On Halloween of 1993, Pasadena, CA had to face the reality of street gangs head on. There was no more room to pretend like the organized crime of America’s gang capital, Los Angeles, wasn’t here too.
That night, three gang-affiliated men gunned down six teenagers who were trick-or-treating. None of the victims were gang-affiliated; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time that Halloween. Three of the young men died that night.
More than two years later, the three gunmen were found guilty of first degree murder, among other charges. And nearly three and a half years after the Halloween Massacre occurred the perpetrators were sentenced to death. And though 21 years have passed, the three men who were convicted of this horror on Halloween have yet to receive their ultimate punishment.
The tragedy of this situation isn’t just found in the deaths of innocent young men or the ever-present delays of the justice system; it can also be seen in the fact that a community had ignored the warning signs that this type of gang-related violence was possible. All the necessary components were present. And yet no one seemed to notice and, thus, nothing was done.
Halloween Massacre Lessons
There’s no need to look unnecessarily back into the past to pick at proverbial scabs. But when there’s an opportunity for learning to happen and growth to occur, it would be a grand mistake not to look back so that we can move forward.
So, it’s with this philosophy of learning from the past that I offer a few humble suggestions of possible lessons to be learned from the Halloween Massacre of 1993 in Pasadena.
- We must get our heads out of the sand. Gangs and the things that help create them (such as poverty, broken families, joblessness, poor schools, etc.) are nation-wide problems, if not global problems. In cities such as Los Angeles this is not surprising. But in Pasadena, a city known for a parade of flowers, a football game, and a song about a little ol’ lady, they are surprising. And they’re surprising in my hometown of Midland, TX too. And perhaps they’re even more surprising in suburban and rural areas. Here’s the truth: Gangs and the factors that lead to them are present almost everywhere. It’s time we, as community members, as the church, and as families, did something about this.
- We must get past historic and systemic racism and classism. One of the easiest ways to ignore gang violence is to blame it on the “stupidity” of poor people or ethnic minorities. It’s easy for someone in a comfortable home among their still-together family to bemoan how “those people” don’t make any sense and how “they” make poor choices. The truth is that the “they” are “us” and “we” are “them.” There’s no divide. Everyone is looking for a place to belong. Everyone is looking for ways to make money. And anyone can get wrapped up in the gang life. A perfect example of this is murder or a gang-affiliated young man in my neighborhood last week. He grew up in an intact family, in good schools, and with a bright future. Gang affiliation isn’t just an issue among poor people and people of color. This is a human issue. This is our issue.
- We must cross barriers and enter into the communities most affected by gangs. Friends, if every human life matters, then we must set our fears aside and enter into real, human relationships with people in every sort of neighborhood, including (and especially!) those most impacted by gangs. Children need mentors. Young people need to see and experience hope. Gang members need to be reminded that they are seen and cared for by people other than their homies in their click. We have to get over our fears and issues and cross whatever barriers may exist for us. Will it be easy? Of course not. If you look like me you’ll face an uphill battle, trust me. I’ve been mistaken for a police officer. One of my friends, who just so happens to be have male-pattern baldness, gets confused for a skinhead all the time. And you may have to fight against the accusation that you have the “save a brother syndrome.” Relationships that cross cultural divides take time. But they’re worth it. For a ton of reasons. You’ll grow and be stretched and learn how to love like never before.
- We must trust in the power of Jesus to transform lives, neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and ultimately the whole world. We can’t do this. We can’t do this as individuals or as groups of people. We need divine help. We need to power of Jesus. We all do, not just the gang members or potential gang members. And when we trust Jesus to do the transformation, it can help us to steer clear of the idea that we can change the world. We can’t. Only Jesus can bring true transformation. And Jesus wants to use people who know and daily experience that transformation in their own lives to be agents of that same transformation in the world. God wants to use us. He wants to express his love and compassion for everyone and he has chosen to do that through us!
So, what will you do? How will you help lead others to address issues like the ones that led to the Halloween Massacre in Pasadena? And How will you and your community give the responsibility of transformation over to Jesus? Let me know in the comments below!