In Delano, Ca., the birthplace of Cesar Chavez’s nonviolent farm labor movement, a 14-year-old who aspired to become a police officer is cut down by gunfire on his front porch. In the farm town of Merced, the gateway to Yosemite, an armed gang member shoots an officer after a vehicle stop — the first police slaying in the city’s 118-year history. The Los Angeles Times reports that along the 450 miles of the Central Valley, an explosion of gang violence has transformed life on the wide, tree-lined streets of the state’s agricultural heartland. As jobs and relatively affordable housing in the fast-growing region have attracted families from the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas, some have brought gang ties with them.
The spread of gang violence has strained police resources and rendered some playgrounds and streets off limits. Bullets have shattered the peace in parks and strip malls. Up and down the valley, task forces have been formed as evidence mounts that street hoodlums are committing homicides, robberies, and car thefts and trafficking in drugs. Some communities have taxed themselves to pay for more police. Local, state, and federal sweeps have produced thousands of arrests — but tens of thousands more gang members remain on the streets.