Despite its enviably low crime rate, Ventura County has a nasty problem that the public must stand up and help police to combat.
That problem is racist violence caused by white supremacist "skinhead" gangs. Sheriff Bob Brooks recently told The Times that skinhead violence has soared in recent months, prompting county law enforcement officials to make it a top priority.
Such violence is "where we see the most immediate threat to the public," Brooks said. "We're getting more violent incidents from these groups than any other."
Aggressive police work and prosecution have sent many of the most violent skinheads to prison--yet officials say the white supremacists are the only type of gangs that appear to be growing in Ventura County. Camarillo and Thousand Oaks have their share of skinheads, but the problem is heaviest in The Avenue area of Ventura, stretching into the Ojai Valley and Meiners Oaks.
Among recent incidents linked to local skinheads are brawls at parties, assaults, witness intimidation and homicide. Authorities say they get reports of at least two assaults a month involving white supremacists or their associates, and two recent slayings are believed to have their roots in this hate-filled underworld:
* Ventura skinhead Justin Merriman, 26, is charged with raping and killing Santa Monica College student Katrina Montgomery in 1992 and then using a network of fellow gang members to intimidate witnesses in his case.
* Authorities believe that skinheads are responsible for the beating death of Nick Dowey, 21, at a Meiners Oaks party in 1997. No arrests have yet been made in that case.
Such crimes obviously demand full investigation and prosecution. But equally abhorrent to the good people of Ventura County are lesser assaults on civic peace and harmony such as harassment of minority members in restaurants or parks, crashing of private parties, and racist or anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti. Such behavior taints every Ventura County resident, and all of us must work with local police to report and solve these crimes.
Authorities say most skinheads come from single-parent homes where there is no strong male role model. Some have parents with racist beliefs. Such youths require special attention from schools and social-service organizations engaged in mentoring and gang-intervention work.
In light of the recent racist shootings in the Chicago area and homophobic slayings and synagogue fires in Sacramento, it is clear that even small incidents must be taken seriously lest they lead to mayhem. White supremacist violence is a cancer that all Ventura County residents must work together to cure.