YAKIMA – State Attorney General Rob McKenna wanted former gang member Manuel Gomez-Garcia to speak today in Yakima at an event to unveil a new anti-gang bill.
In an interview nearly two years ago, Gomez-Garcia told the Yakima Herald-Republic how he had left gang life but the violence continued to haunt him.
At the time, a clash with neighboring gang members at his home west of Wapato led to the shooting of a bystander, 16-year-old Jose Salinas.
But Gomez-Garcia won’t be at McKenna’s gathering. The 28-year-old himself became a victim of gang violence, dying in a drive-by shooting last February.
Gomez-Garcia was killed at the home of a family who previously lost their 16-year-old boy – Ricky Cabrera – to a similar gang shooting.
McKenna’s office didn’t learn of Gomez-Garcia’s death until after trying to contact him last week.
“I’m just deeply sad by what’s happened. Here you have a young man that was involved in the gang life, who was trying to move forward and was sucked back into this violence,” McKenna said during a telephone interview last week. “It reminds everyone in my office why we’re still working on this.”
McKenna comes to town at a time when, despite anti-gang efforts on several fronts, the violence continues. To try to stem the tide, he will propose spending $10 million for gang prevention and intervention, stiffer sentence enhancements for gang crimes and empowering local governments and property owners to keep gangs out of certain areas.
Before he was shot, Gomez-Garcia had been working on a degree in social work. His mother proudly showed photos of him with Gov. Chris Gregoire at a student-led conference on gang prevention in Olympia.
Others whose lives have been touched by gang violence will speak at the press conference, including Dora Trevino, whose 17-year-old son, Auggie, was shot by a gang member in Quincy in 1999.
McKenna’s 48-page bill not only seeks unprecedented funding for gang prevention and intervention programs throughout the state, but proposes to clamp down on intimidation from gang members and recruiting efforts by making such actions a felony. The measure would also stiffen penalties for teens caught carrying a gun.
In many counties, gun-toting teens have to be caught several times before facing serious trouble, McKenna said.
“We’re not doing them any favors at all by just slapping them on the wrist,” he said. “What happens is they end up shooting and injuring or killing someone and then we fall on them like a ton of bricks.”
Lawmakers in both the 14th and 15th Legislative Districts say the bill resembles one they supported two years ago that was stripped of its teeth during the legislative process.
That measure called for civil injunctions to keep gang members from certain areas. But under lobbying from civil libertarians, lawmakers scaled it back.
McKenna’s bill would give local governments power to initiate civil injunctions against gang members at properties where three or more gang offenses have been committed within a year.
“It’s probably one of the most comprehensive bills that has been put together since the original bill that was watered down,” said Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. “I think every member within the Republican caucus is going to support this bill.”
But with the state facing a $4.8 billion deficit, getting the full Legislature to sign off on the funding will be tough, Ross said.
“It’s clearly something the Legislature can and could do, but is it something that the legislature will do?” he said. “Given the economic state of the budget, it’s going to be difficult to allocate that kind of funding.”
Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, said he doesn’t see the bill getting all the way through this year, but predicts it will eventually. Either way, he supports it.
“I do believe, in the context of some of the other stuff the state throws money at, that this is a priority,” he said. “The important thing is that we continue to work on it. We can’t back off.”