When the sun sets over Mount Diablo each evening, Brentwood residents usually go to sleep knowing they’ll wake up to another peaceful day. Most of us will be resting, primarily concerned with thoughts surrounding work or school the next morning. All too often our security is taken for granted, and while residents of the East Bay are guarded by it, some of us are taking it away from others, however far away they might be.
Just like every community throughout the United States, there is a demand for drugs here … and where there is demand, there are dealers who are as eager for money as their customers are for a fix. Above them are the drug traffickers and Mexican cartels, who crave power as much as money, corrupting as many aspects of life in Mexico as they can, while fighting to the death anyone who steps in their way.
Fears that Mexico might lose control of entire regions were brought to light in leaked diplomatic cables by the controversial website Wikileaks last month. Unfortunately, anyone who reads through the reports of shootings and beheadings in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent city, probably already fears this.
Brentwood police detectives Sgt. Mark Misquez and Miguel Aguiar have an informed perspective on the drug networks.
“Drugs often come in from the Central Valley or the bigger cities,” said Misquez, adding that several levels of drug trafficking exist, from powerful cartels to medium-sized gangs and street-level dealers. “You have the cartels bringing it into Southern California and eventually it makes its way up here, to this part of the state. It trickles down to the lower-level dealers.” He went on to describe the shift in drug production in the last two decades, particularly of methamphetamine.
“In the early ’90s and 2000s we saw local production of meth and now it is rare to see that,” he said. “The Mexican nationals have taken over that market now.” According to Misquez, the origins of marijuana are more difficult to tell because a lot of it is homegrown in California, even though large quantities are being smuggled in from Mexico.
Police in the border city of Tijuana recently recovered more than 130 tons of cannabis destined for the United States, which Mexico’s national security spokesman said was the largest-ever drug haul in the nation’s history. Some investigators have connected it to a recent spasm of violence in the city that brought back memories of years past, before the brunt of the violence shifted to Ciudad Juarez on the border with Texas.
Regardless of the point of entry or cultivation, local gangs traffick the drugs and deal them on the street. Misquez and Aguiar described two Latino gangs that have the most influence in Brentwood and the surrounding communities: the Norteños and the Sureños, aptly named for their separate roots in Northern and Southern California. Fierce rivals, the Sureños use the color blue and the Norteños identify with red.
Last year, the San Francisco chronicle reported on an attack in Daly City in which a man presumed by gunmen to be a member of the Norteños was shot to death inside a car – simply because other passengers were wearing red. The gunmen were said to be members of the Mara Salvatrucha, known better as MS-13, which is allied to the Sureños and traces its roots back to Los Angeles.
But MS-13 wields power well outside California. The Center for Immigration Studies notes that its influence is extensive throughout Central America, and the government of Honduras has blamed it for several recent massacres.
“Since the gang phenomenon took off in the ’90s, we have had these gangs in our community,” Aguiar said.
Misquez described a recent incident that occurred in Brentwood: “A few weeks ago, we stopped a car carrying two Sureños members with loaded firearms,” he said. “That same night, officers pursued and tried to contact individuals in a park as they fled on foot, leaving behind a weapon and drugs.” Misquez emphasized that violence in Brentwood is not common and that when it does occur, it is usually targets rival gang members, not everyday citizens.
“We don’t have much violence,” said Misquez. “But just the fact that they are here is concerning enough.”