time English/Spanish interpreter in area courtrooms since 1996.