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Housing Project Shooting Called 'an Isolated Act'

May 14, 1988|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writer

A gun battle between Cambodian men and black gang members at a South-Central Los Angeles housing project is being called "an isolated act" of violence between two groups of angry men, police said Friday.

"There is nothing that leads us to believe that this was a racial or ethnic disturbance," said Capt. Robert Riley. "It was two groups of people who got mad at each other."

The violence broke out at the Pueblo Del Rio housing project Wednesday night after a Cambodian woman told a group of loud gang members in front of her apartment to leave. When the group did not disperse, two men visiting her rushed out of her apartment with weapons, police said.

At least 40 gunshots were fired, injuring two men, one who remains hospitalized. Police seized two semi-automatic rifles and three handguns and arrested two Cambodian men after the shoot-out.

Molotov Cocktails Hurled

Several hours later, members of the Bloodstone gang allegedly returned and threw two Molotov cocktails at an apartment occupied by a Cambodian family, police said, but the unit did not catch fire.

The 600-unit Pueblo Del Rio project near Alameda Street and Slauson Avenue has undergone dramatic ethnic changes in the last 2 1/2 years--from an overwhelmingly black tenant group to a mix of blacks, Cambodians and Latinos, said Los Angeles Housing Authority officials.

Now, the sprawling project is home to roughly 300 black families, 174 Cambodian families, 130 Latino families and a handful of whites, estimated housing spokeswoman Michele Roth.

The influx of Cambodians has resulted from a tight word-of-mouth network in that ethnic community, Roth said. "Like anyone else, they applied, worked their way up the priority list and moved in," she said.

With the ethnic diversity some "misunderstandings" have arisen, said tenant leader Sylvia Allen, who has lived in the project 23 years.

"We have language barriers, sometimes we don't understand each others' ways--but we've never had violence between the races," Allen said. "This whole thing we had here is about gangs, is about territory. This is gang war, not people war."

Gang, Drug Problems

Police said the project--rows of squat cinder-block apartment buildings that line a maze of streets and alleys--is troubled by increasing gang and drug problems, not racial problems.

"I would be the first to know if we had a trend in racial disturbances," Capt. Riley said.

Allen, who is president of the project's tenant group said, she and many of her neighbors felt that the only reason the gun battle received attention "was because it was between two races."

"We have violence here, but this was one bloated out because it was blacks and Cambodians," she said. "It's just frustrating because we don't need to make any more problems for ourselves here."

Housing officials echoed Allen's assessment. Last month a group of tenants, including blacks, Latinos and Cambodians, gathered for a projectwide trash clean-up day, said Frank Henderson, the housing authority's district manager.

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