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‘Assassination’ game: Play stupid games, win stupid prizes
Jason Campbell

With just over a month left in the school year, the time of the annual senior “assassination” game is finally upon us. 

Or “hitman.” Or “water wars.” The names change, but the details remain relatively consistent from one year to the next – kids wait to ambush other kids with Nerf or water guns with the hopes of being crowned victor when the dust finally settles. 

And, on the surface, it’s a lot of harmless fun. 

But, as the Ripon Police Department pointed out this week, that fun doesn’t always come across to the rest of the world as harmless. Over the last several years, police in Manteca have responded to numerous calls – sometimes with a life-or-death urgency – when reports of somebody walking with a gun came in to the dispatch center. Of course, when they respond appropriately, and the young people who are only playing a game find themselves on the business end of a duty pistol, all of a sudden, the real world comes sharply into focus – it stops becoming a game and starts becoming serious. 

Perhaps it’s time to put the game and its various iterations out to pasture where it belongs before the headlines use words like “tragic” and “accident” instead of the usual “harmless” fun. 

Now, the last time that I wrote a column about this topic I was dragged pretty extensively on social media by parents who reminded everybody that the game was “no big deal” because their kids never had a problem when they played. 

But what about the vehicle accidents that the game has caused? What about the numerous reports by police agencies in multiple cities that routinely caution about what could go wrong? Sooner or later something bad is going to happen because kids don’t pay attention, and that’s unfortunate because it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Every Manteca Unified campus has banned the activity and it’s not allowed in any form at any time on school property – something that has forced the game off-campus as students stake out positions to try and get their opponent before their opponent gets them. This has led to police calls about prowlers, and people “lying in wait” and in almost every similar instance has required multiple officers to respond to the call. 

So, even if something bad doesn’t happen – and I hope to God it doesn’t – what about something that happens on the other side of town that officers can’t get to in time because they’re too busy chasing off kids who think they know better than the warnings that are issued about their behavior?

Who is responsible then?

While I wholeheartedly agree that kids get a bad rap, the inability to recognize when something could go terribly wrong is something that I think isn’t discussed nearly as often as it should be – especially given the potential ramifications if the game goes sideways. 

Sure, it’s fun to wait for hours and shoot people when they least expect it. 

But what good is a little bit of “harmless” fun if you yourself end up getting shot over it?

Leaving money on the table

Need a good example of what bureaucracy and red tape looks like. 

Look no further than the current debate and ongoing discussion about the Qualex building – that the City of Manteca owns and wants to turn over to a local non-profit who has plans to turn it into a resource center for the burgeoning homeless population. 

As it turns out, there are a number of government agencies with a vested interest in the transfer or sale of that property, and before any such exchange can take place, they each have to agree to leave large quantities of money on the table and walk away. 

We’re not talking thousands – we’re talking hundreds of thousands. And if just one of them demands the payment that is rightfully owed to them under the law, the entire deal will fall apart, and the much-needed day shelter won’t actually come to fruition. 

It’s not that the issue is exactly an attractive one to follow, but it does show the red tape that sometimes cities have to go through in order to satisfy all stakeholders in the pursuit of a noble goal that the community at large widely supports. There doesn’t appear to be any indication that any of the agencies owed money is going to block the proposal and demand a check, but the fact that the possibility exists has to make it a delicate discussion whenever everybody is in the same room. 

Personally, I think the concept of a resource center is a little bit short-sighted – we’re still going to have the issue of homeless in the evening when people get kicked out, and a large number of the complaints that are regularly lodged have to do with what happens when people turn parks, fields, and public spaces into makeshift living quarters only to have to pack up in the morning and move on. 

If you don’t think this is a problem, just ask anybody at the Manteca Public Library what things were like before the fences went in to keep people away and cut down on the vandalism. It wouldn’t be uncommon to find human waste near the rear doorway to the library, and the lighting fixtures intended to provide evening security were ripped apart and turned into makeshift phone chargers. 

So, while the places people can actually sleep are shrinking as the city tries to react to the problem, adding a temporary day shelter isn’t going to do anything to change some of the more serious complaints – like the people who climb up onto the roof Janis Music to sleep, or the way that landscaping medians and planter boxes are destroyed when people decide that they’re going to bed down out of sight. 

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what Inner City Action is able to do with the space and how much of an impact that is going to have on the homeless population at large. 

But no matter what, watching the back-and-forth as agencies begin to reach agreements to make the vision a reality – cutting through as much red tape as possible. 

Here’s to hoping that all of the effort wasn’t just a waste. 

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.