Armed with green ribbons of neutrality, nearly 50 activists marched through one of Los Angeles' most violent neighborhoods on Saturday, but few hard-core gang members were on hand to heed their pleas for peace.
To shouts of "Black Power" and "Viva La Raza," the marchers wound their way through the streets of Venice's Oakwood district, where a fierce rivalry between black and Latino gangs has left 11 people dead and more than 30 wounded in the last four months.
The multiracial group--which ranged from members of the Brown Berets to the Coalition Against Police Abuse to a Mayan spiritualist waving an incense burner--called on the gangs to end their warfare and help rebuild a community that has been held virtually captive by reckless gunfire.
"We're trying to let these guys know that the community supports the need for a truce," said Michael Zinzun, a longtime political activist. "That's why we're putting ourselves on the line right now."
But like Zinzun, many in the crowd were from outside the Venice area and appeared to be pushing social agendas that reached far beyond the question of a gang truce. That fact was not lost on Lupe Gonzalez, who watched from her front yard as the marchers chanted the names of their heroes--Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X--and ridiculed those they hold in low esteem--the police and CIA.
"The kids who should be out here are not out here," said Gonzalez, 48, whose home was sprayed with gunfire at Christmastime when an assailant spotted two former gang members helping paint the small stucco bungalow. "We don't need anyone to come into our community and tell us what our problem is."
Saturday's rally comes after months of violent clashes between a black gang in Oakwood and two Latino gangs, one in Venice and the other several miles to the east in the Mar Vista Gardens housing project.
Historically, police say, most of the bloodshed in those neighborhoods stemmed from conflicts between the two Latino gangs. But after they forged a truce in 1992, they began to war with the black gang, which had coexisted peacefully with them on the same turf. Investigators have linked the interracial rivalry to a battle being waged by prison gangs over control of the drug trade.
To help fight the violence, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office Friday announced a program designed to crack down on hard-core members of the three gangs.
Under the plan, Los Angeles police officers will notify prosecutors whenever a gang member from those neighborhoods is arrested. Prosecutors will advise judges, who will be asked to immediately sentence the suspects for probation violations, regardless of the crime for which they were arrested.