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Activist in tiny Outlook, Washington wants a town where people aren't afraid

This week we're taking a look at what police say is a resurgence of gang activity - especially in rural areas. In part two of "Living in Gangland," we bring you the story of the unincorporated town of Outlook, in Eastern Washington - and one woman who is fighting to get the town back.

When "Maria" gets off Interstate 82 and heads down the off ramp for Outlook – she starts praying -  that she’ll get home safe today.

Outlook is a tiny cross-hatch of a town. Just a shack of a post office, a church and a few streets - some of them dirt. But Maria has decided to draw her line in the sand against gangs here.

"Younger kids, I just wish that they could ride their bikes like nothing you know. As a mom I wouldn't let my kids out in the streets riding a bike or even go play with the neighbors. You don't know if there is going to be a drive-by shooting."

That's right, drive-by shootings in a dairy town. Maria's 36, and a mother of three. And Maria isn't really her name, but she's too scared of the gangs here to use her real one on the radio.

Residents are afraid - at home - on the streets - even when they're out of town

Just in 2010 there were 29 homicides in Yakima County. In Outlook alone, there were four armed assaults against people and about 50 cases of people using their weapons illegally against houses, dogs and even a horse.

In 2009, someone ambushed and shot a Yakima County Sherriff's deputy. It happened not far from where Maria is taking a community survey. A man answers the door. He tells Maria he doesn't feel safe in his house, or on the streets.

Maria: "Do you feel safe that when you leave town that your house is going to be safe?" Outlook Man: "No."

Northwest Gang Expert Gabriel Morales says small towns are easy prey for gangs in part because they aren't equipped with gang-enforcement units.

"I think police suppression in our larger cities is part of the issue. Pushing gangs out into suburbs, outlying areas and rural areas.

Activists aim to take their town back from the gangs

Maria and other community activists have landed small grants to make some changes in Outlook. They've painted over most of the graffiti in town -- but it keeps coming back. They put up seven street lights -- but they say they need more. And they've established a neighborhood block watch -- but say many people are afraid to participate.

For now the gang members still have the upper hand, but Maria says it's a start.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.