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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Stopping Gang Warfare

August 12, 1993

There's a certain numbness that sets in these days when reading about the deaths of innocent victims trapped in gang shootouts, an unfortunate measure of how widespread the problem has become. But the death of Lazaro Omar Acosta Jr. was so appalling as to break through the veneer of insensitivity.

Acosta was 15. He was preparing to go on a religious retreat with his mother. Before reaching the church, his parents pulled into a convenience store parking lot in Orange. He stayed in the car while his parents went inside. A gun battle between gang factions broke out nearby and one of the shots tore through the car and killed the teen-ager. Police have arrested five people in the death so far.

The shooting recalls the death in Santa Ana last year of Mauro Vergara Meza, shot to death while driving home from a pickup basketball game at Santa Ana High School. The killer claimed to be a former gang member carrying a gun because he had been shot and stabbed a year earlier. He was sentenced two weeks ago to 20 years to life in prison. It was an appropriate sentence.

Meza's death outraged Santa Ana and prompted the city to try to put together an anti-gang program. The city has implemented only a fraction of what was planned; implementation of the full program is needed.

Gangs are not yet a plague in Laguna Beach (although there are those based elsewhere who get into fights with rivals at beaches there). However, the Laguna Beach Unified School District and the Police Department have wisely started working together to draw up plans to see that gangs do not become a more serious problem.

The schools and the police also have the right notion in planning to reach out to businesses and community groups for ideas and support for anti-gang programs. The fears of Orange County police departments that gangs would break away from their home turf and head for nearby cities are proving sadly prophetic. Orange County should be outraged by deaths of innocent victims such as Lazaro Acosta, and should support programs to stop gang warfare.

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