Leon Worden




A real commitment to 'fixing up Newhall'

By Leon Worden
Wednesday, August 19, 1998

P
eople who knew him as a teen-ager say Robert Aguilera was a happy-go-lucky kid who was always smiling. He went to Hart High and played pool and basketball at the Boys and Girls Club. He was involved in the teen club at the Newhall Community Center. He held jobs at places like Magic Mountain and the Valencia Industrial Center.

And he was a member of the Newhall 13 street gang. Not a leader of it. More like a wanna-be.

Now he's dead.

Aguilera, 20, leaves behind a 13-month-old daughter, Lisette. The mother, Ava Maria Medrano of Newhall, is said to be three months pregnant with his second child.

Authorities met Monday and Tuesday to determine what precipitated the weekend violence, and to develop a contingency plan to suppress further flare-ups.

Robert Aguilera

ROBERT AGUILERA Drive-by Victim

Frustration runs high. Things were going so well. It had been three years since 17-year-old Jimmy Yoguez of Val Verde was stabbed to death in what was then described as an ambush by a group of Newhall youths. Gang activity was out of control in the early '90s, but with stepped-up sheriff's patrols and after-school programs and a new park and other neighborhood improvements, things were looking good.

Until the graffiti showed up last week on the third anniversary of the Jimmy Yoguez death.

Members of the Val Verde Park gang smashed car windows and left their "VVP" symbol in East Newhall. At the corner of Pine and Third streets, the symbol has been crossed out and "N13" scrawled in its place. Off Chiquito Canyon Road in Val Verde, "Newhall 13" and an expletive now replace a VVP marking. One can easily speculate that the tagging escalated into violence.

A line was crossed on Arch Street Saturday night, and this one wasn't drawn in spray paint.

The sheriffs make a distinction between hard-core gang members and those who simply affiliate with a gang, but I'm starting to reconsider this whole concept of a "wanna-be" gang member. I'm thinking our use of the phrase "wanna-be" gang member is just another way we tell ourselves this sort of thing doesn't happen here, that these kids aren't "real" gang members. I'm sorry, but it isn't "wanna-be" anymore when somebody ends up dead.

Just the words, "drive-by," strike fear. As with a carjacking, they imply that anyone can be a victim. But this doesn't appear to have been a random act.

Aguilera and the alleged shooter or shooters knew each other. People in East Newhall say they drove through the neighborhood, spotted Aguilera, doubled back and opened fire. Observers believe it was a deliberate, premeditated act, regardless of whether Aguilera was specifically singled out ahead of time, and many suspect it was done in revenge for Yoguez, despite the long interval.

After all, drive-bys don't happen here, any more than mothers kill their kids in Saugus. Or North Valencia. Whatever.

No, it happens "over there," in the barrio, Little Tijuana, across the tracks. Not in Santa Clarita, where the sod is manicured and the cars are electric.

We can fix up the buildings in downtown Newhall and make it a safe, pleasant place for shoppers. That's easy. The real work is harder: knocking down barriers, not buildings. Ethnic barriers. Language barriers. Economic barriers. It doesn't happen in a couple of years, maybe not even in a generation.

Every real estate agent in town should be screaming. We cannot be "number one" unless every part of our valley is crime-free. We cannot maintain our reputation for good schools unless every child has equal access to a quality education.

But it will take more than screaming. The sheriffs don't make a city safe. Residents do. It means taking responsibility. It means taking the time to at least try to understand the complex social underpinnings of our poorer neighborhoods.

The United Mothers, the Sheriff's Department, the Anti-Gang Task Force, the Boys and Girls Club, the city parks department and others have worked hard in recent years to provide alternatives and keep kids from "wanna-being" gang members. Gang crime has dropped appreciably. But the move from suppression to real progress will require a lot more. As with voting, if you aren't part of the solution, you've got no right to bitch.

This will be a tough week to get through. When we come out of it, our commitment to "fixing up Newhall" should be all the stronger. It has to be. Because this, my friends, is your Santa Clarita Valley.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.
    ©1999 LEON WORDEN — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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