photo by timothy.actwell
by We’Ced Reporters
Editor’s Note: Merced County just counted its ninth homicide of 2015 a few days ago. The previous year had the most homicides on record in the county at 31. Many of the Merced County victims have been young people of color, like the young man shot and killed in Winton earlier this week and a Merced teen who was shot and killed in the parking lot of Tenaya Middle School back in February. Much of the media coverage around the violence has focused on law enforcement, gang activity and property values. We’ced youth reporters asked our community members a different question: How has violence affected your life?
Kathryn Munoz, 33
Merced seems to have become more violent in the last few years. I had to experience the funeral of my good friend’s nephew. I’d known the boy since he was younger and he started to get mixed up with the wrong crowd. He was murdered by some kids he ‘had beef with.’ He was a kid, killed by kids, over something stupid. My friend borrowed my projector at the funeral to show pictures of the boy and just the thought of the whole incident made me want to throw up.
I’m a high school teacher in Merced and three years ago I had a student named Samantha. She was shot and killed at a party. Coming back to work after that happened was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had to work. I remember how my 7th period class came in the quietest they’d ever come in, her empty seat was a reminder of what happened. Hardly anyone spoke that day.
The most influential instance of violence in my life, however, was when my husband was attacked at the school where he works by two young men with a box cutter. He had a huge open wound that started above his ear and ended near his mouth, 11 inches long. Before the doctors sewed him up, he was lying on a pillow full of blood. I sat with my husband for over 13 hours like that.
I’m not the same after experiencing such violence. The weekend after my husband was attacked, a man was murdered at a restaurant, a boy was shot at a Burger King near my house and a man was found with a gun at the McDonalds near my house. I worry about the future, especially the safety of the kids in my classroom and my own son.
Natalie Salas, 18
Violence has affected my life since I was a child and into my adulthood. I’ve had friends murdered and seen friends beat up. I can’t say I’m accustomed to violence, but I am familiar with it because it’s around me and I have no control over it. I see violence controlling the community. It’s what controls peoples’ lives. People don’t let their children walk to school; they don’t hang out because of this fear of violence. If Merced was less violent it would be a beautiful place to live in. The population would grow and people wouldn’t be afraid. Without violence there is no fear.
Erick Lopez, 17
I have a horrible background that some teachers find out about and I get stereotyped for it. At one time the streets owned me and it felt impossible to stop the things I was doing. Growing up around violence made me selfish and careless with people around me, especially the ones I love most. Going down the wrong path brought stress on my family and I wish I could just go and take it all back.
Deangelo Joya, 18
It is pretty sad how now you gotta tell a homie to be safe along when you’re telling them to have a good time. It’s like you’re always having to watch yourself. I don’t even want to go out anymore. I’d rather just kick it with a couple homies at their pad or at mine, instead of risking it out there. I think the people just need to chill. Getting more cops won’t help. People will just continue doing whatever they are doing but just sneakier.
Vivian Barajas, 40
I was a victim of domestic violence for a long time. I grew up with violence and I saw a lot of things happen in my life. Merced is small compared to larger cities, but its reputation is loud. We all grew up with gangs. I’d say Merced is a battlefield and the gangs are soldiers. With the experiences I’ve had, gangs are no joke. I think less gang activity will mean less violence here.
The southwest side of Merced is the most dangerous because that’s where most of the crime is happening. Drugs and drug dealing play a role too. Some of these people take their business very seriously and getting involved with that could be fatal. I fear sharing too much information because in my eyes, it’s snitching. I’ve fought a lot of people to protect my family. We have to be very wary of our surroundings.
Alexa Saucedo, 17
Violence in my community makes me feel unsafe. If I don’t feel safe then I won’t want to go out and do things with my friends. I feel like violence can make young people miss out on normal parts of our everyday life.
Victor Barajas, 36
Violence seems to occur everywhere, you can’t evade it. I’ve spent quite a while in Merced before I moved. I would get pulled into conflicts and usually get into fights. I’d fight others’ battles because I’m the type of person that’s there for my friends. I don’t regret fighting because it was for my homies and they’re still my friends to this day. Out here you can’t show fear because you’ll get stepped on.
There’s too many gangs out here. These people aren’t bad people, they’re just lost. They’re our youth and they’re troubled. They’re living up to the expectations of other people and that can lead to dangerous peer pressure and bad decisions.
Jennifer Redding, 34
I was in a domestic violence situation for like ten years. Violence has affected my life by changing my perspective of people in general. I tend to isolate myself and not make friends.
Monique Harris, 17
Violence ruined it for me and everyone. People have been pretty violent with me in the past. Recently I think I inflicted everything that people have done on me on my friends. I regret that a lot and I’m trying to do everything I can do [to] get my friendships back. I didn’t intentionally do it, but violence adds more violence. Look at war, it seems like while trying to fix one thing through force, it leads to another conflict.
Isaac Alvarado, 15
I see violence here in Merced of people getting shot and it affects me. I think about it and I think one day I can be at the wrong place at the wrong time and I can be the one who gets shot. I also know that violence can get you in trouble with the law if you continue to be involved in it. It can put you in jail and ruin your chances at getting a good job in the future.
Lori Salas, 45
My generation is totally different than the generation that my kids are growing up in. I have to be more careful while raising them, but at the same time, while I worry about my kids, I’m more worried about other kids and what they might do. It’s very difficult for me to understand these kids because my generation is so different.
Everybody’s different and everybody’s raised different. Back in the day, the whole neighborhood would help raise kids. Now it seems like kids are raising themselves. I see no respect in our communities. I see graffiti in homes, cars and buildings. Some of these taggers are claiming these places as their ‘hood’ but they’re not paying everybody’s bills. This is the neighborhood. It belongs to everyone. It doesn’t just belong to the young generation. It belongs to everyone who lives in the community.
Xavier Baez, 19
Violence has always been part of my life. I grew up thinking that it was the solution to everything. I used to get into fights as a kid just because it was the thing to do. Now I am mature enough to understand that violence doesn’t get you anywhere, nor it is worth dealing with violence for pride.
Felix Machado, 17
Violence in my city has made me determined to learn how to defend myself. If any future violent situations occur towards me, I’ll have the knowledge that will allow me to defend myself.