Faces of Milpas

Romero has two small children, a 4-year-old boy named Benjamin and a 10-month-old girl named Joeanna. Myra Rosales is their mother. But she and Romero have been having troubles.

Romero says he doesn't feel he has missed out by not having a father.

"My mom did the job. I give her credit for that. She's the one who took care of me. She's my father. She did a good job when I has a kid -- strict. I always had to be home."

Four Fields, four generations: The Rosales family  --  Imidana, 78, Natalia, 51, Myra, 23, and Joeanna, 10 months.
Paolo Vescia
Four Fields, four generations: The Rosales family -- Imidana, 78, Natalia, 51, Myra, 23, and Joeanna, 10 months.
Felix "Gato" Medina displays his middle finger; to his left is Margarito "Lito" Rodarte, who awaits an October court appearance.
Paolo Vescia
Felix "Gato" Medina displays his middle finger; to his left is Margarito "Lito" Rodarte, who awaits an October court appearance.

He says he grew up going to school with most of the "kids" listed on the injunction. "We would all just hang together, have fun, go places, do this and that."

The social clique of the gang evolved into a protective force as he grew older, involving him and fellow gang members in struggles over and perceived slights to the neighborhood.

"It's straight-out turf," he says. "The kind of thing where we say we don't like your gang because you're from a different neighborhood, and we'd go up to them and say, 'What are you doing over here?' Stupid stuff. That's just the way I was brought up. We don't like your gang. They don't like ours. We see you, and we want to fight and shoot, you know."

He says his "partners got killed because of another gang. One guy was 15. Another one was 17. One was Benjamin, my old lady's cousin. He's the one I named my son after. We played baseball and everything together. Another partner was named Randy. Another partner of mine was named Cookie. He died. Actually, he shot himself and his cousin sniffing paint."

Romero says that most of the violence occurred when he and other gang members were younger and trying to prove themselves.

With the court's decision on the injunction still pending, he avoids talking too specifically about the gang's activities. Yet he concedes that some of the injunction's allegations of criminal behavior by other gang members are true, adding that the gang members who have been imprisoned "deserve to be there. They know what they did and they're paying the price."

Neighborhood residents who spoke with New Times say the incarceration of Felix Medina, arrested last March along with three other more hard-core members of the gang, has helped to return some calm to the area.

"Felix used to stand out there in the street shooting that gun of his in the air," says one lifelong resident. "I'd call the police about it, but every time I did, they'd come to my house first. Felix could see that. He knew who was calling. It just wasn't worth the risk anymore, so I stopped calling."

The resident adds, "I always felt bad for Felix. His father was killed when he was a little kid, and he never had no one there for him. He just got into those drugs and the gang stuff and went bad."

Vallejo says that too many vulnerable kids -- including Lito -- looked up to men like Felix "because he came out of prison all tattooed down. That glamorized it. They didn't have anybody else to look up to. He kind of took care of them."

Romero attributes much of the gang's crime and violence to youth and alcohol or drugs. He blames the availability of drugs on illegal immigrants who set up drug houses in the area, and says the police ought to deal with those blights. But that hasn't kept him from buying and using. He began smoking marijuana when he was in his early teens. He also started early on alcohol.

"When we were 15 or 16," he says, "we'd be drinking. You didn't know how to handle your liquor, really, so you'd get buzzed and violent.

"Some guys, they didn't care. If they saw somebody they didn't like, they'd just go over there and punch them out. That's when you're trying to prove yourself. Guys are always trying to prove themselves to the gang. Like saying, 'I'm bad; I can do this.' A lot of younger guys do that."

The injunction accuses Romero and his partners of assaults, vandalism, burglaries, robberies, kidnappings, trespassing, drug dealing and violence associated with gang warfare.

Romero says he doesn't deserve to be lumped with the others, and that the suit attempts to pin the crimes of a few on anyone who knows them.

"Some of these guys just have their own mind. They did stuff they wanted to do. We can't control all that people do. Some are just troublemakers. Others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

He says he was one of the unlucky ones, and that the injunction reflects the city's desire to replace the neighborhood with a new football stadium (one of the proposed sites is just north of the Milpas).

The allegations against him in the injunction are fairly slim.

It says that at age 16, he wrote "LCM" on a brick wall with a white marker and had some marijuana and Zigzag cigarette wrappers in his possession. At age 19, he was present with two documented LCM members when police responded to a "shots fired" call in the neighborhood. That same year, police found him with two other LCM members when officers were investigating a "possible marijuana complaint." This year, a jury acquitted him of participating in one robbery. And charges against him for a second robbery were dropped because the victims of the crime failed to show up in court.

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