By Cresencio Rodriguez Delgado
FRESNO, Calif — Ruben Hernandez is an active gang member in Fresno but is fed up with what he sees everyday in his community.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of the children, ages 12 to 18 have started to rebel against the police,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez, 30, has spent 15 years incarcerated and another 4 years in parole. Hernandez wants his children to learn from his mistakes so that they won’t make the same ones.
Hernandez joined other ex-gang members and concerned community members at People’s Church on February 19 to discuss issues of gang violence and gang prevention. The town hall was organized by KMPH FOx 26 after the murder of Janessa Ramirez, 9, when she was caught in crossfire between two rival gang members.
The town hall was moderated by KMPH’s Monty Torres, and the panel included Police Chief Jerry Dyer, Sheriff Margaret Mims, Pastor B.T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church and Ernie Rodriguez, an outreach worker.
Much of the discussion centered around preventing youth from joining gangs.
“Everybody’s got to find their niche in terms of what they think they can do, what they’re passionate about to intervene in the life of a youth to keep them out of gangs,” said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
Dyer says that in Fresno alone, between 18,000 and 20,000 residents are involved in a gang.
Lisa Williams, 15 and a student at Violet Heintz Education Academy, attended the event and says she is willing to take what she learned and apply it to her own life.
“This makes a difference in my life,” Williams said.
Williams says her two oldest brothers are involved with gangs and that has put a strain on her.
“I’ve been depressed for the past couple of years because of that kind of stuff and its really difficult to handle,” Williams said.
While she may take the advice offered that night, Williams says she believes most people will not do anything with what was said. She says the police must “step up” and let people know they are there to help.
“Once they take that step, I think everybody else will too,” Williams said.
Williams wasn’t the only one to focus on the issue of community-police relationships.
Adrien Ferguson, 23 and a member of Boys and Men of Color in Fresno, also believes that there must be common ground for police and the community in order to encourage better communication.
“People like myself,” Ferguson said, “are a little bit intimidated so if it’s easier to be able to talk to [police] as if they are a neighbor or a friend, I feel that would help create a better bond.
Ferguson thinks better communication means that the police must listen to young people more.
Ferguson said, “It might not start off so easily right off the bat, but eventually down the line” when young people feel heard by police then that will help to reduce the number of gang members.