Gunfire Down Below

huizar-bratton.jpg Gang Violence in Highland Park

When my husband Dick and I moved into our hilltop home in the Mount Washington community of Los Angeles, we were thrilled. Looking north across Highland Park, Glendale, Eagle Rock, and Pasadena, it has a spectacular view to the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. It took a week or so to settle in, during which we had no television. The first day there, I joked, “With a panoramic view like this, who needs a TV?” Unbeknownst to me, I was speaking prophetically.

During that first evening, sitting on the deck and enjoying the view, Dick heard a dozen or so gunshots in rapid succession. From his long-ago experience on Vietnam battlefields, he was pretty sure he knew what he was hearing and quickly approximated the distance and direction to the place where the shots had originated. Shortly after the gunfire stopped, from his position on top of the hill, he watched a full-blown police chase unfold on the streets below.

I emphasize this lofty vantage point to make two points: First, he was not in any danger and, second, he could clearly see all that was going on (more on this later). I was not at home then but he gave me a detailed rundown of the events when I returned. He told me the suspects were nabbed on the corner of Marmion Way and Avenue 50. We went to bed thinking that was the end of that.

(Photo: Councilmember Huizar joined Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and members of the Hollenbeck Police Department in offering two $50,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for two separate shooting incidents of four LAPD Officers. Police say the individuals suspected of the shootings are members of a violent street gang.)

COPS, up close and personal
The next evening, however, what seemed to be a rerun of the previous night played out once more, this time for me. I could hardly believe it was happening a second time: another police chase, another helicopter following a suspect, another capture. To our surprise and dismay, during the first week in our new home, we saw five consecutive evenings of police action—helicopters circling, police cruisers racing by with lights flashing, even officers approaching with guns drawn. So, I was right when I said we didn’t need a television. Simply looking out of the window gave us a bird’s eye view of as many real-life police chases as you’d see on a couple of episodes of the television show “COPS.”

A couple of months have now passed. The activity seems to have waned—or maybe we’ve just become accustomed to it. But I use this story as a lead-in to discuss a disturbing reality of life in Los Angeles: crime and, more specifically, violent gang-
related crime.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called gang violence “public enemy number one.” It’s been reported that he is seeking federal crime prevention resources and is particularly disturbed by the racially motivated gang violence. Both Councilmen Jose Huizar of the 14th and Ed Reyes of the 1st Council Districts—the two CDs within the Northeast Democratic Club’s geographical region—have expressed concern for our local community through words and deeds.

Huizar is conducting a series of Public Safety Forums throughout the 14th CD to address community concerns and initiate dialogue on safety and gangs. After handily winning reelection during the March 6th election, he announced his intent to give more attention to fighting gang activity in the district. However, even with council representatives and a mayor who seem to be giving this issue the priority it deserves, Los Angeles Police Department statistics say gang crime increased 15.7% in 2006.

Then there is the more recent revelation that the number of racially motivated gang-related shootings is on the rise. Los Angeles County has seen a slew of violent conflicts between African-Americans and Latinos in recent months. As a black woman with a grown black son and a 13-year-old black stepdaughter, I have to worry as we travel through local neighborhoods that seem so picturesque and welcoming but that harbor danger. Although the picture seems to get bleaker with each passing day, there are many who are working to find solutions.

Fore example, California Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally of the 52nd Assembly District has introduced legislation that requires California’s State Department of Education and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to jointly establish an experimental pilot program that will provide gang alternative education, counseling, and support services to students grades 4 through 7 in the Compton, Inglewood, and Oakland Unified School Districts, through 2012. The pilot program, if proven effective, could serve as a model for other communities.

Connie Rice, co-director of the Advancement Project—a public policy organization that works to advance opportunity, equity, and access for those left behind—developed a comprehensive gang-reduction strategy for the City of Los Angeles. A summary and the final report itself are available on the Advancement Project website: If adopted and implemented, we might see improvements. But is there something we, civilians, can do?