As a resident of McFarland, I have experienced first-hand, and have witnessed a number of our young community members turning to street gangs in an effort to cope with their personal challenges. I believe that the young people in our community are a glimpse of what will become of McFarland. As a fellow community member, I strongly urge that we dive even deeper than before on this everpresent issue in our community.

As I think back on being an adolescent, whose parents had just separated, I remember finding myself roaming the streets of McFarland in search of a new family. Consequently, the new family that I met on the streets of McFarland led me to a series of problematic behaviors, which to this day still have an effect on my emotional, mental and physical well-being. Thus, my concern with our youth turning to street gangs for social support is the negative impact that it may have on their overall well-being, and the reality of an early demise.

According to The Bakersfield Californian and based on my personal background, the following stories are examples of the deep-rooted issue of street gangs in the McFarland community. In 2005, my younger brother, who was 18 years of age at the time, was stabbed and died on the pavement of a local gas station due to gang violence. In 2007, a Californian staff writer headlined their work: "Gang siege terrorizes McFarland community." In 2008, another Californian staff writer reported: "Cops fight back against gang violence in McFarland."

If you have resided in McFarland for some time, you may have some sort of awareness of the enticing influences that the street gang culture plays on the minds of the adolescents in the community. In addition, you may realize how the resulting behaviors of these youth who affiliate with these gangs can adversely affect their overall health. Interestingly, as residents of the community, we have known about this issue for several decades. The question remains: As a community, are we really concerned about this issue?

In 2017, The Californian announced: "McFarland man fatally shot Saturday has been identified," and "Man shot to death in McFarland identified." Both of these separate incidents are reminders of our everpresent issue of street gangs in McFarland, and of how real this issue remains to the well-being of our children, families and community.

As a former gang member in McFarland, I am fully aware of the atrocities committed by gangs and their members. But as a 15-year-old who congregated with other youth of similar age, I bring you a different perspective on this concerning issue.

Gang affiliation does not happen all at once. The process is gradual, and once you are in too deep, it becomes very difficult to get out. It becomes your identity — it is who you are — and most adults know that during our adolescent years we yearned for a personal identity. As a juvenile, you may have some sort of a voice, but as a juvenile “delinquent” that little voice you had is gone when you become part of the stupid Juvenile Justice System.

The youth now becomes a slave to the vicious cycle of police harassment, juvenile court, juvenile hall and/or juvenile probation. Eventually, the youth becomes part of a larger cycle: police harassment, adult court, county jail/probation, prison/parole, and on and on.

Seriously, is there no other system that can work with these youth other than condemning them to a life that has proven over and over to have detrimental effects on their biological, psychological and social aspects of their health? City officials of McFarland and residents, including myself, together can certainly do a lot better for the youth in our community.

Manuel Morales is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.

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