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Stop the Violence

What They Claim:
Getting in and Out of Gangs in Watsonville
Author: Maria García

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 
department immediately.