On a shady corner of Denker Avenue Recreation Center, the wilting petals of carnations, roses, irises, petunias and tulips on a makeshift shrine are a reminder that Dwayne Capers once lived.
Capers, who was a Rolling 30s Harlem Crip, was gunned down April 7 when rival Bloods walked across the park and opened fire on a group of Crips sitting on a picnic bench. A stray bullet killed 73-year-old King Clark as he sat in his living room across the street reading a lesson for his Bible study class.
Capers, 31, was an OG--Original Gangster--who had given up hard-core gangbanging after the birth of his daughter, DaJuana, eight years ago and helped organize a jobs program for gang members. He worked as a plumber and spent much of his spare time in the park where he coached football, basketball and baseball.
Clark, a native of Arkansas who had lived in the neighborhood 20 years, was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who had been mostly housebound since a stroke three years ago.
Residents of the mostly African-American neighborhood just northwest of Exposition Park are interpreting the tragedy in various ways.
Older residents, who largely came from the South to the promised land of post-World War II Los Angeles, blame today's pervasive violence on the deterioration of small-town values and the breakdown of extended families that historically served as a safety net for errant youths.
While some younger residents agree, they stress that few opportunities exist to fill the void for teen-agers and young adults for whom gangs have come to serve as surrogatefamilies.
Denker park, also the site of a child-care center and the Betty Hill Senior Center, is a peculiar meeting ground where various elements of the neighborhood come together but rarely interact. The two deaths have led to reflection in the community about how to address its crime and gang problems, but no easy solutions have emerged.
In the days after Capers died, a memorial was erected in his honor at the park. Olde English 800 malt liquor bottles serve as vases for the flowers. Other tributes included cards, champagne bottles, blue bandannas and a paper plate laden with fried chicken and white bread symbolizing a final meal.
Though Capers had given up gangbanging, the gang symbols on the shrine reflected his close friendship with fellow Crips. They would often hang out in the park to socialize, drink and play cards and dominoes on the picnic benches.
Capers and other Crips were sitting on one of those benches about 8:30 on a Wednesday evening when two Bloods walked across the park's baseball field and fired on the group, witnesses said. Capers was shot in the head and died soon after arrival at California Hospital. Reginald Carr, who was also sitting on the bench, was struck in the right leg.
Police have no suspects in the shooting, which Crips believe was a pay-back provoked by a shooting earlier that evening between local Crips and Bloods. It was the first shooting inside Denker park in about 10 years, residents say.
It was an ironic end for Capers because friends say he often encouraged younger Crips to leave gangbanging, to go to school, get a job and build a future for themselves.
"He was like a big brother," said a former Crip who asked not to be named. "If you had any kind of trouble he would be there. He was always telling us what was good and what was bad. He was always telling us to give up gangbanging."
From 1982 to 1986, Capers was a community coordinator for Youth Outreach, a summer jobs program for youth around Denker park, which is in the center of a neighborhood of tree-lined streets and mostly single-family homes.
Cedric Farmer, one of Capers' best friends and also a coordinator of Youth Outreach, said Crips and Bloods alike flocked to the program that employed about 150 youths. They cleared alleys, helped senior citizens clean their yards, did landscaping and worked in day-care centers.
"After a day of work they would be tired and they wouldn't have any time or energy for gangbanging," said Anthony Moore, a welder who participated in the program. "A lot of times, that was their first work experience and that gave them the initiative to go out and find other jobs."
When funding for Youth Outreach ran out in 1986, Capers did odd jobs. A year ago, he started to work as a plumber with a local company. A former Crip said Capers always talked about organizing and seeking funding for another jobs program. "He really wanted to do something for Crips and Bloods to work together," said the man, who requested anonymity.
Farmer and others said that as opportunities in the community have dwindled, gang activity has become less fraternal and more criminal.