Tuesday, June 3, 2008

East Bay Gangs Are Recruiting 7-Year-Olds

Tue, Jun 3, 2008 at 8:51 AM

"It used to be really hard to get into gangs, but not anymore," ex-gang member Fernando Cruz told workshop attendees at the 2008 Neighborhood Summit held last Saturday at Laney College. "These days, they're taking kids as young as seven, eight, and nine" - and those kids "go around aimlessly shooting people," Cruz said, "just to make a name for themselves."

"It used to be really hard to get into gangs, but not anymore," ex-gang member Fernando Cruz told workshop attendees at the 2008 Neighborhood Summit held last Saturday at Laney College. "These days, they're taking kids as young as seven, eight, and nine" — and those kids "go around aimlessly shooting people," Cruz said, "just to make a name for themselves."

As an interventionist with California Youth Outreach, Cruz helps kids at high schools throughout Oakland and Fremont who are already in gangs or flirting with joining gangs. Being in school at all and not having quit yet "is itself a silent cry for help," he said. "We extend the hand to them and we say, 'I'm here to offer you an alternative lifestyle.'"

In the workshop, he offered a PowerPoint presentation featuring gang symbology. Among the images was the K-Swiss sportswear logo, which he said is favored by Norteños, among whom the company's name is an acronym for "Kill a Sureño When I See a Sureño."

Gang culture is so entrenched in the East Bay, Cruz said, that in some families gang membership is three generations deep: "Instead of putting up a college diploma on the wall, they're putting up pictures of the kids decked out in blue or red bandannas, and they say, 'I'm proud of you, son' or 'I'm proud of you, granddaughter.'"

Hundreds of Oaklanders attended the all-day conference, whose other workshops addressed emergency preparedness, community policing, cross-racial communication, and more.—Anneli Rufus

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