Young Latinos in California’s Central Valley are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Gangs being the rock and the police being the hard place.
But their troubled lives begin way before they have to face gangs or the police. Most of them come from broken, poor immigrant families that work in the produce fields. And with the severe drought plaguing the state, there hasn’t been much work. The unemployment rate is twice as high as the national average. So by proxy, many turn to gangs.
“It’s about hopelessness, bro,” says Jesse de la Cruz, a reformed gang member from the area with a Ph.D, to Vice, about how gang involvement doesn’t come from being poor. “Look around you, it’s like the Third World, man. People have nothing.”
Those who find themselves even remotely involved with either of the local rival gangs — Sureños, Norteños or any of the related chapters — are led by gang leaders in prison and find trouble fast. They become soldiers who execute orders such as killings and selling drugs.
Once they have to face the police, their troubled lives get more complicated. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Brennan and Lieutenant Froilan Mariscal enforce an injunction established in 2009, b asically a civil action where the city sues the gang for gang-related behavior punishable with jail time. And all the gang activity in the area is the reason Brennan doesn’t offer plea bargains to gang members facing long sentences.
To make matters worse, the city offers very few helpful social programs.
Read more about the long gang history in California’s Central Valley from Vice here.
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