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Gang Violence Up Since Counselors Left; Hawthorne Wants Them Back

August 09, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Less than five months after budget cuts prompted the removal of two gang counselors from the South Bay, the Hawthorne city manager, many residents and even some gang members want them back.

Hawthorne City Manager R. Kenneth Jue said he will ask Inglewood, Lawndale and Gardena to join Hawthorne in putting up $15,000 each to get back the two-man gang unit, which had worked out of a small office in Alondra Park, in an unincorporated county area east of Lawndale.

"We have seen the consequences of them being gone," Jue said in an interview last week, citing two separate gang-related killings, several shootings and an increase in vandalism since May. "The graffiti has started exploding again."

City officials in Gardena, Inglewood and Lawndale said they are analyzing Hawthorne's request.

The gang counselors were provided by Community Youth Gang Services, a 6-year-old private, nonprofit agency that employs ex-gang members to suppress gang activity and encourage youths to drop out of gangs. The agency is paid through contracts with Los Angeles city and county, and the two counselors technically were assigned only to the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles and county areas of the South Bay, such as Alondra Park and Lennox.

In practice, however, the two-member unit assigned to the South Bay dealt with gangs in Hawthorne, Lawndale, Inglewood and Torrance, arguing that gangs are mobile and don't recognize city boundaries.

Tony Massengale, assistant director of Community Youth Gang Services, said the South Bay unit was reassigned after the county cut back its share of the agency's budget. The agency determined that they were needed more in South-Central Los Angeles. Counselors in other areas of the county also were laid off or reassigned, he said.

"We are still funded to work Lennox, but right now it is not a priority," he said.

Massengale said that county budget cuts over the years have reduced the number of counselors from a high of about 100 in 1981 to the current 64.

"We're forced to leave unchecked little rivalries that could grow to bigger things," Massengale said. "Our success is tied directly with dealing with problems in their infancy stages."

He said the incorporated cities in the South Bay could get the unit back for $60,000 a year. He said no city other than Los Angeles is currently paying the agency for gang counseling, although some cities have their own gang programs. In the South Bay, such cities include Inglewood and Redondo Beach.

Some Hawthorne residents expressed support for bringing back the counselors during a community meeting last week at Zela Davis School in Hawthorne. With help from the agency, organizers brought in six gang members from five rival South Bay gangs who spoke frankly about their troubled and often violent lives.

"We wanted to show the residents that we do have a gang problem and that the gang services counselors are effective," said Linda Laughlin, who helped organize the meeting.

Vicious Cycle

The gang members, who were not identified by name at the meeting, said their lives are a vicious cycle that requires getting beaten up as part of one's initiation to a gang and another beating--often fatal--to get out.

Someone in the audience asked whether the gang members felt any remorse over killing each other.

"No, we don't," one gang member said matter of factly. "If they are in a gang then they know what to expect. If an innocent bystander gets shot, then maybe you'll think about it for a day or two. But then, hey, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The young gang members also said they felt the counselors were effective.

'We Listen to Them'

"They do help and we do need them," one said. "We listen to them because they know what we are going through. They've experienced it."

Marianne Diaz-Parton, a former Hawthorne gang member and now a gang counselor, said she and her partner, Joe Alarcon, a former Lennox gang member, had made some progress in curtailing gang activity in the South Bay. She said she fears much of their work will be wasted if they are not sent back to the area from South-Central Los Angeles.

"People think gangs exist only in the barrios and ghettos, that the South Bay is too affluent to have gangs," she said. "But that's not true. It's not just economics any more. It's peer pressure and a sense of belonging to something."

Diaz-Parton, 28, said there about 60 gangs with about 100 active members each between Santa Monica and the Los Angeles Harbor area. In Hawthorne alone there are 12, she said.

Changing Pattern

A regional approach involving the incorporated cities is needed, she said, because unlike gangs of old, when all members lived on the same street or neighborhood, two boys living next door to each other could belong to separate gangs.

"I know of one family in Lawndale where the three kids belong to three different gangs," she said.

She said she fears that gangs may proliferate in the South Bay if the counselors are not brought back.

"The South Bay is my stomping ground, so I care what happens here," she said. "I realize that money is an issue in everything that is done. But while people are talking politics, kids are dying. We need to stop arguing about the problem and start doing something about it."

Hawthorne Police Capt. Steve Port said the counselors have been helpful as a resource for information.

"The kids tell them things they would never tell a police officer," Port said. "I can't say that the homicides we had would have been prevented if they were around, but I would like to think they might have."

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