Graffiti leads to gang worries | SierraSun.com

Graffiti leads to gang worries

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunA house on Steelhead Avenue in Kings Beach was vandalized with graffiti last week. Graffiti was found in several locations in Kings Beach and has been an ongoing problem locals say.

Kings Beach residents woke up Sunday morning to fresh graffiti on fences and walls that touted notorious Latino gang the Nortenos.

Red eagles, profane language and the No. 14 were spray-painted on Deer Street fences and the Kings Beach Elementary School building.

Two North Tahoe High School students have since admitted to Placer County Sheriff’s deputies their involvement in the tagging, according to a press release. The 14-year-old males have been referred to juvenile probation on vandalism charges.

The gang-affiliated tagging, which has since been removed or painted over, comes just one week after a brawl broke out on Steelhead Avenue in the Kings Beach grid.

An evening call to dispatch reported some 30 subjects fighting in front of the Boys and Girls Club, the Kings Beach Elementary School and the Catholic Church on Saturday, March 22, according to the Placer County Sheriff’s Department report.

Most of the fighters were wearing red, the report stated, which is the color of the Nortenos.

Recommended Stories For You

“[Gang activity] is a concern,” said Emilio Vaca, a facilitator for the Kings Beach group Creciendo Unidos. “There’s a pattern. Like anything that’s negative, there’s a pattern that begins to develop.”

The street fight broke out while a fundraiser for the North Tahoe Middle School took place inside the Kings Beach Gym.

Vice Principal Nauman Zaidi of the middle school said he made the call to dispatch when tension between two groups of young adult males began to escalate.

“They were outside, and they started confronting each other,” Zaidi said. “And at that point we called the cops. We didn’t know what was happening and didn’t know who they were.”

None of the students participating in the middle school fundraiser were involved in the conflict, Zaidi said.

Law enforcement units from Placer County, Washoe County and California Highway Patrol responded to the call made at 5:30 p.m., said Placer Sheriff’s Sgt. Helen Thomson. But as soon as the first officer arrived, all the subjects ran off.

Units patrolled the area for the rest of the evening, Thomson said, but no arrests were made and no injuries were reported.

Reports from the Saturday conflict did not yield much information pertaining to gang violence beyond descriptions of red shirts.

But gang violence occurs more often than it’s reported, Thomson said.

“It gets reported when someone who is not in that element sees what’s going on,” she said. “Or when someone who knows about it, reports it.”

Vaca said gang activity tends to rear its head as the snow starts to melt. And while violence has not escalated in Tahoe to the level seen in more urban areas, the influence of gangs on local youth is anything but absent.

“Yeah, we haven’t seen a drive-by. Yeah, we haven’t seen a gang stabbing,” Vaca said. “But, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

School officials from Kings Beach Elementary, North Tahoe Middle School and High School all reported that gang activity has not filtered into local campuses.

“[Crime] has decreased a lot from last year and our suspensions are down” at the middle school, Zaidi said. “We haven’t had any gang incidents at our school this year and actually, last year also.”

Placer County Deputy Russ Potts, the middle school and high school resource officer, said crime has “dropped dramatically” in recent years, as has gang-related activity.

“You’re always going to have some [gang influence],” Potts said. “But it’s very minimal at both the middle school and the high school right now.”

Potts attributed the positive decline in crime and violence to effective teachers and school staff, student pride in the new North Tahoe education facility and security cameras.

The Boys and Girls Club in Kings Beach also has an effective “zero-tolerance” policy that stops any sort of gang influence at the door, said Executive Director Isabelle Rodriguez.

“We have a zero tolerance, and the kids know it,” Rodriguez said. “And the kids abide by it to come and be a part of the Boys and Girls Club activities. We’re doing our part. The club believes that deterring gang presence and thinking is very important.”

But for many local youth, gang activity is not something that happens during school hours, Vaca said. The influence comes in the music they listen to and their older family members or friends who are already involved in gangs and using drugs.

“They’re looking for cultural identity, but they’re looking at it from the negative perspective,” Vaca said. “The only thing a lot of these youth identify with is the things they see after school.”

While Kings Beach is not immune to gang influence, Rodriguez said the Boys and Girls club is an oasis of positive influence.

“Our hope is that our persistent and consistent message in a prevention approach to this carries out into the community,” she said. “We’re hopeful that someday, these kids who are growing up will turn it around.”