Some East County residents believe that gangs are other communities' problem, not theirs. But according to Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover, who convened a meeting recently to plan a Sept. 22 East County Gang Summit, what happens in one East County community affects all the others.
Gang members are still stealing, shooting and killing at an alarming rate. The September gang summit will be one way to educate residents about what they can do to intervene and prevent youths from becoming involved in gangs.
That summit, to be held at the East County Boys and Girls Club, 1001 Stoneman Ave. in Pittsburg, will feature Edward DeJesus as keynote speaker. Founder and president of the Youth Development and Research Fund, Inc., DeJesus is considered a leading authority on urban youth employment and educational issues.
During a conversation with several East County members of his gang task force, Glover cited a pair of fatal shootings that occurred over the weekend in Antioch and Pittsburg, incidents under study for gang links.
Glover called Tuesday's meeting of the East County Gang Task Force to discuss logistics, topics and outreach for the September program.
Even as Glover's aide Ed Diokno solicited ideas for panel topics at the summit, many of the representatives present were unable to avoid commenting on some aspect of gang activity in East Contra Costa.
One observer noted that the gangs have gotten smarter. They realize that if they make it harder for law enforcement and prosecutors to identify them as being gang members, they are more likely to avoid tough prison sentences meted out for gang activity.
And they are shedding their tattoos, once a very visible symbol of pride and belonging, seeking to avoid long prison terms if caught and convicted.
Recent fatal attacks on drug dealers have been linked to some gangs, whose members might not even live in East County, one speaker noted.
Another person said that the media contribute heavily to gang activity. Kids want to adopt the gang lifestyle they see glamorized in music, movies and TV. They wear the gang-style clothing as an expression of rebellion, unaware of the unglamorous reality of the gang lifestyle.
Glover has appointed an array of East County residents, educators and public officials to sit on the gang task force in an effort to find ways of dealing with gangs. Their ranks include chaplains, school administrators, police officers, community groups, the courts and city officials.
Pittsburg Police Officer Donna Gianfala described a project she is working on with East County school students. It will be a video, written with the students, focusing on gang life, the means to avoid it, how kids get involved, the legal and even physical consequences and what it means to go to jail.
Gianfala said the project will not single out any gang because that would cause problems, but will present what is typical of most gangs. The project, 'Stray Bullets," will be developed during the summer and presented at the summit.
Nancy Bennett, deputy director of Gov. Schwarzenegger's San Francisco office, discussed the governor's initiative to combat gang violence, noting that $48 million in state and federal funds will be directed to anti-gang efforts. Contra Costa and Alameda are among the counties with the highest priority for those funds.
After Bennett concluded her remarks, Glover called Contra Costa's priority "fortunate and unfortunate."