Thursday, May 11, 2000
This is how Alicia Salazar--Salinas resident, youth group coordinator and mother of one--remembers a critical moment that cinched her decision to get involved in educating youth about gun violence:
On a quiet evening in January, she was sitting down to dinner with her mother Nora and son Victor in their home on the east side of Salinas when suddenly the wail of a police siren broke the silence, pouring through the open windows.
Four-year-old Victor piped up. "Someone''s dead," he announced. "They got shot."
Surprised, Salazar looked at him. "How do you know?" she asked.
His nonchalant response chilled her. "Because that''s what it means over here," he said.
It wasn''t much later that Salazar learned about the first annual Million Mom March happening in Watsonville this Mother''s Day. Part of Watsonville''s three-year-old Mother''s Day Peace March, the Million Mom March is a demonstration for tougher gun laws. Along with hundreds of other mothers (though everyone''s welcome) from the Central Coast, Salazar will be rallying to support her sisters across the nation in an event spanning 63 cities. The headline march will take place in Washington, DC, where an expected 200,000 women plan to gather and march on the Mall, demanding that Congress pass "sensible gun legislation."
The organization, which was symbolically launched nine months ago, has a platform of five "no-brainer" laws it wants to see enacted: detailed background checks, cooling-off periods, trigger locks, safer handguns with features like loaded-chamber indicators, and registration and licensing.
Not surprisingly, opposition groups like the Armed Informed Mothers March argue that the Million Mom March is challenging Second Amendment rights. But the march is not about banning guns or the right to own them, explains Beth Kotkin, the California Central Coast regional coordinator for the march.
"We realize trying to ban guns is unrealistic," she says. "We are hoping to educate the public about the painful cost of gun violence, to motivate the majority, who favor common-sense gun control measures, to take an active part in getting safety measures implemented."
Kotkin points to a recent Gallup Poll suggesting that a majority of people favor stricter gun laws. But passage of key gun control provisions like mandatory background checks for unlicensed dealers at gun shows has provoked the wrath of the gun lobby, and the road to reform is arduous.
Salazar has always been aware of the pain caused by gun violence. Both her parents grew up in LA in a world shadowy with gangs. Hoping to provide his children with a better life, Salazar''s father joined the Army, eventually settling with his family in Salinas when he was stationed at Fort Ord. Although Salazar''s relationship with her parents was strong, it didn''t prevent her from having friends who were gang members.
"Even though I never got involved and was never even borderline, I was right there in the middle," explains Salazar. "Everyone knew my house was safe. They knew my parents never judged any of my friends."
In fact, her friends often would come over and ask her to hold their guns, telling her, "I just can''t have this right now." Salazar would give the guns to her mom and she would "take care of them," no questions asked. This meant handing them over to police.
Salazar''s family offered these friends a non-threatening, hassle-free way to ditch their unwanted weapons. But for most of her friends, parental support and understanding weren''t so plentiful at home. Most of their parents were just trying to survive.
"Seeing everything that happened and not being able to do anything was always my biggest regret," says Salazar. "Now I look at my son and I don''t want him going to school and worrying about wearing the wrong colors or worrying about being picked on. I don''t want him to experience what the guys I grew up with went through."
Her concern doesn''t stop at the front doorstep. Salazar believes that in order to improve her son''s world she has to help her community, so she works as a youth coordinator for Salinas Barrios Unidos, a multicultural grassroots organization established to help prevent violence and drug abuse. Every week she meets with a youth group, mostly boys ages 15-17, in the juvenile detention center, where they discuss ways to deal with stress and anger.
Statistics suggest that Salazar is working right in the belly of the beast. According to Nancy Welsh, executive director of the Women''s Crisis Center in Salinas, Monterey County has the dubious honor of ranking second out of 23 California counties (with school enrollments over 39,000) for assaults with a deadly weapon taking place on school campuses.
Welsh admits she found those results "startling." "But it is also why we are out educating 1,500 kids at the kindergarten level in Salinas and South County about violence prevention," she says.
"In Salinas," she continues, "you have a western cowboy influence and a large gang member population that uses sophisticated weapons. Put these two elements together, and it is why Monterey County is at the top in gun violence."
Salazar wants Victor to understand and value life. She doesn''t want him to listen nonchalantly to police sirens, be a witness to drive-bys, or worry about firebombings. She doesn''t want him to accept this as a normal and expected way of life. So she is taking him and her mother to Watsonville this Sunday. They will be adding their voice to the hundreds of thousands of mothers who plan to tell Congress that come November, those representatives who stood by their guns may be out of a job courtesy of those voters who stood by their children.
For more information about the Million Mom March, contact Lucia Vindiola at 722-5914 or log onto the local Web site at http://www.mmmsfbayarea.org. Marchers will meet at the Watsonville Town Plaza Sunday at 9am.