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Victim of Gang Violence Remembered

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 4 -- Chanting softly in Spanish under a pale full moon, scores of mourners Tuesday night filed into Virginia Avenue Park, where, one week before, 20-year-old Miguel Angel Martin lay mortally wounded in a concrete parking lot.

No police tape or bloodstains remained after Martin was shot in the back last Wednesday night, running from his attackers. Only candles placed in the shape of cross glowed at the base of a construction sawhorse where he is thought to have collapsed.

Father Mike Gutuirrez (center) leads friends and family in prayer. (Photos by Olin Ericksen)

Flowers, pictures and messages saying "Bootsie" will be missed adorned the makeshift memorial marking the second, and final, fatality of simmering gang violence in Santa Monica's Pico Neighborhood in 2006.

The family members and friends gathered at the memorial Tuesday condemned the on-going violence that continues to wrack their neighborhood, often resulting in dead or injured teens and young lives lost to long prison sentences.

"Peace is what we ask for because of what happened," Father Mike Gutierrez of St. Anne's Church told the group in a bilingual sermon, as several people fought back tears.

But mostly, they were there to console each other and remember Miguel Martin as a young man robbed of any future chance to overcome adversity and better himself.

"The way he saw his life, he wanted to make a change and make something better out of it," said his younger half-sister Marlyn Martin who attended the informal service, part of nine days of mourning according to her family's Catholic heritage.

Diagnosed at the formative age of 16 with Lupus -- an autoimmune disease that can cause painful rashes and swelling, fatigue and spiked fevers -- Miguel wasn't always on the right path, his 17-year-old half-sister admitted

"I know he had some problems” at Santa Monica High School, Marlyn said.

Santa Monica's new Police Chief, Tim Jackman, who took office December 11, reluctantly acknowledged that Martin was a "low-level gang member," in an interview with The Lookout Wednesday.

While sensitive to his family’s mourning and acknowledging that Martin was a victim trying to escape his killers the night he was murdered, Jackman said his involvement in gangs may have contributed to his death.

"If I simply say, 'Yes he was a gang member,' then people will get the wrong impression of who he was," said Jackman.

"I can't afford to glorify gang life, but I can't afford to have people think this was a sweet little innocent kid,” the new police chief said. “Then again he's not this jerk out here, really bad with an evil black heart."

Crowd walks toward Virginia Avenue Park, where Martin was fatally shot.

Still, to friends and family who remembered Martin, it was more than a street name or gang identity that defined him.

Marlyn and several people who knew him said Miguel began working towards his degree after transferring to Olympic High School, widely seen as the next stop for academically troubled youth.

The work eventually led to a high school diploma, an achievement Miguel and his family were very proud of, those who knew him said.

"A lot of teachers from (Olympic) told me he was meant to finish high school, and he did that," Marlyn said.

After high school, Martin, still teenager, worked construction jobs, including one at the Santa Monica Airport.

"He went out and searched for those opportunities," Marlyn said.

Martin also worked construction jobs with his father, Lucia Martin. The two had worked together on the day Miguel was shot walking to a local Burger King to meet friends just adjacent to the newly expanded Virginia Avenue Park.

"The day he passed away he actually took him to Topanga to work with him," said Marlyn.

Lucia Martin (back turned) prays for his son.

"He had a really nice relationship with my father," she said. "There's a lot of folks that don't have that bond with their parents…especially in the Pico Neighborhood where there are many single-parent families.

"My dad used to support him with everything," she said.

Still, police said, even as he graduated high school, kept up what seemed to be healthy family relations and worked to provide himself with better economic opportunities, Miguel remained inside gangs.

"He's been more slipping toward the gang life than coming out of it," Jackman said. "Yes he was a gang member, but please understand we have huge issues attached to it."

Now, Miguel's father and family are left behind to pick up the pieces of the reoccurring violence.

"Sometimes people say, "Oh, it's just a gang member that got shot,' and maybe that's true, but they have a family too, and that's what really tugs at your heartstrings," Jackman said.

It is not up to law enforcement or the City to halt the gang slayings, Marlyn said, but it is the young men themselves who are involved in gangs who must look for a way out.

"There's a lot of opportunities out there and I think there's a lot of guys who just go around and hang out, and I think they should just try to become better people," she said.

"There is a lot of opportunities out there and they should just take advantage of it."

Marlyn and several other young people who knew Miguel -- a frequent visitor to Virginia Avenue Park's youth center -- said they will be taking advantage of counseling provided by the City through the park.

Those who wish to help the family with funeral costs should contact Father Mike Gutierrez at St. Anne's Catholic Church. Two masses are planned for Friday at 7 a.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. at the church at 2017 Colorado Avenue. Those interested in attending should contact St. Anne's for more details at 310.829.4411.




"The way he saw his life, he wanted to make a change and make something better out of it." Marlyn Martin


"If I simply say, 'Yes he was a gang member,' then people will get the wrong impression of who he was." Police Chief Tim Jackman


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