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‘I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six.’

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POSTED March 18, 2010 2:02 a.m.
Robert Ortiz is a reasonable man.

He simply wants his family - and others on his street - to feel safe in their homes and in their neighborhood.

That simply isn’t the case.  His problem one day may very well be your problem.

It’s a case of clashing colors. More aptly it involves the colors red and blue which definitely do not mix. His street has become ground zero in a turf war even though there is not a gang member in the immediate neighborhood.

Before you read what has been happening don’t dismiss it as being one of “those” neighborhoods. Ortiz is an honest working man who lives in a nice neighborhood just a way off of East Yosemite Avenue where you will find everything from the squeaky clean Americana image of McDonald’s golden arches to your hometown grocer at Save Mart. This isn’t a ghetto, far from it.

But when it comes to the outlaw behavior of gangs with no respect for anyone else or their property there are no boundaries.

His wife can no longer sleep at night. You tend to get that way when a bullet rips through a fence during gang gunplay about a foot or so from where- inside your home - your husband was sitting when the commotion started.

That incident - which wasn’t the first gang-related tiff on the normally quiet street - brought the Manteca Police running full force as one of the gang members had been shot. Of course, the “victim” wouldn’t talk. It’s the twisted honor of gangs which is anything but honorable. They don’t need the police. They’ll exact justice on their own. Unfortunately too often settling the score usually gets an innocent bystander hurt or killed and ends up terrorizing a neighborhood.

That’s not exactly what Ortiz had in mind when he moved his wife and children to the Family City into a nice home in a nice neighborhood.

The latest incident involved one particular bold gang member who cruised up and down the street trying to intimidate neighbors. To make a long story short, the police came and ended up making an arrest of a gang member who had a weapon.
The neighborhood is quiet - for now.

To say Ortiz is frustrated is a bit of an understatement. He doesn’t have exactly 100 percent confidence that police will be able to protect his family and neighbors.

He probaly doesn’t really care much about staffing issues, other calls that officers may be handling or the fact response times are - by all reasonable judgments - quick in high priority situations. And while police might explain why the law requires them to build up case files that help them document gang members before severe enough steps can be taken to remove them from the streets and lock them away for a good long time, that doesn’t matter much if gangs seem to do pretty much what they want to do in complete contempt of the rest of the community.

That is why when Ortiz spoke before the City Council Tuesday and indicated that a “Dodge City type of mentality” may be developing in his neighborhood our elected leaders really need to take notice.

Ortiz said it best, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six.”

The problem isn’t with the police or the criminal justice system. It is with what we as a community as a whole is letting fester and grow in Manteca by indifference.

Four years ago, Manteca Police Department working in concert with churches and community groups successfully drove back gangs’ growing reign of terror in the Southside Park neighborhoods. There was some type of gang gun play every other day. The tide was turned because of an aggressive team approach that married all municipal services plus enjoyed community groups to take back the park and to also get the message out to young kids that there are alternatives to gangs.

That is still happening in small degrees with weekly summer outreach for teens and youth at Southside Christian Church, the Boys & Girls Club, and Give Every Child a Chance among others. It isn’t enough, though. Ortiz and his neighbors can tell you gangs are alive and well. If they can operate in his neighborhood, they can just as easily invade yours. How soon we forget the most serious gang knifings and shootings in recent years haven’t happened in older neighborhoods but in newer subdivisions when homes were fetching $600,000.

The police need help. The new home building community approached the council and was able to secure a series of meetings with city officials to devise a strategy to help them weather the bad economy.

It’s time for the council to take the  initiative and bring everyone to the table and see how municipal resources - limited as they are - can be used to  turn the tide against gangs not as problems flare up in neighborhoods but over the course of years.

It may be a battle like the war on terrorism - which you can never completely win. One thing is sure, though, if you let the gangs dictate your response and allow conditions where they can intimidate young people out of fear or lack of alternatives to join ultimately the entire city will be under the same siege as the law-abiding citizens have been on Grand Prix Avenue.
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