We heard about a disturbing new trend in gang violence from a story published on BakersfieldNow earlier this month:
OILDALE, Calif. — A puppy was recently found tagged with red spray paint in an alley off Chester Avenue.
The puppy was found across from Sam Lynn Ballpark with the letters “O-A-E” sprayed on her side and a red strip sprayed down her back.
Michelle Lyon met the puppy Tuesday night when her neighbor brought her home.
“It’s appalling,” Lyon said. “We have so many animals dumped all the time, and we have so many graffiti problems in this area, and now we have them both in the same thing.”
Some people who live in the area where the puppy was found said this is the new trend in gang tagging. They said they see dogs and cats walking around with spray paint on them all the time.
Those residents spoke on condition of anonymity, because they said they fear the gang members responsible for the graffiti. They said the gang members tag animals to mark their territory.
Officials with the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County sheriff’s and animal control departments said they’re unaware of the problem. They said, however, that they wouldn’t expect to hear about it because of the fear of gangs.
Graffiti is as old as the written word and it’s a common sight in cities all over the world. And dealing with problems like graffiti is a part of life for people that live in neighborhoods plagued by gang activity. But until recently - living creatures weren’t targets for these assaults defacement.
According to Alex Alonso (Gang Graffiti on the City Landscape), gang graffiti functions as a way to communicate sentiments, express group identity, and to dictate rules of their socially constructed places. Alonso states:
Those who understand these spatial conquests of the landscape are able to identify the social and spatial order of a community. This even applies to non-gang youths of an area, who take it upon their own initiative to understand and respect these socially claimed places in an effort to safeguard themselves and to stay clear of gang conflict.
Imagine having gang members tag your pet with the signs they use to mark their territory. Claiming a living member of your family as part of their turf. The unfortunate people – and animals – who live in areas afflicted by gang activity live in a constant state of fear. Threats and violence are a regular part of their daily existence. It’s like living in a war zone. And the problem is just getting worse…
The US Department of Justice reports:
Twenty years ago, fewer than half our cities reported gang activity. A generation later, 95 percent of our largest cities and 88 percent of smaller cities suffer gang-related crime. Eighty-nine percent of all cities recently reported that their gang problem was the same or getting worse. In one recent year, gangs committed more than 580,000 serious crimes.
These crimes exact a toll of tremendous physical and emotional pain from individuals, families, and entire communities. We are learning more about gangs and their activities, but know little about the individuals whose lives they so quickly and tragically change–the victims and survivors of gang violence. These victims face additional, special problems not confronted by most other crime victims.
There is one bit of good news in this story. The tagged puppy, who was a stray, has found a new home. But, like many other cities, Bakersfield’s gang problems continue to escalate.