Any gang violence on the west side of Salt Lake City is too much, and we have too much. The latest incident occurred on July 6 when Maria Del Carmen Menchaca, a 7-year-old, was struck by a stray bullet in front of her house in a gang-related drive-by shooting. Maria was buried next to her cousin, who was also the victim of gang violence last year. We were told his gravestone was adorned with "an L.A. Raiders hat shrouded by a blue bandanna."
Not only is our community a casualty of gang violence, but even in the wake of this heartbreaking tragedy we have elected officials and teenagers who are blind to the pattern of destruction occurring in their midst. Gratefully, the Salt Lake City Police Department made arrests on the heels of this murder. In fact, the Salt Lake City Police Department has a consistent record of taking the most dangerous criminals off of our streets.
Duane Cardall of KSL admonished us to "Let her death become a focus for social action, for creating alternatives to whatever societal shortcomings breed gangsters." To that end, a consortium of west-side residents and organizations are banding together in order to implement gang prevention strategies. Although gangs pose a significant threat to public safety, we believe this is actually a community issue that should be addressed through communitywide initiatives.
We have chosen to pursue this cause under the name the Romero Alternative in honor of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who in the early 1980s preached against violence in his country. While he spoke out against violence brought on by a corrupt government, he wisely made the point that as soldiers they were killing their own brothers and sisters. Sadly, in Salt Lake City in 2008 we are faced with the same dilemma. Our children are killing each other.
While there are a multitude of community-based gang prevention, intervention and suppression strategies we intend to deploy, the first phase of our community mobilization will be to identify and promote all of the good, quality after-school and summer programs that are offered on the west side. We recognize that fees for these programs may be too expensive. Also, transportation to the programs may not be available. It will be our purpose to make these programs accessible to all our youths regardless of cost or transportation deficiencies.The Romero Alternative group is optimistic that over a short period of time we will eradicate our community of gang violence because: "We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us." Archbishop Oscar Romero, March 24, 1980.
J. Michael Clara is the secretary of the Poplar Grove Community Council.