MONROVIA — When Brenda Adams moved to West Walnut Avenue two years ago, it was a quiet, pleasant street.
Since then, members of the Du Rock Crips gang moved onto the block. On many nights, youths danced in the street to blaring music and drag-raced down the road at all hours.
One night three months ago, a teen-ager toting an unloaded gun terrorized drivers while his friend pointed a flashlight in their eyes. Arrests involving rock cocaine sales from at least two Walnut Avenue homes were made in the past month, according to Lt. Bob Page of the Monrovia Police Department.
Adams now likens the neighborhood to a war zone.
"I saw (drug) transactions taking place outside my window, during the day," she said. "They were so blatant about it."
Guardian Angels Called
In May, a frustrated Adams and Neighborhood Watch captain Myra Rogers decided they'd had enough and contacted the Guardian Angels.
Started in New York in 1979, the organization coordinates about 5,000 volunteers in 60 chapters nationwide who are trained in self-defense and patrol neighborhood streets to fight crime.
The Los Angeles chapter, which has about 100 members, has come to the aid of Monrovia residents once before. They were invited to the city in 1985 during the Night Stalker slayings, Angels coordinator Paul Barrera said.
On June 30, about 30 Angels, clad in fatigues and red berets, and 40 residents marched on their first patrol down West Walnut Avenue between Monterey and 5th avenues.
Since that first march, between eight and 50 residents, escorted by Angels, have patrolled the streets every night from 8 to as late as 4 a.m. They march two abreast, taking down the license numbers of unfamiliar cars. By scaring off drug buyers, they hope to freeze out the dealers, said Adams, president of the 60-member Monrovia Residents Against Pushers.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, the residents group appealed for more police patrols.
Adams' husband, Cory, told council members that residents have "to wait for (drug) deals to be completed before we can travel down the street."
Choking back tears, Linda Nelson said her home had been broken into that day.
"My children have been told to get off the property," said Nelson, who has been active in the patrols. "I just would like these people away so my children can play safely."
Monica Lord, manager of a 20-unit apartment complex, said two families moved out last month because of tension in the neighborhood. Some tenants have not allowed their children to play outdoors for three months, she added.
"Children are run off the sidewalk by people telling them they don't belong there," she said.
Mayor Bob Bartlett lauded the residents' initiative. "It takes a lot of courage to go out there and face these guys," he said.
Brenda Adams said her group has purchased six two-way radios for use on patrols. A base station with a radio receiver is set up at a different home each night. In an emergency, the person staffing the radio would call the police for backup.
As the residents have worked together to reclaim their neighborhood, Adams said, they have forged a greater sense of community and have been able to share with neighbors their fears and potential solutions.
"Parents have been absolutely terrified," she said. "Our children are told they are to play only in pairs."
Adams said the drug dealers have recruited at least two children as lookouts to warn them about approaching police cars. "They use whistles as signals," she said. "It's so sad."
Bullies snatched a skateboard away from a boy whose family participates in the patrols, Adams said. The Angels later retrieved the skateboard. Last Sunday, she said, a child wearing a red baseball cap was warned never to wear red on that street. The Crips' color is blue; that of their traditional rival, the Bloods gang, is red.
Resident Rocheall Fornes said she gave up "TV, sleep, everything" to patrol at night.
"We shouldn't have to do this, but we want our kids to be kids, grow up like we did, wear whatever colors they want to wear," she said.
Six Angels live on donated food in a small house on the street and patrol throughout the day. They are joined by about eight other Angels for night duty.
Residents say the number of unfamiliar cars traveling through the neighborhood has dropped drastically since the group began patrolling, armed with note pads and cameras to record license plates of prospective buyers or simply strangers.
"All we're doing is acting as a visual deterrent," said Angel Terry Folsom, 22. "We're nipping (the problem) in the bud before it gets too big."
The Police Department's narcotics task force would work on the problem, Bartlett said, but ultimately "neighbors have to take control of their neighborhood. There can't be enough policemen hired to stop every crook in Monrovia."
Barrera said he expects West Walnut Avenue to be cleaned of "mutants and scumbags" within a month. Next Sunday, he plans to pull the 24-hour Angels from the neighborhood. As follow-up, six to eight Angels will come back for random patrols at least once a week until the residents seem to have things under control, he said.
The Los Angeles chapter conducts "maintenance" patrols throughout the county, including hot spots such as MacArthur Park and Skid Row.
"This area is Disneyland compared to where we've been," he said. "There've been no killings (in Monrovia) yet, but do we wait till it happens?"