Holding the line

A fight involving a large number of young men that left one dead of stab wounds is evidence that gang activity continues to be a problem in Medford and Jackson County.

In the winter of 2008, a rash of gang-related incidents left one man with stab wounds and others with injuries after a fight in White City. One young man who had fallen in with gang members committed suicide.

That February, a carload of teenagers escaped tragedy when shots were fired into their vehicle in a drive-by incident near South Medford High School.

Now one of these gang-fueled clashes has claimed a life.

After the 2008 incidents, local police departments and the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said they had declared a zero-tolerance policy on gang activity. Since the fight earlier this month, investigators have been aggressively pursuing all those who were present that night, arresting and jailing them on a variety of charges while they sort out what happened.

No one has yet been charged with the murder of 24-year-old Marco Antonio Diaz, but several people connected to the incident are behind bars. Police have publicly identified 13 people they say are linked to the case.

This kind of aggressive response from law enforcement is exactly what is called for.

Medford has seen slow growth in gang activity over the past several years. Present or former gang members who moved here from California communities with an entrenched gang culture brought their attitudes with them.

Community organizations dedicated to serving at-risk youths such as Kids Unlimited have worked hard to offer local young people healthy alternatives to gang affiliation.

The emergence of gang activity in the Rogue Valley is recent enough that this area does not have multi-generational gangs — yet. Other cities in Oregon are seeing that phenomenon.

Medford and surrounding communities have an advantage over larger cities with longer gang history. Crime rates in general are comparatively low, and police departments can devote resources to sniffing out emerging gang behavior.

That they are doing so is reassuring, but it is no cause for complacency. The threat gangs pose to the health and safety of the community at large is real.

Community action — volunteer graffiti removal, support for Kids Unlimited and other social service agencies, and cooperation with police — is a key component in combatting gangs.

But on the front lines, there is no substitute for aggressive action by law enforcement.

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