Vowing to fully dismantle two gangs whose violent squabbling allegedly resulted in the June 5 fatal shooting of a 3-month-old infant, East Palo Alto police Chief Ronald Davis on Friday (June 17) announced a full attack against the Norteno and Sureno gangs.
Izack Jesus Jimenez Garcia was fatally shot in the head and his parents were shot and injured during what police called a case of mistaken identity by a 17-year-old gang member.
In a letter to the community, Davis said the department would use federal, state and county law-enforcement agencies to dissolve the gangs.
Fabian Zaragoza of East Palo Alto was arrested for the shooting, which police said was in retaliation for his beating by Sureno gang members in Redwood City on May 31. Another youth, 16, was arrested on weapons charges on the morning of the shooting during an intensive manhunt.
"If we are to protect our children and community from this type of violence and achieve true justice for the Garcia family, the accountability for the murder of baby Izack Garcia must extend beyond the two killers.Our response to this tragedy must result in nothing less than the full dismantling of the Norteno and Sureno gangs in East Palo Alto."
Izack's parents, Oscar Jimenez and Ivonne Garcia Lopez, had just bundled their two young children in their car at about 1 a.m. after leaving a family baby shower. Two teens approached and fired as many as 15 bullets into the vehicle; Izack died shortly after. His 4-year-old brother, Isaiah, was not injured but remains traumatized, police said.
"The loss of such innocence impacts of all of us and threatens that which matters most: our children. I believe we will turn this tragedy into an opportunity to not just reduce gang violence but change the environment that allows gangs to exist in our community," Davis said.
East Palo Alto police have worked hard in the last few years to break up gangs and reduce violence, including the dismantling of the city's notorious Taliban gang.
Operation Ceasefire "call-ins" have brought gang members in for serious talks with law enforcement and community leaders about giving up the gang life.
The program offers assistance and services to gang members who want to leave the gang lifestyle, and it promises a no-tolerance policy, arrest and incarceration if they continue illegal activities. In June and July, police will try to negotiate a truce between the Nortenos and Surenos, Davis said.
"The heinous nature of this shooting underscores the real and serious danger gangs pose to our community. ... Despite the arrest there exists a real threat of retaliatory violence because the two killers and their motive for the shooting involve a longstanding feud between two notorious street gangs," Davis said.
The police department plans a meeting with local, county, state and federal law-enforcement agencies to share intelligence and develop a coordinated plan to disrupt the gangs' activities, he said.
Agencies include at least nine law-enforcement groups and local police agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, San Mateo County's Gang Intelligence Unit and county gang and narcotics task forces.
East Palo Alto's Violence Interdiction Team will continue working with the San Mateo County Probation and state parole departments to conduct home visits, checks and searches of all Norteno and Sureno gang members on probation and parole, Davis said.
"I want to personally applaud the community and the men and women of the police department for their response to this tragedy. Within 24 hours of the shooting one of the two suspects responsible for this cowardly act was arrested and subsequently charged with murder. The department is working closely with the San Mateo County District Attorney's office to arrest and charge the second suspect," he said.
The East Palo Alto City Council will soon release $200,000 in grant funding for summer youth programs and $50,000 for One East Palo Alto's Sponsored Employment Program, Davis said.
The Police Activities League (PAL) will also provide at-risk youth programs, such as the Graffiti Arts Project. A citywide youth summit with the PAL and numerous faith-based and community groups will focus on gangs and violence.