What They Claim:
Getting in and Out of Gangs in Watsonville
When I was first took this story, I didn’t know how I
was going to complete it. I wasn’t sure where I was
going to get the information, what questions I was
supposed to ask or if I would get the answers to my
questions. I started by getting some background
information about gangs from Officer George Zamora,
gang expert from the Watsonville Police Department,
and by interviewing local gang members about the
reasons they joined gangs.
A different definition of “respect and power.”
People are in gangs for many reasons. According to
Officer Zamora, some people join gangs because they
are insecure with themselves, feel lonely or think
that by joining a gang they are going to gain power
and respect from others. Some join a certain gang
because a rival gang beat up one of their family
members or friends, and for reasons of retaliation
or “payback” they join the opposite gang. Still,
others join gangs to get easier access to things such
as drugs and weapons. One of the girls that I talked
with said that she wanted to join a gang because when
she was growing up, she saw that her parents were gang
members. “I wanted to live the life that my parents
lived. That’s why I decided to join a gang,” she says.
A 15 year-old boy that I interviewed said he to joined
a gang because his parents were always working. They
were never home and never gave him anything. They
actually told him to go out on the streets and make a
living for himself. He decided to join a gang. Now he
doesn’t live with his family and he just hangs around
with his homeboys.
Whatever the reason as to why people join gangs, the
reality is that the population of gang members in
Watsonville is increasing. And this increase has
created more violence in the streets. Some people are
afraid to wear certain colors or types of clothing
associated with a certain gang because they fear they
will get beaten up by someone in a rival gang. I
talked with a 17 year-old girl who said, when she and
her boyfriend were sitting down in a park, a guy came
up to them and asked “what do you claim?” The couple
told him that they didn’t “claim” anything. Then, the
guy told them, “you better get out of here before my
homeboys get here and beat up your boyfriend.” They
have never gone back to that park since.
Gang Initiation: more than talking tough
A lot of people wonder how people actually get into
gangs. What I learned isn’t pretty. Most people are
initiated into gangs in one of three ways. The most
common way is to get “jumped in,” which means that
every person already in the gang beats up on the
person that wants to join. Some people can just “walk
in,” because their family members are, or were, in the
same gang. Those family members have already earned
respect for the family and the respect carries over to
the new member. Another way to get into a gang is by
beating, stabbing or killing someone in a rival gang
or an enemy of the gang. This proves, that the person
is willing to stick up for the gang and what it claims.
Different rules for girls
Girls, however, are often put through another
initiation option. That option, is a “sex in.” A “sex
in” is when a male gang member rolls a die and
whatever number the die lands on is the number of gang
members the girl must have sex with before she can
become a member.
The dangers of gang life
It’s no secret that being in a gang can be dangerous.
Gang members get shot and stabbed by rival gang
members. The violence can also affect their own family
members or loved ones who sometimes are injured or
even killed during gang retaliation. Gang members also
have problems with the police and sometimes end up
doing jail time for crimes that they have committed.
It’s easier to get into a gang than it is to get out.
Most people have to be “jumped out,” which means they
go through the same process they did when they first
joined the gang. However, to get out, the beating is
much worse. And still, once you’re out, you have to be
careful, and watch your back.
What are the police doing to stop gangs?
The Watsonville police say they are taking a pro-
active role to stop gang violence by patrolling more
visibly and following up closely on cases. They also
say they are working to educate the community by
telling people if they see anything strange around
their neighborhoods or know of gang activity, they
should call the local police department. To report
illegal gang activity, call your local police