Changing stories

Local attorney produces documentary to deter kids from gangs

See the film:
Go to to view Ron Reed’s film about local gangs, Who Are You Going to Be? Don’t Let a Gang Decide for You.

In October 2012, 18-year-old Alonzo Robles-Morales was shot and killed in Gridley during a drive-by shooting that involved two local gangs. His death was an eye-opener for local attorney Ron Reed. A public defender for 30 years, Reed had previously represented some of the Norteños and Sureños involved in the shooting in cases of lesser crimes.

“That killing and gang involvement affected me a lot because I knew every single one of the people involved,” said Reed, who works closely with at-risk youth. “I just thought about how senseless this was, and I felt like I really had to do something to wake some of the kids up before it gets too late.”

Robles-Morales’ death, for which three young men are serving life sentences, inspired Reed to produce his now-finished documentary, Who Are You Going to Be? Don’t Let a Gang Decide for You.

“Professionally, I felt like I had failed in some ways,” Reed said. “I said, ‘Am I doing the best job possible?’ Were there more things I should’ve been doing to wake up the parents or get the kids’ attention?”

The movie centers around the Gridley shooting and the people who were there. It includes interviews with former gang members and law enforcement officials and showcases the effects local gangs have had on their lives. At a free screening last Sunday (May 22) at the El Rey Theatre, Reed introduced the film by explaining the importance of reaching kids while they are young and telling stories they might identify with.

One of the former gang members in the video is Jose Martinez, now an associate pastor with Jordan Crossing Ministries in Oroville. Martinez had spent most of his teenage years in and out of juvenile hall because of his involvement in the Big Orland Trece, a Sureño gang based in Orland. Martinez said being a part of the documentary and sharing his stories are important ways to connect with young people and may even give hope to those involved in gangs or their families.

“Young teenagers are getting involved in gangs because they’re believing lies; they’re being misled,” Martinez said. “For kids who are involved in gangs and violence, they have to see that there is a way out, and we’re an example that people can change.”

“It’s my hope to reach some of them by showing them this,” Reed said. “But it’s only a device, an introduction. Parents need to talk to their kids, and they need to know who their kids are hanging out with, and they need to be much more aggressive in making sure they don’t get involved in the wrong kind of crowd.”

Reed has made several other documentaries through his production company, Let My Story Change Your Story. In the past, he’s tackled such topics as drug issues, homelessness and the juvenile justice system. As a defense attorney, he’s been able to build connections with people who subsequently have become willing to share their stories.

“The reason I make videos is because I’m really interested in finding out how you communicate with teenagers,” he said. “Some people say you don’t; it’s impossible. An old guy trying to talk to a 16-year-old is difficult, but my son said, ‘If you want to communicate with teenagers, you have to feed them, give them music or show them videos.’ I chose the videos.”

David McKay, director of secondary education at Chico Unified School District, has worked with Reed in the past to raise awareness about gang-related issues in the community. He said this documentary helps with the two most important aspects of keeping people out of gangs: prevention and intervention.

“The power of this film is that it’s first-person; it’s people telling their story,” he said. “It’s not preachy or telling people they’re a bad person for being involved with this. Reaching out to kids and families early on is important, and giving them alternatives to hanging out and waiting to belong to something that’s going to have a lot of catches later on.”