When Stephanie Ellis was awakened late Friday night by commotion outside her Orange Street apartment in San Bernardino, her first thought was to grab her two teen sons and run for cover. “My heart started pounding. I braced for gunfire, we hid in the closet.” Hearing no gunfire, Ellis said she saw police lights flashing outside her window. “I took a deep breath and thought maybe a child’s life will be saved tonight.”
Welcome to the war on criminal street gangs where long suffering residents like Ellis routinely find themselves caught in the crossfire of murder, mayhem and pain. In a 9-hour sweep that began at 3:00 p.m. Friday and ended at midnight, San Bernardino law enforcement officers rounded up and arrested more than 90 people targeting gang members, probation violators and drug dealers.
Police seized guns, crack co¬caine, marijuana, body armor, cash and stolen property. Those arrested were brought to a mobile command post in the parking lot of San Manuel Stadium before being transported to jail. “They were pretty much going after each other for territory,” said Police Chief Robert Handy. “The majority of them are drug dealers. They hang out near public housing and make quality of life untenable.”
Handy said while the peace officers fanned out across the county, key parts of the operation focused on low income housing areas such as Waterman Gardens at Baseline Street where 19-year- old Donald Ray McCall, Jr. was gunned down June 1. Handy called the sweeps routine and not tied to the city’s recent spate of homicides. He said the sweeps help the district attorney’s office keep track of area gang members and get them off the street.
The operations are something law enforcement conduct on a revolving basis, he said. Friday’s sweep was very successful. No one was injured and no shots were fired. Those arrested ranged in age from 17 to 66. They face charges ranging from drug posses¬sion and distribution to at¬tempted murder. Authorities say the gang unit SMASH has identified and documented some 20 homegrown gangs in the city. There is an estimated 40,000 documented gang members in San Bernardino County, according to police.
About 50 peace officers from law enforcement agencies from Barstow to Fontana and Redlands and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's and Probation departments participated in the sweep. Alfie Williams who lives Waterman Gardens with her two children welcomed the sweep. “You never get used to the gang drama,” says Williams, “them selling drugs and firing off their weapons at each other, cars, houses and at innocent bystanders. On top of that you have to deal with law enforcement raids and other police activity. The tug of war between the gangs and police, it’s always in your face.”
“I worry about my children’s future. The violence leaves you in a constant state of fear and peril,” says Williams, who can’t afford to move out of the neighborhood. “The struggle bends lives in different ways.”
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