LA South Bureau Continues to Fight Violence, Homicides Down City-Wide
He was leaving a football game at Compton High School in November 1995 when other passengers in the car shot him. She recalled, without a waver in her voice, that he choked on his own blood and died before reaching a hospital. No one was charged in his death.
Violent deaths have struck down other people close to Lindsey. After her cousin’s friend was killed in 1988, she founded Project Cry No More (PCNM), a support group for murdered victims’ families, primarily working with victims’ mothers. Just one year after founding the group, Lionel’s father was killed by someone he knew.
PCNM is one of many Los Angeles support groups and community organizations created in response to violence. The South Bureau Police Department has engaged some of these groups as well as former gang members to keep tensions from escalating. Activists and law enforcement have varying reasons for why South LA has so much violence but typically attribute it to gang activity, narcotics and a lack of job opportunities.
Hundreds of people are killed in LA each year. Though the number has drastically decreased over the past two decades, South LA continues to see the most violence.
Los Angeles Police Department statistics show that there have been 50 homicides this year as of Feb. 25. Half of those occurred in South Bureau.
“The violence in South Los Angeles is not new,” said Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon of LAPD’s South Bureau. “It’s a historical problem. Every year, a small portion of the city, which is the 30 square miles at the most which constitutes South Los Angeles, accounts for nearly 40 percent of the murders that occur in a city that’s over 470 square miles.”
Gannon has been with the LAPD for nearly 34 years, spending the majority of his career in South LA. His bureau consists of Harbor, 77th Street, Southeast, Southwest and South Traffic Division.
Seventy percent of murders in South LA are gang-related, Gannon said. The phenomenon began about 40 years ago with the creation of two gangs; the Crips and the Bloods. Hispanic gangs had been around for generations.
Gangs formed primarily to identify neighborhoods and for protection, the deputy chief said, and with the introduction of narcotics and synthetic drugs they seized upon making money.
“As they began to make money and glorify that money or their status, it created tensions and competition for drug markets and other things that really, in the late ‘70s and into the early ‘90s, created an epidemic that was more of a war out here,” he said. “People were vicious over the drug trade and who was going to control it, especially in South Los Angeles.”
The LAPD was facing high levels of homicides and violence. Not knowing another solution, the department responded by increasing arrests.
“It created a backlash against the police department where we were resented for the tactics we used to achieve that,” Gannon said. “That kind of spurred on the ’92 riots. Since then, we’ve really worked hard to be more collaborative with the community, to work through problems and to use different techniques and groups of people to achieve the same goal - which is to reduce the level of violence in the community.”
In the early 1990s, LA saw an average of 1,100 homicides annually. In 2011, there were 298. In 2010, there were 297. The city hasn’t had that low of a homicide rate since 1967.
Gannon attributed the lowered rate to gang member imprisonment, community prevention, the falling out of crack cocaine addiction and community and police intervention.
Lowering that number further is not just a police issue, he said, but a societal problem. He attributed the violence partially to the area’s high unemployment rate and a high school graduation rate below the city’s average of 50 percent.
Host of radio show “Gang Talk” on AM 1460 and member of PCNM, Sister Lita Herron, agreed that there’s a lack of opportunity. She said the community has been neglected and left to violence, causing a sense of hopelessness with no exit.
“How can you encourage kids to come out of something if you don’t have a place to deliver them to?” Herron asked. “All we’ve been doing is telling them is to stop the violence and leave them right there in the violent place. There has to be viable measures put in place to put them on a path to something, as opposed to sitting here. This is what they do every day, watching their life pass. And if we have nothing to offer them, then what do we expect them to do?”
Herron has spoken to youth, some as young as 13, who have told her the only thing they plan for in the future is their funeral.
“What am I supposed to say to them?” Herron asked. “What is the answer for them? Who have just been turned and cast aside? You’re just a fall out from a nightmare, nobody cares about you, just go away. Every time they’re ignored by this city, puts another nail in their casket. So if nobody’s going to help us but us, we’re going to help us because they deserve it. They’re the innocent.”
Gannon’s and Herron’s sentiment of a lack of opportunity was echoed by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. The top federal prosecutor in Los Angeles served as LAPD’s inspector general for six years.
“When you talk about crime in general, some of it is fueled by a sense of despair,” Birotte said. “Young people feeling they have no avenues, no hope. When young people feel they’re not going to live beyond 25, it’s difficult to ask them to plan for their future.”
Lindsey, however, didn’t cite unemployment, high gang activity or financial reasons as the primary cause of violence, but a cycle of pain that becomes anger.
“It’s a lot of hurt and pain inside people and mainly, I think, because of murder, because of homicides of their fathers, their mothers, sisters, brothers, their friends,” she said. “Those kinds of things are not normal. They say it’s a new norm but it’s not. It’s a pain.”
She said the decreased number of homicides was not achieved by law enforcement suppression but by partnerships among law enforcement, communities, clergy, victim’s services and intervention.
“[The number] is good for paper, but it’s not good for that family that’s been affected by it,” Lindsey said. “Until we get to zero, and people say we’ll never get there because killing has always been. I believe we can. We are a collective unit of individuals making a difference - that’s what made a difference.”
Lindsey encourages people to join PCNM to get involved by choice, not by force because “this happens from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hood.”
“We’ve taken it to the next step to be very candid where the killers go after they’ve committed murder: they go home,” Herron said. “They don’t go to Mars. They don’t go to Paris. They don’t leave the planet or the city - they go home. And when they go home, guess what they do? Eat their dinner, take a bath, change their clothes, get the remote control and sit in their lounge chair and watch Laker games or anything else they want to do. And as we allow them to go back to their safety, we allow them to come back and kill somebody else’s child the following night. We’re trying to encourage the community to help us help them by getting the killers out of our neighborhood.”
Reach senior news editor Agnus Dei Farrant here.