I didn’t know Feliciano Martinez Perea but his story is not foreign to me. It’s a story that many Watsonville residents know. It’s the immigrant’s story. Martinez Perea hailed from the small town of San Martín Peras, Oaxaca, Mexico. He came to Watsonville to work in agriculture and send money back to his family. He was looking for an opportunity to better his life.
Martinez Perea was killed on April 2, days before his 19th birthday. Watsonville Police Department detectives believe he was shot multiple times at an apartment complex on Riverside Drive by two other 18-year-olds—one who was arrested five minutes from the scene of the shooting and another from Morgan Hill. The suspects were arrested Tuesday morning and are facing first-degree murder charges. In a flash, one life was tragically taken and two others were altered forever.
Sadly, this is also a story that many Watsonville residents know. For decades, Watsonville has struggled with violence, and although things have improved in recent years, it seems that we’ve taken several steps back over the course of the pandemic. That’s not a surprise. People lost their jobs, and kids were forced into isolation and robbed of their childhood. Many others lost loved ones to Covid-19, too.
The last two years have been extremely difficult, but I’m hopeful that we’re about to turn a corner.
What gives me this hope? Nights like Tuesday night’s Watsonville City Council meeting.
At that meeting, the elected leaders not only approved a new development fee that will help fund the creation of public art in Watsonville, but they also approved the establishment of a critical incident response team that will link WPD with local nonprofits to provide support for residents that have experienced trauma as a result of violent incidents.
The first action is long overdue. For years, Watsonville residents have asked the city to fund programs that will give the area’s young people the opportunity to express themselves and thrive. This is exactly what the fee will do. The proceeds from that fee will go into a cultural fund that the city will then use to create an arts master plan. In essence, the Pajaro Valley’s arts community will have the opportunity to come together and envision the Watsonville they’d like to see. I can’t wait to see what they have in mind.
As for the second action, Watsonville Police Chief Jorge Zamora said it best: “While officers are compassionate with the people impacted by tragic life events, we recognize that survivors cannot begin to deal with these issues by solely talking to a police officer.”
He’s right. WPD does a great number of things and it does them very well, but the department can’t do it all. Now, in the aftermath of violent incidents officers will connect the family and friends of those involved with services provided at the right time and in the right environment. The Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance are WPD’s main partners in this endeavor.
Addressing the root causes of crime while also keeping the peace is the new standard of policing, and this program shows that WPD has taken the community’s concerns and suggestions from the past two years seriously.
We still have many more issues to address in our community to decrease crime and make sure that other residents don’t meet the same fate as Martinez Perea. But these two moves give me hope that we’re, finally, all pulling in the right direction.
Tony Nuñez is the Managing Editor of the Pajaronian. Contact Nuñez at [email protected].