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VENICE : Gang Truce Creates Cautious Optimism

July 28, 1994|SCOTT COLLINS

After nine months of bloody gang warfare, a tenuous cease-fire appears to have brought peace--at least temporarily--to the troubled Oakwood neighborhood of Venice.

Social service workers are applauding an "unofficial truce" reached last month between black and Latino gangs, whose feud has claimed at least 15 lives since September. But police wonder whether the truce will last or merely mark a pause in the fighting.

Brad Carson, a Los Angeles County probation officer, said the community should use this window of opportunity to develop jobs and social programs for young people involved in gangs.

Carson said the youths agreed to meet three days after the June 10 drive-by slaying on Venice Boulevard--outside of the Oakwood neighborhood--of two Latino teen-agers, neither of whom was believed to be a gang member. Community outrage had pressured gang members to halt such killings, Carson said.

"(Gang members) wanted to stop it themselves. They just didn't want to be the first ones to make the move," Carson said. "They just had a definite lack of communication."

Carson said he and another probation officer led the youths to a neutral site in South-Central Los Angeles, to talk about their differences. No treaties were signed or firm promises made, but Carson and others believe the talks were an important first step.

The neighborhood has seen no major gang violence since, police and social workers agree.

"You're now seeing all the guys out in the parks, which you didn't see before," said Bill Martinez, executive director of Community Youth Gang Services in Los Angeles. "One gang is still at one end and another is at the other end, but there is now some communication between them.

"It's up to the kids to decide when this thing is over . . . but things look very good right now," Martinez added.

But police are taking a cooler attitude toward the cease-fire. Lt. John Weaver, of the Los Angeles Police Department's anti-gang CRASH unit, said that gang members may have called a temporary truce because the violence was leading to increased police patrols, which in turn were interfering with drug sales.

"As long as we're out there, it interferes with their business," Weaver said. "People who go into the neighborhood to buy drugs will probably get discouraged if they see us there."

Whatever the motive, Carson and others are hoping the talks will soon lead to something even better.

"For nine months, we had people getting shot and it was a war zone," Carson said. "What we have now is an unofficial truce, and that means we're taking it on a day-by-day basis."

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