POMONA — Many people had war stories to share.
Eartha Vernon said her brother was killed in a gang shooting and her South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood was an open supermarket for drugs.
Now, she said, a lot of the drug trade has moved to other areas--partially because her community banded together and pushed drug sellers out. Vernon, a former Pomona resident, said the parents of gang members united to reclaim the neighborhood. The parents became more aware of who gang members were, reported drug dealings to authorities and refused to remain confined to their homes out of fear.
Vernon is a member of Concerned Parents of South-Central Los Angeles, one of several groups that attended a conference in Pomona last week on gangs. Sponsored by the CPC Horizon Hospital in Pomona, the four-hour program included representatives from the clergy, police, and probation, social service and community agencies.
'Not the Solution'
"Law enforcement has to take the lead in guiding the community, but we are not the solution," said Pomona Police Chief Richard Tefank. "The solution is the community and working together."
Tefank discussed the history of Pomona's traditional Latino gangs and the rise of entrepreneurial black gangs that market cocaine. He cited several groups that could work work together to fight gang violence, including parents, the county corrections and probation departments, the judicial system and members of the clergy.
"Individual people have to say, 'This is what I can do,' " Tefank said.
Police Capt. Jack Blair suggested that more churches focus on gang problems in Pomona. "We have to understand how desperate (youngsters) are," Blair said. "Most of the kids join them for protection. Many of them have no role models."
If there is someone to look up to, it is usually not a good influence, said Leo Cortez of the Special Gangs Unit of the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
"I talk to youngsters, 8- or 9-year-olds, and they are angry kids, like robots," Cortez said. "Their parents and brothers tell them not to like the other kids. A lot of the kids are being brainwashed since they were small."
Several Christian groups at the conference outlined programs and plans to keep kids out of gangs.
Members of Teen Outreach, a Pomona Christian community group, and Victory Outreach-Pomona Valley, a church and Christian service group, said they will continue to counsel gang members. Sister Leticia Gomez, who heads Concerned Parents of Pomona, suggested a community "love walk" down 12th Street--the domain of many Latino gang members. In the past year, Gomez has been working with the Concerned Parents chapters of South-Central and East Los Angeles, sharing their experiences with Pomona families.
Ted Burnett of Pomona Open Door, a nonprofit organization that offers alcohol, drug and family counseling, said Pomona had a "fear of coming together" on the gang problem.
"They (gangs) are well-organized, we are not," he said. "They have superseded us by a couple of years. But we can catch up, we can make a move."
Vernon called the gang problems an epidemic. "I'm interested in the problem," she said while passing out Concerned Parents brochures, "I used to live here in Pomona, so I know the problems."