At a Friday news conference spurred by an uptick in gang violence, San Jose's most powerful officials talked about improved community outreach, police funding struggles, and efforts to save the city's youth from the clutches of gang life.
One voice cut through the policy talk to give crystal clarity to the issue.
"We are very devastated by what happened to my little brother. It's not fair ..." Blanca Reyes said through sobs, her voice trailing off.
Reyes baby brother, 14-year-old Heriberto, was savagely beaten by a group of youths April 27 at Roosevelt Park in what police described as a gang-related attack, though it remains unclear why he was targeted. Tethered to life support, the Bernal Intermediate School student held on for three days before he was taken off life support and died.
"We want the community to find who did this," Reyes said, standing a podium in the City Hall rotunda. "We would thank you so much if you would help us out."
Preventable tragedies such as Heriberto's death provided the catalyst for the news conference where police and civic leaders announced that gang-prevention programs will be bolstered for the summer months, a particularly perilous time for street violence in the city.
According to homicide Lt. James Randol, gang violence involving young teens has risen over the past year both in straight numbers and as a proportion of overall gang homicides. At this point in 2011, four of the 14
Although no longer crowned America's Safest Big City, San Jose still maintains an enviably low violent crime rate. But public safety has been a sensitive topic at City Hall where a decade of budget deficits have thinned employee ranks even on the police force.
Mayor Chuck Reed, who in his first years tried to boost the force but saw the ranks pared as the economic downturn and exploding employee retirement costs devoured bigger chunks of the city budget, called rebuilding the police department his "highest priority" but acknowledged that "we do not have the resources yet" to do that.
Reed said he hopes his pension reform measure which voters approved this month will help the city control its costs and free up funding to build up the police force. But the officers' union has sued to block it, accusing Reed of illegally limiting their pensions and making San Jose less attractive to police recruits.
Reed did allocate an additional $2 million in the upcoming budget to restore funding to the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force, a widely lauded program begun in the 1990s. The mayor and Chief Chris Moore said the program was effective in keeping a lid on a gang violence spike last year through a "Safe Summer Initiative" that aims to steer kids away from gangs with educational programs, sports and entertainment activities.
Moore said no gang homicides were recorded last summer, a feat he hopes will repeat this year. Councilwoman Rose Herrera, a member of the gang task force, highlighted increased participation from the city's faith communities and reiterated the need for residents to be vigilant to both deter and solve gang crimes.
"We need people to come forward when they hear things," she said.
For Blanca Reyes, it won't bring back Heriberto, whom she described as a joking kid who loved playing basketball. He had just been dropped off at the Roosevelt Park courts while his dad looked for parking when the gang swarmed him.
But some answers might at least ease the questions in her mind about why she lost her little brother.
"He never had any problems with anybody," Reyes said. "This was all a shock."
Staff writer John Woolfolk contributed to this report. Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.