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Highland Park Residents: Gangs Part Of Everyday Life

Samantha Page, Kevin Patra |
April 8, 2009 | 10:41 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporters

(Google Maps)
On Avenue 54 in the Highland Park neighborhood, Benjamin Franklin High rises up as a cool block of cement and metal. Inside the school, children walk quietly between classrooms. Across the street, uniformed students take gym class.  A police car is parked nearby. 
The tranquility belies the fact that in mid-March, two Franklin students were shot and killed a few blocks away, just after school let out for the afternoon.  
The two boys, Carlos Hernandez and Alejandro Garcia, gunned down outside the recreation center on N. Figueroa, were not involved in gang activity, according to several residents.  However, police said their deaths could have been gang related.  
The neighborhood is rife with contradictions regarding community safety. "It's a fairly normal community," Franklin guidance counselor Reidiny Martinez said, even while acknowledging there was gang presence in the neighborhood and "some streets may be a little more dangerous than others." 
"The school itself is very calm," principal Luis M. Lopez said. "But we are very strict about the things that they can't wear. For example, the A's hat represents the Avenues, and Avenues is the largest gang in the area." 
Lopez grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Franklin. "I think it's been constant for years," he said about the gang violence. 
"When I was here, they were here," Lopez said. "There's times when it's very active and times when it slows down." 
The Avenues, which is named after the avenues that run along North Figueroa Street in Highland Park and surrounding neighborhoods, has had a long and violent history in the neighborhood.  They became nationally known in 1995 when gang members shot a car in Cypress Park killing a 3-year-old girl.  In 2006 gang members were convicted of hate crimes aimed at driving African Americans from the predominantly Latino community around Highland Park. 
Gang involvement with the Avenues, HLP (Highland Park gang) or Dog Town--two other local gangs--is a concern for many young people in the area.
"There is a lot of pressure for young kids," said 20-year-old Jose, a former Franklin High student. "Gangs target the young kids - young and dumb like they say."  
Martinez, who trains with students for the L.A. Marathon, said while some students will run anywhere in the neighborhood, others are more worried,  "They will say, 'Miss, I cannot go through there,' so it depends on who you ask," she said. 
Martinez said that one student told her he "didn't want to end up like them" - the two boys who were shot.   
"He did not disclose what type of things they were involved with," she said. "You know, we can't talk about that."  
While gangs may be visible in the community, residents said not all young kids are affected. "As long as they are on the right path, not looking for trouble, it's not a bad place to grow up," said Jose, while supervising a game of football at the Highland Park Recreation Center
"I think the vast majority of our kids are very good kids," Lopez said. He estimated that only 5 percent of the student body is "hardened," but said that minority is "vocal and active and aggressive." 
Three boys--5th, 6th and 7th graders--who said they were friends of the victims, said they haven't been pressured to join gangs, "We mostly just play basketball and mess around, not get involved."  However, when asked if he felt safe in the neighborhood the 6th grader shook his head shyly.  
One teenage girl added, "I feel like I can go anywhere, but not alone."
A mechanic who has worked across the street from the recreation center for 10 years said he thinks that the city has gotten worse, "Highland Park used to be the best part of L.A. Now, there are gangs."  
However, not all residents are as pessimistic about the neighborhood. "It's a lot like around USC, it has its bad spots and good spots," said Joe, a local parent, who grew up near the University of Southern California. "I was shocked [the shooting] happened.  It's pretty safe, there are always police around."
The school has tried to allay parents' and students' fears and stresses. City Councilmen Jose Huizar and Ed Reyes came with the local police captain, the district attorney, and school board members for a safety forum after the shooting. "The auditorium was filled," Lopez said. 
"There was a little bit of disappointment, because there wasn't any tangible or specific strategy other than just what they are already doing," he added. "I don't know how realistic it is to expect any more from the city, especially at this time, but they didn't provide anything." 
The question of police presence, or lack thereof, comes up frequently. Kennedy Garcia, another parent at the park where the shooting took place, said that squad cars will just drive by the park, even when there is illicit activity going on. "Police pass. [They say] 'Eh, no problem,'" he said. 
"Right after the incident, I noticed a lot more police presence," Martinez said. "Now, two weeks later, we have nothing."  
The presence in the neighborhood of gangs and the accompanying violence seems, if not prevalent, certainly tenacious. While residents expressed surprise at the deaths, it was tempered by resignation. 
"In this community, the families are very hard-working," Martinez said. "Sometimes, they don't realize what their kids are doing." 


 

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Comments

TVR gang rifamos (not verified) on June 27, 2013 11:35 PM

Fuck you Darren aka chuck nastee, fake ass you ain't no gangster. You used to dress like a fruit cake groover with your glow sticks!! Haha don't forget who u really are!! FAKE!!

Your rating: None
stoney (not verified) on November 5, 2012 4:40 PM

aLL U HALAPENOS ARE RANKER N THE BIGGEST GET ALONG gang
NEVER MET A TRUE G FROM THERE LAST TIME I SEEN 1 GOT WAK TO THE FLOOR.N U HOPELESS AINT NEVER GONNA dO SHIT U SEE ME IN YOUR HOOd N LAMES LOOK THE OTHER WAY KEEP IT LIKE THAT:)halapitok fake ass facebook bangerR.I.P ALEJANdRO N CARLOS FUCK A dOGSHIT LIL ONE PROVE U A LAME.CREEPER U REMEMBER!!NINO RANKER IMA KEEP IT SHORt U STAYS RUNNIN N CRIYIN LIKE MUTS...LOL

Your rating: None
LA AVENIDA 57 (not verified) on January 24, 2012 6:16 AM

I hate shit like this.. Alejandro garcia used to stay close to my parents house and he used to kick it with NELA GANG with his other brother and other foos.. Now ouuta nowhere alejandro didnt bang alejandro was a good kid alejandro dis and that fuck that if he got killed its cuz of something.. SO DONT BE BLAMING ALL MEXICANS FOR THIS..
@mr chucknastee
IM NOT EVEN GONNA WASTE MY TIME FIGHTING WITH U TRU THE NET . BUT EVEN YOU LAMES KNOW WHO RUNS THE SHOW...
vAVENUE'S57CYCLONESpuerkaKILLA
FUK HALAVERGAS

Your rating: None
MR.CHUCKNASTEE HLP GANG (not verified) on April 17, 2011 11:10 PM

FIRST OF ALL FOR THE 2 BOYZ THAT GOT POPPED THAT SUCKS THEY HAD 2 GO SO EARLY ! SECOND OF ALL THE AVENUES AINT ABOUT SHIT AND AINT RUNNING NOTHING BUT THERE MOUTHS ! WHEN I WENT TO FRANKLIN I SMASHED ON THEM UNTIL I GOT KICKED OUT THAT SCHOOL ! LOL ! ITS ALL ABOUT THE HIGHLAND PARK GANG AND FOR THOUGHS WHO DONT AGREE WITH THE GANG LIFE YOUR NOT SUPPOSE TO ! ITS OUR WAY OF LIVING ! IM OUT........

Your rating: None
Latina (not verified) on January 27, 2011 11:19 AM

For the person who left a comment on Janaury 19, 2011...you are an idiot and it is narrow minded people like you that keep ignorance and hatred alive.

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)
Anonymous (not verified) on January 19, 2011 11:47 PM

only a stupid mexican would think highland park is safe because they are the race that makes the area horrible. they are responsible for all the crime, drugs and safety issues. mexicans need to go!!!

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)
Michelle (not verified) on October 6, 2010 6:51 PM

I feel sad that the 2 innocent, young boys lost their lives due to gang violence. I have lived in Highland Park for over a year now and occasionally our garage will get tagged up. And is promptly painted over thanks to the wonderful people from the city... (call 211 and they can help you). I think it is a wonderful idea to try and eliminate the gangs in the area, but is it really possible? Kids need to start using their brains and realize that gang life will get them no where!!

Your rating: None
karina chavez (not verified) on June 13, 2010 5:10 PM

welll i attend fraklin nd that schol is all about avenues the staff only get kids from there nd when ur neew there they start saying things nd the teachers nd all the staff have the fault there

Your rating: None Average: 1 (1 vote)
Carlos flores (not verified) on October 20, 2009 11:58 PM

first of all let me start off with the teachers and principals of franklin high ass crook dum or whatever you want to call it,,.,when i went to franklin they would accept avenues kid with a's in there head..so the hole franklin school are all in it,..,fakes......

Your rating: None
adrian the loc (not verified) on November 5, 2012 4:22 PM

i got a comment for that noodle im his brother your talkin about ill beat your ass n smash on u like a dogshit u aint about shit.n for that hyna sayin it cause of his brother.all them halapenos are lame n proove it to them n my name adrian and i bet it rings bells to all of u winnies.n its funny how all them dogtown members all u guys jokes and u know how im talking about haha.u chumps see me n dont do nothin but run u know wus up!

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