The Great PC Train Robbery

The Great PC Train Robbery
By Lloyd Billingsley | May 18, 2007

On April 16, a Monday, passengers aboard the last Amtrak train of the day back from the Bay Area wondered why the engine ground to a stop as it approached the I Street bridge over the Sacramento River. They didn’t know that five people stood on the tracks, gang members among them, throwing rocks at the engineer, who stopped the train. The attackers dragged him out, demanded his wallet and cell phone, then beat him senseless with a bottle and a fire extinguisher. They also attacked the train’s conductor. The engineer, with head and internal injuries, was taken to hospital. The train finally crossed the river to the Sacramento station under the control of a student conductor.

Train robberies were common in the wild west but are now practically unknown. By any journalistic standard this one was Big News, page-one material, especially with the gang involvement. The attack happened at about 10:15 pm, plenty of time for next-day coverage in the Sacramento Bee, the only daily in California’s capital. A lot of people ride Amtrak too and would certainly want to know if gang members had robbed a train and nearly killed the engineer.

No story appeared on Tuesday. The next day, April 18, the Bee ran a 378-word story about the attack, not on the front page, and headlined “W. Sac’s focus on security in attack on train: Mayor wants report after  beating of engineer Monday.”

“This is lawless barbarism,” West Sacramento mayor Christopher Cabaldon told the Bee’s Tony Bizjak, but the attackers remained unidentified. An April 18 Associated Press story came headlined “Mob forces train to stop, assaults engineer in West Sacrament” but mentioned only a “group of people” on the tracks. That could have meant anybody, but on Thursday emerged the involvement of the Broderick Boys a criminal street gang under a court injunction by Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig, who calls the gang “domestic terrorists.”

Reisig’s 2005 injunction set up a 10 pm curfew for the Broderick Boys and a “safety zone,” which included the area where the train attack occurred. The lead attacker was 17 but would be tried on some 14 felony charges including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, mayhem, train robbery, vandalism and criminal street gang activity. Even though he will be tried as an adult, the Bee chose not to reveal the lead attacker’s name.

The paper’s brief April 18 editorial called for greater security on the train tracks and decried the “gang of hooligans,” along with “vandals” and “thugs.” All that fell short of the “lawless barbarism” decried by the major of West Sacramento. The editorial did not name the actual gang in involved in the attack. The Broderick Boys soon caught a bigger break. 

On April 24, an appeal court tossed Reisig’s injunction, under which violent crime had decreased eight percent in the safety zone. The next day, the Bee ran a prominently featured piece of nearly 1,000 words by veteran reporters Bill Lindelof and Stephen Managnini. It turned out to be a forum for Joe Castro, 76, who described himself as proud to be a Broderick Boy, even though, he said, “I’ve never been around them when they caused any trouble.” Castro’s wife Mary said the injunction was “the worst thing that could have happened here,” stigmatizing a Latino community. Activists of La Raza Network said likewise. Neither Castro mentioned the train attack.

Bee columnist Marcos Breton also failed to mention the train attack at all in his April 29 column, “West Sac’s Gang Law was Racially Unfair.” He conceded that crime was down in the areas covered by the injunction but charged that the measure was a kind of racial profiling of “brown people.” The piece included no opinion on the fairness of the injunction from the engineer whose head the Broderick Boys had bashed in, nor from the conductor who had been beaten. The “alternative” Sacramento News & Review likewise avoided any mention of the train attack in its piece on the gang injunction against the Broderick Boys.

All told, a successful injunction against a violent gang garnered more wrath than a savage attack which Eugene Skoropowski, executive director of the Capitol Corridor train service, told the Bee was “the most horrific incident” he had seen in 40 years on the railroad. Even before the train attack, Jeff Reisig had ample justification for calling the violent Broderick Boys domestic terrorists. The DA did his best but was up against a politically correct media ethos which construes anti-crime measures, whatever their success, as racial profiling of an accredited victim group.

Violent gangs victimize innocents but in the politically correct view, gangs are victims of capitalist, racist society. In this case the Broderick Boys came out well. The press keeps the attackers’ identity a secret and the gang avoids direct criticism. The courts provide the favor of lifting an effective injunction against them, followed by cheers from the press. That dynamic could well make train travel a more exciting experience in California.

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