Edit ModuleShow Tags

"It's a War Zone Down Here."

An exploration of the significantly high murder rates in Southeast San Diego


Published:

(page 1 of 3)

Michael Brunker carries a list of names in his head of kids he’s come to know over the years. The YMCA executive director can tell you their ages, hopes and plans, grade point averages, favorite sports, where they lived, their parents’ and even their grandparents’ names. He can also tell you what each of them were doing the day they were murdered.

GRAYING BUT FIT, BRUNKER RUNS the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA in the heart of Southeast San Diego, an area he calls a “war zone.” Bordered by downtown, the I-5, and the Martin Luther King freeways, Southeast is a handful of small communities with idyllic names like Paradise Hills or Skyline or Mt. Hope. But the iron security bars over doors and windows suggest a grimmer reality. These are the deadliest zip codes in San Diego County.

“There’s a lot of violence,” Brunker says. “And there are a lot of unsolved crimes. That’s the message I’m on top of right now.”  

Last June, it was apparent that San Diego was headed for an especially violent year. According to the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), there were 51 homicides, compared to 31 homicides reported by mid-year in 2010. SDPD spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown acknowledges the staggering increase, with a caveat: “We honestly had no idea why the numbers in 2010 were so low.”

BROWN SAYS THE 65 PERCENT homicide jump in 2011 was in fact a return to average. “We were on track for a low-normal year,” she explains, until Southeast San Diego erupted in violence. “There were a bunch of gang-related deaths in Mt. Hope, Mountain View, and Lincoln Park.”

By April, nine people had either been shot or killed in Southeast. Police Chief William Lansdowne announced SDPD would beef up patrols. In May, neighbors held a peace rally at the intersection of Euclid and Imperial—a.k.a. The Four Corners of Death, ground zero of gang combat. The focus of the rally was on the violence itself, but Brunker says the area’s low rate of criminal apprehension points to a bigger problem.

“After a crime happens, I look to see if [police] have arrested somebody,” he says. “And most of the time, they have not.” He attributes this largely to the unspoken code of the ‘hood: What happens here, stays here. In Southeast, a constant fear of gang retaliation dissuades victims from talking to law enforcement. The silence provides a safe haven for more bloodshed.

By the end of 2011, SDPD released statistics that show San Diego's overall crime rate—considering all violent crimes across all parts of the city—was remarkably low. On par with the crime rate of the 1960s, even, and placing San Diego among the 10 safest cities in the US. Press conferences touted the success of the police department, but Brunker says it's a dangerous kind of victory speech.

“Throughout the year we continued to receive crime statistics that showed overall crime had dropped not only in San Diego but around the country. However, for those victims of violence and loss in Southeast it is unsettling to hear," says Brunker. "For the families who are surviving violent loss, they don't want to talk numbers. For them, one is too many."

"The gun crimes, the violent crimes, the fatalities—those all appear to be higher in Southeast San Diego than in prior years.”

Last year’s peace rally was not Southeast’s first; public demonstrations have followed almost every gang-related bloodbath going back to 2003 and beyond. Of the county’s 88 gangs, Brunker says at least 50 operate within those few square miles. Surely some gang affiliates heard the outrage in the voices at the Four Corners rally on that day. But just as surely, they offered no truce.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

The Coolest Things Happening in San Diego Beer Right Now

A dive into the new, notable, and lesser-known in our city’s beer scene

Your 2018 San Diego Summer Bucket List

Here’s our insider’s guide for Memorial Day through Labor Day

The Best of North County 2018

Our annual list of what we’re loving above the 56, from bites and brews to shopping, wellness, and arts and kids’ activities galore
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Vote Now for San Diego's Best Restaurants 2018
    From burritos to bottomless mimosas, you choose San Diego’s best eats and drinks in 90 categories
  2. Personal Stories are on Display at the Museum of Man's 'PostSecret'
    Frank Warren collects deep, dark secrets for this community arts project
  3. The Best of North County 2018
    Our annual list of what we’re loving above the 56, from bites and brews to shopping, wellness, and arts and kids’ activities galore
  4. 31 Best Places to Live in San Diego
    Five local homeowners share their advice, tips, and tricks on how they sealed the deal
  5. Has Anything Really Changed Since Ballast Point Sold to Constellation?
    More than two years after the acquisition, misinformation and misunderstanding still abound
  6. Green Rush: Inside San Diego's Emerging Cannabis Industry
    Marijuana's legal. How did it go from evil death drug to medical miracle and billion-dollar industry?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Win Our Instagram Contest And Get Three Months of Free Orangetheory Fitness Classes

All you have to do is post to Instagram telling us why you want it, or enter below!

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

AquaVie: 10 Reasons It’s Downtown’s Best Kept Secret

The best workout and spa getaway around? It’s actually right underneath your nose.

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags