Recognizing that "we aren't going to stop gangs overnight," an East Los Angeles community organization Thursday evening launched a rally to curb gang violence with a procession of four coffins--stark symbols of the four youths who have been killed in the area since a "peace plan" was initiated 90 days ago.
Father Joe Pina of the United Neighborhoods Organization told about 500 members of the organization gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall on East 3rd Street that an evaluation of the peace plan "has taught us one thing: We are in a heap of trouble."
Launched in February after gang warfare had claimed the lives of six area youths in the previous six months, the plan involved a range of activities, including stepped-up gang patrols by the Sheriff's Department, more parenting classes for gang members' families, increased job opportunities and a greater presence of anti-gang workers.
UNO leaders graded each agency involved in the project, giving good evaluations to representatives of the Sheriff's Department, Community Youth Gang Services and Soledad Enrichment Action, a church-based counseling and education program.
But the County Probation Department came in for criticism for not even knowing where several "gang hot spots" are, not keeping a high visibility in "strategic areas" and not making sure that "kids who are a danger to the community are taken off the streets."
Chief County Probation Officer Barry Nidorf promised that his agency would correct those weaknesses, saying in Spanish that "with the support of UNO, we'll be able to win."
But that was not good enough for UNO's Conni Armenta, who told Nidorf that his remarks sounded like "business as usual. We'd like to meet with you to develop a more creative plan."
Nidorf agreed to the proposed meeting.
UNO also announced that the efforts to win back the streets would be joined by the Los Angeles Unified School District, the California Department of Corrections and the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court. The program will also be expanded to include four Roman Catholic parishes in the unincorporated East Los Angeles area.
Pointing out that coordination between the various agencies is essential, Pina said, "It's very frustrating for us that sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."
Highlights of the expanded plan ratified at the rally Thursday include a center for students who have been suspended from school.
"Suspended kids spend their days on the streets unsupervised," said UNO's Carmen Feria. "They are not allowed to stay on school property because they constitute a threat to school property. Well, we consider them a threat to the neighborhood too."
The plan also calls for increasing the number of drug counselors and youth gang workers, developing parenting teams in local churches and training area residents to monitor and report potentially threatening situations.