Monterey County

Study: Hispanics' murder rate double that of whites nationwide

If you're Hispanic, it doesn't mean you're automatically at risk, police said

SALINAS - Soccer is a popular sport in Salinas and across the world. The only weapons you'll find on the pitch at Cesar Chavez Community Park are the legs of the athletes.

By imagining that scene you probably couldn't tell that the national murder rate among Hispanics at 5.73 is more than doubled that among whites, according to a study by Violence Policy Center, a national organization aiming to prevent gun violence. This comes as no surprise to Salinas police -- 92 percent of homicide and non fatal shooting victims in Salinas are Hispanic.

But police said being Hispanic in Salinas doesn't mean you are at a higher risk of being shot.

"It's that segment of the community that does choose to associate with gangs, that does choose to engage in violence and hang around with people who engage in violence that become suspects and victims," said Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin.

Police said arresting gang members is half the battle in areas like Hebbron Heights; the other half, and perhaps the most important they said, is preventing that violence from ever occurring in the first place.

"It's not an unsolvable issue," said Jose Arreola, Salinas community safety director.

Arreola grew up around gang violence but he veered toward the prevention route--implementing a two-pronged approach in the Hebbron Heights area.

"It's part intervention where were working with the youth who is in crisis at that moment, but it's also prevention because then we look to focus on their young brothers and sisters to prevent them from following that same path," Arreola said.

McMillin added that he's been trying to approach gang violence as a public health issue, like the flu. In other words, to focus on what's causing the sickness in the first place and stop it before it spreads.

A path they hope leads the youth to kicking around a soccer ball rather than kicking themselves for not making the right choice

But the implementation of widespread prevention programs always comes down to money. And right now Salinas is underfunded.

The full study can be read here.

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