Lack of jobs, few affordable after-school activities and bad
communication between the Latino community and the police are some
of the reasons gangs continue luring many Hollister youth.
Hollister – Lack of jobs, few affordable after-school activities and bad communication between the Latino community and the police are some of the reasons gangs continue luring many Hollister youth.

These were the findings of the second meeting of the Hollister Gang Task Force, held Wednesday night at Calaveras Elementary school, meant to address the ongoing gang problem in the county.

The task force was revived last year, after several years of inactivity, to come up with a community solution to the burgeoning gang problem.

About 100 people – educators, local politicians and members of the community – attended the two-hour meeting.

Community members, many of whom live in the vicinity of the school, spoke of hearing gun shots at night, random vandalism and graffiti on their houses and said the problem has gotten worse in recent years. Mario Murillo, who lives near the school, said he often sees groups of young boys honk their horns late at night and knock on doors of rivals, hoping to start a fight.

“I don’t understand why they can’t get along,” said Murillo, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years. Much of the violence is between recent immigrants from Mexico and Mexican-Americans raised in the U.S., said Murillo.

Two weeks ago, Murillo was awakened by a knock on his door by a policeman inquiring about a fight that had broken out nearby. “I opened the door and saw a bunch of broken beer bottles and yellow tape stretching from my house to another,” he said.

The groups Murillo is referring to are Norteños, comprised of members born or raised in the U.S. and Sureños, made up of newer immigrants from Mexico or El Salvador. In recent years, a third gang has made an appearance in town, the South Market Street or SMS gang, according to San Benito County Marshal Robert Scattini.

“The problem has increased twofold in 10 years,” said Scattini, who is a member of the task force.

Other residents had similar complaints and said they feared going outside at night, but did not necessarily feel protected by the police.

Auxilio Ureño, who also lives in west Hollister, said police used too much violence when confronting her 27-year-old son, Jose, who is on probation.

“They hand-cuffed him and then shot him with a Taser,” she said, adding that he was not resisting the officers who responded. She was also upset that majority of the officers who have showed up in her neighborhood are white and don’t speak Spanish.

Hollister Police Chief Jeff Miller said the police department tries to have at least one Spanish-speaking officer on each shift to respond to such calls, although it does not always happen.

“We are always looking for talented bilingual people to join the force,” he said.

The gang problem has been augmented by increased references to gangs in music, television and clothing as well as inadequate parental education about the warning signs of gang involvement, said Miller.

Police have been a steady presence in west Hollister, but they have also faced hostility because of the historic mistrust of police and authorities in the predominately Latino neighborhood.

“People here don’t talk because they are afraid,” said Loren Garcia, 25. “They are afraid of reprisals, and if they don’t have papers, are afraid the immigration authorities will get them. That’s why only the police’s side is always presented.”

Audience members agreed that a major effort was needed to improve ties between the police department and the community if gang violence was to be curbed. Gangs have been responsible for attempted murders, car-jackings and other crimes in recent months, said Scattini.

About a month and a half ago, police cleaned up graffiti throughout the city as part of an eradication effort and the sections have not been touched, showing that at least that part of the department’s strategy to combat gangs is working, said Officer George Ramirez.

Karina Ioffee covers education for the Free Lance. Reach her at (831)637-5566 ext. 335 or [email protected]

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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