A man makes a stand against gangs in Santa Ana

After his life was allegedly threatened by a suspected gang member, Eduardo Rendon decided to do something about it.

By DOUG IRVING
The Orange County Register
Sunday, January 25, 2009

SANTA ANA – This is how Eduardo Rendon remembers the series of events that made him fear for his life:

He was taking out the trash. Saw an adolescent tough guy leaning against the alley wall. Told him to leave.

The boy approached, one hand under his sweatshirt, and quietly assured Rendon: “You’ll be dead tomorrow.”

What happened next may not seem like much. But in a neighborhood scribbled over with graffiti, in a city with some of the highest levels of violent crime in Orange County, Rendon will be the first to tell you it wasn’t easy.

He called police. And when they arrived, he went outside, pointed out the teenager who had threatened him, and said he wanted to press charges. In plain daylight.

“If we don’t speak up, if we’re all just too scared, we’re just going to end up taking it,” said Rendon, 50, a social worker who often works with juvenile offenders sent to him by the courts.

“What other choice is there?” he said. “If you’re going to create change, you’re going to have to confront this kind of violence and street terrorism.”

Police and city officials have emphasized in recent months that people need to stand up to gang members and other criminals, to take back their own neighborhoods. When police raided two rough Santa Ana neighborhoods late last year, church workers and counselors went in behind them to urge residents to call police and report crimes.

Rendon works in a quieter part of the city, within sight of City Hall and the courts. But spray paint mars the block front wall of an office building next to his, and someone recently tried to set fire to a wooden fence nearby.

Rendon, who also lives in Santa Ana, said he has called police just about every week for at least the past month to report teenagers hanging out, drinking and tagging the alley behind his office. He called them twice again after his encounter with the teenager in the baggy sweatshirt outside his office on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month.

The first time, he said, he was told to call back later and talk to a gang unit. Later in the day, when the teenager returned to the alley with three friends, he called again. Police arrived within minutes and surrounded the kids.

Rendon says they warned him that they could not guarantee that the teen who threatened him would spend any real time in custody. He said he wanted to press charges nonetheless.

Cmdr. Tammy Franks, a police spokeswoman, said she could not speak in detail about the case because it involves underage suspects. She provided a brief police report that summed it up this way: “Documented juvenile gang member threaten(s) citizen’s life.”

It’s been more than a week since Rendon filed that report. He said he’s watching his back now, but hasn’t had any more trouble.

A gang detective called him Monday and told him the teen was still in custody at Juvenile Hall, and would probably stay there until the case goes to court. The detective said police hadn’t contacted him since the arrest because “no follow-up was needed… as it was properly handled at the patrol level,” according to a police account of the conversation.

Rendon said that calling the police and pointing out the teen who had threatened him was something that had to be done.

“Everybody is so scared and so intimidated by the gang activity that they’re just hiding,” he said. “I just want people to speak up. If there were enough of us, it would stop.”

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