Los Angeles Cracks Down on Gangs
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick in Los Angeles.
The FBI is joining with police to go after a Latino gang that is suspected of terrorizing black residents. This gang has been linked to the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old African-American girl last month. There are signs tensions may already be cooling.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: In the working class Harbor Gateway neighborhood, there's an unofficial boundary, a street many black residents say they dare not cross unless they want to tangle with the 204th Street Gang. It was on the border of their turf where police say gang members fatally shot 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Yesterday, L.A.'s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa returned to the same street to announce a new crackdown.
Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): No one should have to fear for their life because of the color of their skin. So we have a message for the gang leaders. We're coming with everything we have. And we're putting you out of business.
DEL BARCO: Villaraigosa stood with a host of local and federal enforcers, including FBI director Robert Mueller and the city attorney, who says he'll seek a gang injunction. That way police can arrest known members of the 204th Street Gang if they're seen in public together. Police Chief William Bratton was there too.
Mr. WILLIAM BRATTON (Police Chief, Los Angeles): We're not messing them out this time. Our chant is to get the job done.
DEL BARCO: Officials staged their show of force in front of the De Lamo Market, the only convenience store for miles. At the same spot a few hours earlier, a group of activists and neighbors gathered to sign a peace treaty. Among them was Cheryl Green's mother, Charlene Lovett. Despite her grief, she says she's optimistic about the pledge for black and brown unity.
Ms. CHARLENE LOVETT: I see peace in this community. It's starting now. I want to be able to knock on my neighbor's door and just say hello, how are you today.
DEL BARCO: The treaty was originally built as a truce by gangbangers with a reputation for attacking blacks in the area. But leaders of the 204th Street Gang were conspicuously absent from the event, which was organized by community activist Najee Ali.
Mr. NAJEE ALI (Community Activist): They do not want to come out publicly and participate because they fear that they could be arrested. But we have met and they have agreed to a pledge of peace.
del BARCO: That didn't exactly comfort neighbors like 21-year-old Derrick Thomas(ph) who's African-American.
Mr. DERRICK THOMAS: We didn't see no gangbangers. So we don't know how to take it.
DEL BARCO: Yesterday, however, Thomas crossed into the 204th Street Gang's territory, encouraged by the stepped up enforcement.
Mr. THOMAS: It's probably going to take to jail like that, and it'll be more safe for people to come out here to the store. 'Cause this is like one of the targets right here.
DEL BARCO: Do you ever come to this store?
Mr. THOMAS: No, not at all. Came down here when I was young boy and they told me not to come back. And from then, I never came back.
DEL BARCO: Many Latinos in the neighborhood like Beatrice Via(ph) also say they are afraid to go outside because of the violence.
Ms. BEATRICE VIA: (Speaking Spanish)
DEL BARCO: Via says she doubts the police can do much about the gangs. She says they have yet to find whoever killed her brother-in-law, Arthuro Ponce(ph). The 34-year-old immigrant was gunned down in front of his house just days before Cheryl Green was killed. Down the street, Luis Valverdez(ph) says he doesn't think the 204th Street Gang can be stopped by the police, the FBI, or anyone else who takes them on.
Mr. LUIS VALLEVERDEZ: They don't take it seriously. I mean they think you can do whatever you want. But we're not going to stop. It's crazy out here. It's a war zone.
DEL BARCO: Mayor Villaraigosa plans to meet with the FBI director today to about how the Feds can help stop the gangs in L.A.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
CHADWICK: A note. Just 10 years ago, the LAPD arrested more than 100 gang members in this exact neighborhood. The police even won an award for their work. Now the problems are back. And they're looking for a new solution.
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