You don’t know Tracy: The mythologizing of Sandra Cantu

Sandra Cantu was buried yesterday. Today is the public memorial.

Don’t you think it’s time to let Sandra, the Cantus and Tracy rest?

Wherever you are in the world, if you’ve been following the Sandra Cantu story in Tracy, Calif., maybe you should  figure out why it means so much to you.

The Sandra Cantu story breaks my heart-in more ways than one.

I’m sorry, of course, for the little girl and her family. I have a family and daughters. I was a coach of many youth teams including little girls Sandra’s age. I knew how dear those girls were to their families. And  I took my responsibilities seriously, protecting and caring for them  as if they were my own.

Sandra Cantu could have been my prized center half-back.

I’m also sorry for Tracy, the town. Just a few years ago I got to know it  like few others.  As a bureau reporter for the major  San Joaquin county paper, Tracy was my beat. I liked the feel of the little city of about 75,000,  primarily  a bedroom community for San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But there was also a core Tracy built around the ranches and orchards. It made for one of the most diverse communities in America. At the base were the ranchers, mostly from old Italian and Portuguese families. Mix in blacks from the South who came west in the ’40s and ’50s; Latinos and Filipinos who have worked the farmland.; Add to that all the new ethnic and economic refugees (the teacher/firefighter families)  from the Bay Area seeking more affordable homes and simpler lives, and Tracy is about as reflective of the New America as it gets.

So while I covered Tracy City Hall meetings, the crow problem on 10th street, and  the protection of open space, I also covered the  people. The Latino Iraqi war vet who was a guard at Abu Ghraib. The Filipino marine who was one of the first to die in Iraq. The local lawyer from a long-time ranch family, Tracy born and bred, who continues to fight developers who want to make Tracy what I call the Extreme East Bay.

I covered the windmills over the Altamont, the young at heart who actually  remember Altamont the concert, and those still young who drag race at the abandoned airport.

I also covered the crime and  murders, the truly sordid stuff, including one where a sign along 205 still offers a reward. Two boys were murdered in a gang-type killing. There’s been nothing new in this case about 5 years old. You never hear about it.

That’s why, I ‘m just amazed at how the Cantu story was lifted up off the crime blotter as if to represent something bigger than this little town in America. A loss of innocence in our society? The notion that an 8 year old in her own small community isn’t safe?

And that’s why I also  feel sorry for the media, always on the lookout for the sordid, but not the context.

George Lewis is a great reporter who has covered everything on the West Coast and beyond for NBC News. I know him from the Philippines/Martial law/Aquino  stories I did for KRON in the ’80s. It  just strikes me as odd to see him report from Tracy, Calif on the disappearance and death of Sandra Cantu like the fate of the world depends on it.

But maybe it does.

The heavy reporting early alerted the public and put pressure on police to investigate.

Thankfully, there’s a suspect in custody, a Sunday school teacher, another unthinkable.

What’s next?  Instead of dwelling and making this another Laci Peterson saga, and yet another example of  modern day Central Valley pathology, perhaps it’s best to shut down the media circus and  let this story recede.

The perp walk shots signal the end. Do we really need to know more detail? Report what the police and the courts do on a timely basis, of course.

But now is the time to  let Sandra rest and her family grieve.

And then maybe  Tracy can  return to being the modern American  small town in the shadow of the Altamont,  and not a continuing national example of shame.