Kenosha County to celebrate 25th Red Ribbon campaign

Red Ribbon Week Banner in front of the Boys & Girls Club in Kenosha.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will regularly appear on from Kenosha Police Department Crime Prevention Unit Officers Jeff Wamboldt and Ron Francis:

This week, Kenosha County will be celebrating its 25th Red Ribbon Campaign to combat and prevent the devastating effects of alcohol and drug abuse. Over the years, we have all seen the red ribbons, posters, and maybe have taken part in an activity or educational event, but do we know the history behind this worthwhile campaign?

Red Ribbon Week began after the kidnapping, torture, and brutal murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985. Agent Camarena had been working undercover in Guadalajara, Mexico, for over four years. His efforts led to a tip that resulted in the discovery of a multi-million dollar narcotics manufacturing operation in Chihuahua, Mexico. The successful eradication of this operation angered leaders of several drug cartels who sought revenge. As a result, they murdered key informants and then, on February 7, 1985, they kidnapped Camarena and his pilot, Captain Alfredo Zavala-Avelar.

Soon, representatives of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) presented a tip to DEA Agents claiming that Agent Camarena had been mistakenly kidnapped by a man and his three sons. The MFJP informed the agents that a raid of the man’s ranch in Angostura would take place the following morning and invited them to come. However, the MFJP raided the ranch before DEA agents arrived. During the raid, they shot and killed five individuals. Not long after, a passerby discovered the bodies of both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar by the side of the road not far from the ranch.

The terrifying events that followed Agent Camarena’s disappearance were chronicled in United States media, exposing the world of drug trafficking, including how far drug traffickers would go to maintain power and control. After the men were found murdered, citizens in Camarena’s hometown of Calexico, California, wore red ribbons in his honor. The red ribbon became their symbol for prevention in order to reduce the demand of illegal drugs.

California Congressman Duncan Hunter and teacher David Dhillon launched “Camarena Clubs” in California high schools. In 1986, club members presented a proclamation to Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the United States, who had initiated nationwide anti-drug programs. The following year, parent-teacher organizations in California, Illinois, and Virginia wore the red ribbons in late October and November.

In 1988, the first National Red Ribbon Week was organized by the National Family Partnership, proclaimed by the U.S. Congress and chaired by Nancy Reagan. Red Ribbon Week promotes healthy lifestyles and awareness of substance abuse problems facing society. During this week, students all over the country pledge to be drug- and alcohol-free.

We have come a long way in the fight against substance abuse, but there is still much work left to do.  Please get involved.  Talk to a young person about the devastating effects of substance abuse.

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