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Peak Period : Police Fear Outbreak of Gang Wars in Summer

July 10, 1986|ROY H. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Now that the school year has ended, authorities in Highland Park and Eagle Rock fear that youth gang violence will escalate.

Last winter, four youths were killed and there were several drive-by shootings in those neighborhoods.

"Summer is usually a peak period for gang activity," said Los Angeles Police Lt. Richard J. Dyer, who headed a gang task force formed in April to combat the problem.

The task force was disbanded recently after making 270 gang-related arrests in the area, Dyer said.

Five Gangs in Area

There are at least five youth gangs operating in the area.

The roving bands of youths often battle on street corners and use graffiti to mark their territory. During the task force crackdown, gang graffiti even appeared on police cars that were parked in front of the station, police said.

Hoping to head off the problem, politicians, clergymen, businessmen and police in northeast Los Angeles are planning community forums and more youth activities.

However, some area residents say they resent those plans because, in the words of a woman whose brother was shot during recent gang violence, they are sponsored by "well-meaning liberals who know nothing about our problems."

Meeting Ends in Fracas

That resentment was evident at a recent gang symposium sponsored by the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce. The meeting ended in a fracas after several members of the audience accused city officials of using the gang problem for political purposes.

Sponsors of the meeting at Franklin High School had expected about 150 people to attend but more than 400 showed up. Speakers included Los Angeles City Councilmen Joel Wachs and Richard Alatorre, whose districts cover the area, as well as school board member Larry Gonzalez and Capt. Noel Cunningham of the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division.

"I hope that tonight is a beginning of that kind of joint effort on the part of everyone to solve this problem," Wachs said at the beginning of the evening.

Then two Police Department detectives began explaining which gangs are located in the area, how they came to be gangs and what kinds of crimes they commit.

Offers Slide Presentation

The first sign that all would not go smoothly came when Sgt. Joe Suarez, a police detective, showed slides depicting how Latino gang members dress.

Saying "they're not altar boys, folks," Suarez made jokes about the gang members.

Although most of the audience laughed, several Latinos began shouting angrily. Suddenly a tall, dark-haired man stood up and began waving his hands in the air.

"You tell jokes and make fun of us and my people are still dying in the streets," the man, Jose Carmona, said. "You don't want to solve the problem, you people are just trying to look like you're doing something."

More Outbursts

Other outbursts followed. Most speakers charged that the meetings would accomplish nothing and that youth programs are what is really needed. Cunningham eventually had to call for order.

The last part of the meeting was a question-and-answer session with representatives from the Los Angeles County Probation Department, the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department, among others.

They immediately came under fire, with questioners charging that government officials and others were only talking about the gang problem, but had come up with no concrete solutions.

At that point, Carmona again began shouting. Other members of the audience yelled at him to stop. Carmona, a social studies teacher who grew up in Highland Park, headed an anti-gang program at Luther Burbank Junior High School. He told Gonzalez that the canceling of his and other school anti-gang classes a few years ago gave rise to the current problems.

'We All Share This'

Gonzalez replied that "the solving of this devastating problem does not rest on our backs. We all share this."

Carmona's class was canceled in 1983 after he and school administrators failed to agree on its format. The teacher had received special school-district financing to free him for part of the day to work with gang leaders on campus and in the community. Carmona now works at Robert Louis Stevenson Junior High School.

As Carmona continued to shout, a policemen handcuffed him and pulled him out of the meeting after a brief skirmish.

Undaunted by the sometimes angry tone of the meeting, Harnsberger, the chamber president, said in an interview later that she plans to continue holding such events.

More Meetings Planned

"What's good for the community is good for business," Harnsberger said. "Someone has to coordinate all this energy and bring people together who are willing to do something about the gang problem."

Harnsberger said she will meet with community representatives to decide when the next symposium will be and how it will be handled.

The meetings will not be gang-buster sessions, Harnsberger said, but merely a means of helping people understand the gang problem.

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