Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Community Coalition hosts town hall on gangs in Moses Lake

Staff Writer | June 11, 2024 3:05 AM

MOSES LAKE — Members of the Moses Lake community came together Thursday evening at the Moses Lake Civic Center for a town hall discussion on gang activity and prevention, hosted by the Moses Lake Community Coalition.

The event featured presentations from four panelists with question-and-answer periods between each section, with recovery coach Nokey Pando acting as the event’s master of ceremonies. 

The first presentation was from Cpl. Omar Ramirez, the lead detective for the Moses Lake Police Department's Street Crimes Unit. 

“You can see that over 36% (of weapon violations and violent crimes) within the last five years have been gang-related,” Ramirez said. “In Moses (Lake), for the violent crimes within the last five years, we had a total of 151 calls for service and we identified 55 of those as gang activity.”

Former gang member and current recovery coach Victor Estrada then shared his personal experience with gang involvement.

“When I got jumped into the gang … It wasn't like I wanted to be jumped into that gang,” he said. “I was asked if I was a member of that gang and I said no. They said, ‘Well you are tonight.’ I got jumped in, and that started my life of crime.”

Peer pressure drove much of Estrada’s behavior, he said.

“A lot of the stuff that I did, the experimenting with drugs, was because of peer pressure,” he said. “I wanted to feel like I fit in …  I didn't want to be known as a little nerd. I didn't want to get picked on in school, so I just wanted to be the tough guy.”

Estrada focused specifically on gangs in Moses Lake.

“There is a lot of gang activity,” he said. “I have friends that are still associated with gangs, and there's a lot of work that needs to be done, and it needs to be started with the youth.” 

During the question period, Pando was asked, “What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to a parent to keep their kids away from gangs and drugs?”

“This is coming from somebody who was never active in a gang, but all my family, all my associations were all gang members,” he said. “I didn't make a lot of choices they made other than using drugs, I didn't get into the criminal lifestyle, but the one thing that kept me centered was the love for my parent … That little bit of love and nurturing that I did receive at home is what kept me grounded.”

Dilsia Gonzalez, a case manager with the nonprofit Latino Civic Alliance, talked about working with youth in Central Washington and its impact on preventing violent or criminal behavior.

“At first it might seem a little weird, but the fact that I'm the person who they can call to come help them stops them from fighting that other kid, from potential harm,” she said. “So that's how we really get engaged with these students because when you think of the students we’re dealing with, they're not talking to their teachers about what they're going to do next. But with us, they have that confidence to call us because they know we're there to help.”

Gonzalez encouraged community members to contact her organization if they know of a student who might be in danger of becoming involved in a gang or criminal activity.

“I feel like because we're a small town, people don't really think about (gangs in Moses Lake),” she said. “They’re very present and it's very dangerous for our kids who are growing up in the community and I just want to emphasize how important it is for parents to be involved in their life … You need to be aware of who your kid is hanging out with because that's who your kid is.”

Forge Youth Mentoring Central Washington Director Dora Patchen then discussed how one-on-one mentoring from community members can help at-risk youth. 

“So, we all see that there's a crisis, not just in Moses Lake but within the United States as well. Kids are crying out for a friend, and I think that we all would agree that we are created to connect, and in the Western world, sadly, our culture does not really allow (kids) to often hang around with older folks,” she said. “We do our own thing and the kids do their own thing. These kids truly want to connect with us older folks, and we as older folks have … a little bit more wisdom, a little bit more experience.”

Patchen emphasized that it takes involvement from everyone to help youth and prevent concerns such as gang activity.

“It takes really a village. It takes a community,” she said. “It takes family and sometimes not everyone has the resources to help raise a child.”

    Recovery coach Victor Estrada, left, speaks about his personal experience with gangs during the Moses Lake Community Coalition’s gang prevention town hall event Thursday evening.

    Corporal Omar Ramirez, right, the lead detective for the Moses Lake Police Department's Street Crimes Unit, answers questions about gang activity in Moses Lake during the Moses Lake Community Coalition’s annual town hall Thursday night at the Moses Lake Civic Center.
    Forge Youth Mentoring Central Washington Director Dora Patchen discusses one-on-one mentoring during the Moses Lake Community Coalition’s town hall.
    Moses Lake community members visit informational booths at the Moses Lake Civic Center Thursday before the Moses Lake Community Coalition’s town hall meeting