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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

USC Homicides, One Year Later: Raymond Avenue At A Glance

Catherine Green |
April 10, 2013 | 7:28 a.m. PDT



Ming staggered after being shot to the porch of this house that rainy night in April 2012. (Catherine Green/Neon Tommy)
Ming staggered after being shot to the porch of this house that rainy night in April 2012. (Catherine Green/Neon Tommy)
Just before the anniversary of the rainy night Qu Ming and Wu Ying were gunned down inside a parked BMW, all is well on Raymond Avenue.

The sun is shining brighter than it did the morning police cleaned up a murder scene. Birds are out in full-throated force. Mothers walk around the block with their children, pushing empty strollers as the toddlers waddle by their sides. A garageband pounds out an unrecognizable anthem, nearly drowning out police sirens in the distance. 

There’s the house where Ming staggered, bloody, onto the porch around 1 a.m. that night. His girlfriend Ying sat slumped in the car while he tried to get help. Light grey, with metal lattices and bars covering the windows and doors, birds of paradise blooming on either side of the front steps — the house is cared for, unchanged. No one answers the door. 

This isn’t Bryan Barnes and Javier Bolden’s neighborhood. The men charged with killing Ming and Ying were outside interlopers with fringe affiliations to gangs elsewhere. Police said theirs was a crime of opportunity, a robbery gone wrong, but opted not to release further details until they come out in court. Barnes and Bolden are due in front of a judge April 23 to set a schedule for their trial, postponed several times now since they first appeared in court May 22 last year.

Despite loose ends and unanswered questions, the community that came under scrutiny as a hotbed of crime around USC’s campus has moved on. Twenty-year-old Christian Rodriguez, a construction student at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, was surprised by news of the homicides. “Around here it’s like you hardly hear about stuff like that...because it doesn’t happen as much,” he says. “You hear (about) shootings, but not like close to home, you know?” Rodriguez grew up in the neighborhood. Just after the shootings, he moved down Raymond Avenue from 20th Street to a peach-colored house in the 2900 block. His new home is almost in sight from the spot where Ming and Ying were killed.

The streets Rodriguez has known his whole life feature more police cruisers now than they once did. As the university mourned the loss of two Chinese graduate students in the electrical engineering program, before the LAPD had arrested Bolden and Barnes, Chief Charlie Beck joined Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and USC President C. L. Max Nikias to announce increased resources dedicated to protecting the community. 

During an April 26 press conference, Nikias told reporters four LAPD officers would help the school’s Department of Public Safety in on-campus patrol, and three dozen officers would be reassigned to the department’s Southwest division. Police have yet to turn over the documents detailing costs and logistics of this agreement following multiple requests by Neon Tommy.

A quieter, more closely watched neighborhood. (Catherine Green/Neon Tommy)
A quieter, more closely watched neighborhood. (Catherine Green/Neon Tommy)
Residents say they’ve seen consistent follow-through on those promises. “There’s more security around here now — more campus security, more police,” Rodriguez says, his voice lilting up. “It feels more safer to be walking down the street in the night.” Short and solid, with a buzzed scalp and tattoos peppering his arms and hands, Rodriguez doesn’t look like he scares easy. Still, he says, “I have confidence now that I see campus security.” 

Down the street, Velma Collins, her husband Alfred and a friend who declined to give his name are enjoying the breezy afternoon from their porch. Some reggae seeps from an unseen radio as handymen hammer away on the floor above them. The Collinses also say they’ve noticed an uptick in security over the last year — “There go one now,” Alfred murmurs as a cruiser passes. Bundling into her grey sweater, his wife laughs.

Velma, 67, hasn’t seen anything like it in her 42 years living in the neighborhood. She remembers three drive-bys back in 2001 or 2002, just down at the corner of her street. She doesn’t remember the police response being so attentive. “No, not then,” she says. “It’s a lot, lot, lot better now. It feels more safe.”

In some ways, police and DPS have become friendly fixtures of the neighborhood, on par with the mailman. “They talk to us nice,” Velma Collins says. “Sometimes they would wave. Everything’s fine now.”

In a side-by-side comparison with the Collinses, Rodriguez might draw more attention from police. “They have their days — at night they’ll stop you and see where you’re going, see if you have weapons on you,” he says. He doesn’t mind the hassle, though, if it means a safer neighborhood. “They’re respectful. They gotta do their job and follow their rules,” he says, shrugging. “That’s the way it is around here.”

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