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Boy Turns to City Hall in Plea on Gangs


LONG BEACH — His name is Terrell, and three days before his 11th birthday, he addressed the City Council.

He talked about gangs.

First, they stole his key chain, he said. Then they took $20 and beat him up. The third time they took his squirt gun.

His mother's solution was to go to City Hall. Terrell's was to buy a real gun.

The boy took his mother's advice instead, but a month later he's wondering what good it did him.

Although city officials were shocked by his account, they have made little progress in responding to the child's plea for help.

Mayor Ernie Kell thanked the boy for coming and promised that the situation would "turn around" once the Sheriff's Department began patrolling in the boy's neighborhood in Central Long Beach this month.

Police officers told the boy to walk with his head high and to dart into stores if he had any further problems. Then they took a crime report and told their patrol officers to keep an eye out.

Councilman Clarence Smith invited Terrell and his mother, Helen, to visit his office and gave the boy a city pin. Terrell keeps it on his dresser in a basket full of shells, railroad spikes and other treasures.

Although Terrell has not been attacked again, he doesn't feel any safer. He never wears red--the color of his neighborhood's rival gang. Every day after school, he walks home quickly and locks himself inside his small apartment, where bars cover the windows in the heart of Crips territory.

The Crips have been involved in 11 murders this year in Long Beach, according to Norman Sorenson, the only detective with the Long Beach Police Department's gang detail.

Terrell's neighborhood, a few blocks from Martin Luther King Park, is considered one of the city's most crime-ridden, yet the already undermanned Police Department has been unable to increase patrols there.

Police have recently broken up gang fights after classes in the area around Terrell's school.

Officers said they are overwhelmed. "Everybody's asked that we should do something about the gang situation," said Long Beach Police Lt. William Albertson. "But what would you suggest we do?"

Councilman Smith has been pushing the city to expand its youth programs for a long time, arguing that they will keep children out of gangs. But his colleagues insist the money isn't there.

Sorenson, a detective with more than 10 years on the force, said he has seen the number of gangs grow from a handful to 33.

He had this advice for Terrell: "Get the hell out."

Terrell says he can't.

"I thought they were gonna have some answers. But they just gave me the same old stuff that everybody else tells me. Walk with your head up. Be careful," Terrell said.

"If I was the city, I'd give all those people who are gang-banging a job so they'd stop."

Going before the City Council has taught Terrell one thing, his mother said: "Everything's going to stay the same, and until things change, he's just going to have to learn to live with it."

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