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HEARTS OF THE CITY

Dads on Duty

A group of concerned fathers, targets gangs with night patrols and offers alternatives to crime for young people.

June 05, 1996|MAKI BECKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They are men, many of them fathers, who have banded together to take a stand against violence in their neighborhoods.

Tired of the destructive lifestyles espoused by youth and sickened by the fear in which the elderly are forced to live, they decided to help rid the streets of crime by conducting night patrols in their own neighborhoods and offering young people alternatives to crime.

They are members of the newly formed Los Angeles chapter of Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder--MAD DADS.

The chapter was started by Kenneth Riley, 35, a former gang member who has been working for 10 years as a counselor in a youth program in the Crenshaw district.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 12, 1996 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Name clarification--Keith Perry, whose murder was described in a June 5 story about the group MAD DADS, was also known by his legal name, Keith Leon Fischer.

Riley was inspired to bring MAD DADS here after the man who founded the organization in Omaha was honored by an African American magazine. With the help of his boss and mentor, Margo Wainwright, executive director of the Youth Intervention Program, he set up the MAD DADS chapter in Wainwright's building.

Several hundred men have signed up since the chapter began in October, but its core group of volunteers consists of a few dozen members. They come from all walks of life: contractors, a carwash owner, a few probation officers, a number of nonprofit workers, a retired chef. They range in age from 19 to 65.

Riley has set up two softball games between the MAD DADS and gangs to negotiate a cease-fire at Helen Keller Park and Washington Park, both in south Los Angeles.

"What we have been doing is challenging them to softball games as a way to talk to them and let these parks be safe," Riley said.

So far, MAD DADS is 2-0 against the gangs, Riley says with a laugh, and the gangs have ceased violent activities at the parks.

The MAD DADS are preparing to start patrolling the streets of the Firestone district. Riley says he hopes that parents in the community will join MAD DADS and eventually take over the night patrols, freeing his group to continue their work in other Los Angeles neighborhoods.

MAD DADS members have been training with the county Sheriff's Department in community policing to prepare themselves for the Firestone patrols. Some are becoming reserve deputies.

Their goal, Riley explains, is not to run gangs out of the neighborhood but to talk face to face with gang members. Riley says he is working to find jobs for gang members who want to change their lives.

"We are more about a prevention type of situation before law enforcement gets involved," Riley said. "If it gets too out of hand, then it's a situation that the police need to take care of."

At the sheriff's Century Station, the MAD DADS took a 13-week course developed specially for the members of the group. They were taught an array of skills, from how to recognize the type of drugs someone may be using to conflict resolution, Sheriff's Sgt. Mitchell McMahon said.

In addition, they have spent hours going over laws about arrests and constitutional rights and have heard lectures about the many gangs in the Firestone area.

The Sheriff's Department is providing patrol cars marked with the MAD DADS emblem, but the men will not carry weapons. "All we will have is a flashlight and a walkie-talkie," Riley said.

"I fear for their safety sometimes," McMahon said. "It is a very violent area. The gang members might not care what they have to say."

The MAD DADS members know all too well the dangers they face.

On April 20, one of the most active participants, Keith Perry, 39, was fatally shot in the face while filling up his tank at a gas station at El Segundo Boulevard and Central Avenue. His 11-year-old daughter was in the car.

Authorities believe the killing had nothing to do with Perry's MAD DADS activities, which involved teaching karate to at-risk youth. He was probably shot because the shoes he was wearing were blue, the color of one local gang, they say.

Several days after the shooting, MAD DADS held a rally at the gas station to recruit volunteers for the organization and to send a message of peace.

Despite the tragedy, Riley says the MAD DADS are eager to start the patrols, and the Sheriff's Department is hopeful that they will be successful.

"They will be a liaison to the community, a trouble stop," McMahon said. "They [MAD DADS members] are from the area. They have grown up there. They know the people. Some of them are former gang members who have been arrested and then turned their lives around. It's a better role model."

Riley, too, believes that his past gives him more credibility with young gang members. Until 10 years ago, he says, he was in a gang himself and did time in the California Youth Authority and state prison. His hand still has his old gang name, "Big Smokey," tattooed on it.

"They know after they've been talking to me that I know about this," Riley said.

Riley said he turned his life around when his son was 8. "His teacher asked the class what do their parents do for a living. My son said his mother does hair and he doesn't know what his father does, but he always has a briefcase full of money," Riley said, recalling his shame.

"I wanted my son to be proud of what I do," he said, "and I knew if I kept doing these things, I would be killed or end up back in jail."

He soon got a job at the Youth Intervention Program and left crime behind. "I thank God today that I am here, that I don't have to worry about law enforcement or that I might end up in jail," he said. "I don't worry about that. I just want to be out there helping them."

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