USC Homicides, One Year Later: A Neighborhood Reflects
Long considered an area known for high gang activity, the working-class neighborhood northwest of USC has seen gradual signs of gentrification and plummeting crime, said Boyd, who's served as First AME's pastor since November after heading a congregation in San Francisco.
"It's calmed down quite a bit from the turbulent 90s," Boyd said.
But one year ago today, the murders of two USC graduate students revived discussion concerning the safety of the neighborhoods surrounding the private university. On April 11, 2012 at around 1 a.m., Qu Ming and Wu Ying, both international students from China who came to the United States to study electrical engineering, were fatally shot inside a BMW parked on Raymond Avenue near West 27th Street. Qu collapsed on the porch of a nearby home, apparently trying to call for help, while Wu was found in the passenger's seat.
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The university responded by taking steps to beef up security, such as installing more surveillance cameras and increasing patrolling in the surrounding neighborhoods. The Los Angeles Times' statistics for the Adams-Normandie area showed that crime has dipped in the South L.A. neighborhood over the past six months. Twenty-six crimes total were reported for February, compared to 43 in September 2012. In total, 211 crimes were recorded during that six-month period, a slight decrease from the 234 incidents reported during the same six-month timeframe of last year.
But despite the progress in reducing crime and improved efforts to monitor the neighborhood, some members at First AME, located less than a mile from where the shootings occurred, said area residents are still "always concerned" about safety.
"That's just something that we always have to be aware of because of the day, time and age we live in today," said Dorothy Mallery, who works with children at the church. "It's unfortunate that things have to happen, but when things happen, it makes us that much more aware. "
The Times' data ranked Adams-Normandie 26th out of 209 neighborhoods profiled in violent crimes per 10,000 people. But the challenges posed by such an environment can also bring a community together to improve the areas in which they live.
First AME has long worked with USC students on volunteering services like health screenings and holiday food drives. Michael Ellison-Lewis, a senior adviser at the church, said students also attend Sunday services and live near First AME, so the impact that the shootings left was felt. Ellison-Lewis said it was "very devastating" to see photographs of the victims and their family members crying when he attended last year's memorial service at the Shrine Auditorium.
"The students are pretty much a part of the community here, so it was really important for us to participate in the memorial service," he said. "It was really incomprehensible how anyone can do such a thing. These are two innocent, bright students who came here to the United States to further their education. What we've resolved to do is to work hard here at the church to reach out to folks so that these sorts of things don't happen."
Ellison-Lewis did not think widespread media coverage surrounding the murders had any adverse effect on West Adams' reputation. Instead, it may have bolstered collaboration between USC campus police and the LAPD to reach out to the community, he said. Efforts to improve night visibility on some of the dimmer streets in the neighborhood led to the installation of new street lights six months ago.
"The lights make students in the area of USC more comfortable. We didn't have all that during the time the killings took place," Mallery said.
But other than providing comfort, they can also symbolize hope.
"It is in the darkness that the violence comes out," Ellison-Lewis said. "That is why at USC, you see the lights that surround that campus. USC is a light on a shining hill."
Read more Neon Tommy coverage of the USC shootings here.