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

Two Local Sailors Get over a Crash in Order to Compete in Rio

Coronado's Paris Henken and her partner, Helena Scutt, set sail toward the Olympics

Will Surfing (Finally) Make It into the Olympics?

After 22 years, the sport might secure its place in the 2020 games in Tokyo

Who Needs a Tutor in First Grade?

What happens when Common Core gets in the way of learning
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. San Diego's Best Restaurants 2016
    From barbecue to vegan options, there’s a bit of manna for everyone in this year’s list of the city’s best
  2. What's It Like to Be the CEO of the Smartest Company in the World?
    We went to Illumina’s headquarters to find out
  3. The 12 Most Important People in Design Right Now
    See what they’re up to and working on in San Diego
  4. 54 Summer Travel Ideas
    Get out of town!
  5. Making a MasterChef
    MasterChef winner Claudia Sandoval on the life-changing ups and downs
  6. Win 1,000 Cash Back on Your Solar Install and 500 Cash
    Brought to you by Sullivan Solar Power
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.

More Than 1,300 Prizes are Ready to be Given Away

What are you waiting for? Buy your raffle ticket now

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Win 1,000 Cash Back on Your Solar Install and 500 Cash

Brought to you by Sullivan Solar Power

Win 2 tickets to Kenny Chesney at Sleep Train Ampitheatre!

Brought to you by Corona Light and Kenny Chesney

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags