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The rising tide of violence
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I wonder if we’re really safer for having cancelled those service trips to Mexico.  Three separate projects would have taken us there in June and July.  Some of the would-be participants are now attending Manteca High School.  They didn’t do much studying yesterday.  They were evacuated.

Admittedly, things have definitely deteriorated in many Mexican hotspots, as we read now almost daily.  The cartels have a vice-grip on the nation.   

But, having lived four years south of the border, I’m not sure things are all that much safer here.   This has been evident in numerous recent tragedies.

Yet, sadly, my earliest impressions of Stockton were not exactly positive.

Even though two distant relatives are buried in rural cemetery, I never knew this until I arrived in ‘94. What I did know was that, on January 17, 1989, a deranged drifter named Patrick Purdy gunned down five Southeast Asians at Cleveland Elementary School and wounded 29 other students.

I also heard that, on February 7, 1989, Michael Jackson visited the school to demonstrate his sympathy and concern for the families and community.

At that time, I’d recently returned from zones of conflict in Guatemala and El Salvador, and was already leading pilgrimages to Yugoslavia.  There, I would eventually take up residence until moving to Mexico, just before the horrendous five-year war of independence turned the placid meadows of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia into killing fields drenched with blood.

Following a total of over four years in Tijuana, where violence was steadily increasing due to poverty, drug trafficking, and the unique tensions of every border town, I eventually began work near El Dorado and Alpine.

But first, I had lived in the south side, seeing immediate evidence of gang activity, drug abuse, widespread theft, and a disintegrating social fabric.

And I had read that there were 150 documented gangs in Stockton alone.

One day a friend and I intervened in an escalating feud between two rival families — one Black and one Latino — just as the guns were being fetched.  

Children joined in the screaming and the throwing of their toys.  Down the street, white skinheads were moving in, and from the other extreme, Asians.

Someone would have been killed or gravely wounded.  That would have to wait for another opportunity, one which would repeat itself ad infinitum.

One Sunday morning, jogging barefoot around Oak Park, I happened upon a large huddle of agitated people.  They were yelling, “Get him!  Go ahead!  Hit him again!”  Pushing through into the center, I was disgusted to see the object of their sport: two boys, no older than 7 or 8, pounding at each other.  One was black and one was Mexican, as were the families that egged them on.  Just as I grabbed the two, Clarence from the Christian Life Center did the same.  He, a solidly built Black man, and I, an Anglo who’d lived four years in Mexico, began yelling back at the Neanderthals whose thirst for violence was turning innocent children into humanoid pit bulls.

In the context of the social acceptance of more and more violence, in which two men pounding each other’s brains out is entertainment, brutal killing are a necessary ingredient in most movies, and the neighborhood abortion clinic continues tearing live babies out of their mother’s womb while the community collectively covers its ears and eyes, we’ll reap what we sow.

I had just been speaking about a destitute family from Stockton, whose son died Friday morning in a tragic accident, when our painter called from that quiet south of Stockton: “Father: Manteca High School is on lockdown.”

By now, you readers have many more details on the bank robbers who fled to an unoccupied home just north of Yosemite.  As of this writing, one had turned himself in, and the other remained at large, or hidden in the home.

I wanted to head for Manteca, to meet the kids in the park where the parent pick-up station was established, but was called to the hospital for a death.

This young woman, whose unknown father had been a serviceman in 1972, left her behind when the troops were called home from Vietnam.  Unable to come to her daughter’s bedside, the distressed mother had to learn, by telephone, of her daughter’s long fight with cancer, and her passing away.

Friday, the family whose son had died attended a long Mass honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which the whole community prayed for them.

It was a sacred ceremony in which the cruelty of death was overcome by the gentle prayerful caring of people of faith.  We surrounded the broken family with the healing love of Jesus Christ, and the Lord blessed them all.

Returning to my room to write this article at 10 p.m., I found this note taped to my door: “Hello Father!  I came to the funeral of (young person’s name) who was killed last Saturday here in Stockton due to gun violence.  He was 24 years old.  His mother is my first cousin.  Please remember this family in your prayers.  They’re hurting! …I came to St. Mary’s after the funeral to pray.  God bless you.  Teresa” (from Sonoma, near Santa Rosa).

We’ve heard it all in the last few months: kidnappings, torture, sexual slavery, unthinkable and inhumane atrocities carried on day after day in our own community back yards.  How we got here in beyond me.  I’ll have to go back and study the Bible again, from Genesis to Revelation, in which the pervasive tendency of humans to violence is so painfully portrayed.  In doing so, I’m going back to the solutions, too.  We all need to do the same.

In the end, there is no real or lasting solution outside of the person of Jesus Christ. Only he provides the ultimate meaning of human suffering, the reasons for confidence and courage in the face of death, and God’s answer to our questions in the victory of life over death, of love over hatred, and of innocence over the savagery of those who’ve sold their souls out to evil.

Let’s dedicate ourselves to opening our homes, our schools, our streets and our neighborhoods to Jesus, so that he might transform our hardened hearts.
We invite High School Youth to a rally of young Christians from Stockton, Manteca, and other communities next Saturday, Sept. 12,, from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., in the gym of our parish (203 E. Washington Street, Stockton).  Entrance is free but bring $5 for pizza.  No gang colors, no distracting devises, just an open heart.  There will be music, dancers, and testimonies