FanPost

Baseball, Gangbangers and Me

I spent the last two weeks on the jury of a gang/drug murder and we reached a verdict yesterday.  

The trial took us pretty far into gang culture just so we could understand the case because most of us have never come this close to it before.  I think there is a tendency in all of us to look away because this is Not Our Problem, and if we are forced to look, we think, "Thank God I don't live there." 

We were forced to look and forced to think about what it means to live among gangs.

 We learned the names of several affiliated gangs in Santa Ana and their "enemies", how they dress, how they handle guns, the culture of "Traditional Mexican street gangs" as opposed to all the other types of gangs, including  biker gangs and skinheads, and we had quick course in local gang graffiti.  We found out that the characters "13" or "XIII" or "X3"  represent an affiliation with the Mexican Mafia, that the Santa Ana Lopers consider the EastSiders their enemies, and that Lopers Minnie Street is a sub-set of the Lopers gang.  I find that I can now read some gang graffiti.  Mr opiejeanne doesn't know whether he finds that alarming or amusing. 

This immersion into gang culture was depressing and I feel like I'm recovering from a really nasty case of the flu.There was so much viciousness described, so many murders and shootings and knifings, so many different drug dealers operating on top of each other, that it was like being in an airless place, underwater, suffocating, and this was only a very small taste of the despair experienced by the ordinary people who live in gang neighborhoods, the ones who are not a part of  gang culture.   During deliberations, one of the jurors asked why they didn't just move away; she was simply bewildered that anyone would stay.  Another juror who grew up in the area and in similar poverty explained very gently why moving away from the problem isn't that simple, and not just because of money. 

This case was difficult because there was no forensic evidence that put the gun in the defendant's hand; there was enough evidence to put him at the scene at the right time, no doubt about it, and we had witnesses who named him as one of two shooters.  We had to decide if we believed the witnesses and that proved difficult.

We looked at photographs of the scene, pictures of the victim taken less than an hour after death, pictures of his tattoos and wounds.  He looked a little surprised in the photo that showed his face.  The photos did not shock me at first, probably because there was almost no blood; my husband thought it was because I've been desensitized by movies and tv. There really was very little blood, even on the victim's clothing.

We watched one witness for the prosecution refuse to testify and saw another one nearly collapsing from terror after her testimony.  I have no doubt that the one who refused to testify will be dead within the next six months because the tape of his statement was played in court for us. We saw the families of the victim and defendant weeping during testimony, and we endured the glares of several young men in the gallery who may have been from either family.  I felt sympathy for both families, and I felt sorry for the jury for having to even hear what we heard.  

It was so tough to do what we had to do, that when we left on Friday evening everyone was angry with someone else on the jury, and I was mad at nearly all of them.  I had a margarita with dinner, something I rarely do and never when I'm upset.  It was a good thing that we had the weekend to really think it over because it gave us a chance to work through the most troubling bits of  testimony.  We all wished for some piece of evidence on one side or the other that would make it clear-cut, either an iron-clad alibi so we could find him not guilty or something from forensics that was so solid that we could find him guilty, and we just didn't have that luxury; instead, we had to decide who was credible and what parts of their testimony we believed.

In the end we found the defendant guilty of 1st degree murder, guilty of the enhanced charges of "street terrorism" and "use of a firearm", but it was really hard on all of us. No one took this lightly, not even the most hardline among us. The defendant is now 19, 17 at the time of the crime, and there was ample evidence that his family had tried to keep him out of trouble.   The shooting took place on New Year's eve and it grew out of an argument that escalated into a fist-fight,  cheered on by the rest of the gang.  

I got a little teary-eyed when we finished deliberating yesterday so I went and washed my face; I didn't want anyone to notice, so I don't know if I was the only one.  Our identities have been sealed for now, but we will have to petition at some point in the not-too-distant future to keep them sealed; my kids are urging me to do so. 

And what, you may ask, does all of this have to do with baseball in general, or the Angels in particular?

The Angels came up several times during the trial, once in a comment from the judge that we'd all be home in time for the game. There was a gasp-inducing moment  when the prosecuting attorney gave his closing arguments (rebuttal?).  As an example of what constituted 2nd degree murder he gave a description, down to the last hangnail, of the circumstances of the Nick Adenhart case.  He didn't name Nick, but it was all there in his comments, all the times the unnamed driver was arrested for DUI, sent to rehab, signed a document acknowledging that someone might die if he chose to drive drunk, etc.   I don't know if anyone else on the jury even noticed, but I was really disturbed by it.  

Baseball came to my aid when we were discussing the credibility of the prosecution's star witness. We had to decide if she really could identify the defendant from 80 to 100 feet away, pick him out of a crowd of 15 to 20 young men all dressed alike.  The only way I could put that distance into perspective is that I know it's 90 feet from Home to 1st.   Umpires sometimes get it wrong even when they're standing right on top of a play,  but they do get it right most of the time (we won't talk about Doug Eddings) despite what the fans sitting farther than 90 feet away think.  This witness has more in common with those fans than the umpire because of distance and bias, but we're only talking about a relatively simple play at first base.  The murder itself was more like that bench-clearing brawl on Easter, Angels vs. Boston. The shooting took place in a parking lot at 11pm, and even though it was lighted  I decided that from that distance she could not have seen the defendant well enough to know that he was the one holding the gun, pointing the gun, or shooting the gun.  Heck, it was a 25 semi-automatic and I'm pretty sure she couldn't even see the gun.  

Baseball logos are part of gang identity.  I may be 59 but I'm not naive; I know that some of those Dodgers and White Sox caps I see are worn for a secondary purpose, but it brought me up short when I discovered that there is a gang in my neighborhood that uses the Angels logo for their gang ID.  After my first reaction of "What?  Here??!!!" and "How Dare They Use My Angels For This Crap!!!!"  I was surprised to see  that they operate pretty close to my house.   It's  annoying/amusing/annoying that little punk-ass15-year-old self-proclaimed bad boys have MySpace accounts where they brag about how bad they are. I'd like to believe that they're all just a bunch of wanna-be kids, nothing more than a tagging crew, but I know that's not the case.  I know that there are older members who have been convicted of some pretty nasty stuff.

And finally, Angels baseball kept me sane during deliberations, gave me an escape from this vicarious misery even if I experienced only a glimpse of it.  The knowledge that we had another game every night gave me something to look forward to, and it only helped that they did so well during this period. I hesitate to link to any of the gang art using the Angels logo because what they represent really disturbs me, but it illustrates a little of what I'm talking about. If Rev says it's ok, I will. I'm not even sure my essay has enough to do with baseball that I should be posting it here.  I will not be offended if told that it is not appropriate for this forum.

This Fan-Post is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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