POMONA — The car cruised through a dimly lit north Pomona neighborhood known as "the Islands" on a recent Sunday night. A young gang member aimed a semi-automatic military assault rifle through an open window and pulled the trigger.
By the time the shooting stopped, five people had been injured and a sixth, 19-year-old Guadalupe Carrillo Garcia, was dead from a bullet wound to the stomach. Police don't believe that any of the victims were gang members. They were just unlucky enough to be on the streets when a gang from elsewhere in the city came to settle a score.
The night before, Charles Bradford Thomas, 30, a suspected gang member, was killed in a drive-by shooting as he stood on the street in a northwest Pomona neighborhood known as "Sintown." Police said the shooting was apparently the result of a dispute between two rival gangs over drug-dealing territory.
A 17-year-old suspected gang member, whose name was not released because of his age, was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the retaliatory shooting spree. Police said they have not identified any suspects in the shooting that triggered the violence.
Bloods or Crips
Police refused to name the gangs involved because they did not want to glorify their exploits. However, they said most black gangs are affiliated with either the Bloods or Crips, two Los Angeles-based gangs marked by their display of the colors red or blue, their involvement in the drug trade, and their violent antipathy for each other.
According to residents of northern Pomona, the Islands belong to a gang affiliated with the Bloods, while Sintown is Crips territory. And either neighborhood can be the site of bloodshed at anytime.
Both areas have been relatively peaceful since the shooting spree on Jan. 22, but police and residents are bracing for the next round of confrontations and pay-backs.
"It's been quiet since then," said Sgt. Gary Elofson, who heads the Pomona Police Department's Crimes Against Persons Unit. "We don't expect it to stay that way."
Last month's shootings started the year off ominously in Pomona, which had only two homicides involving black street gangs last year. Police are reluctant to describe the incidents as symptomatic of increased activity by gangs affiliated with Bloods and Crips, but others who monitor youth crime in the city are not.
"It's really gotten out of hand," said Joe Barbosa, a deputy probation officer with the Los Angeles County Probation Department. "They're more aggressive right now, the Crips in particular. I have a lot of juveniles, a lot of Crips, getting busted left and right. A lot of it has to do with the dealing of crack cocaine."
In areas where Bloods and Crips are active, residents have grown accustomed to the sound of gunfire and routinely keep children indoors when they hear rumors of an incident brewing.
"When I hear shooting, I stay in the house," said a resident of the Islands who asked not to be quoted by name.
"What's making it worse is all these drugs and (the gangs) trying to take over each other's territories. . . . Don't print my name in the newspaper. I don't want nobody shooting us up."
Unlike the Latino gangs that have waged turf wars in Pomona for decades, gangs in predominantly black areas are less prone to territorial violence. Instead, they are more likely to be fighting for a share of the market in the booming crack cocaine trade, police said.
And while police, working in conjunction with Catholic churches, have had some success in cooling tensions among Latino gangs through summit meetings, no such avenue to peace exists with black gangs.
'More Traditional Gangs'
"The Hispanic gangs are the more traditional gangs, protective of turf and territory," said Police Chief Richard Tefank. "The black gangs are also protective of turf and territory, but mainly as it relates to areas in which they sell drugs."
The intense rivalry among drug traffickers has been exacerbated, police said, by the easy availability of semi-automatic assault rifles. Originally designed for use by the armies of the United States, Israel and the Soviet Union, the rifles have become the weapons of choice in street warfare.
"The thing that makes this violence so much more critical to a community is the weaponry that these people, who have no regard for human life, have access to," Tefank said. "The last incident was tragic because it was an example of the firepower these individuals possess as they drive through a neighborhood."
In light of a shooting incident last month in which a gunman fired into a crowded playground at a Stockton elementary school with an AK-47 assault rifle, killing several children, bills have been introduced in the state Legislature to restrict the sale of such weapons or ban them outright.