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A Gang Truce to Spare the Children

May 24, 1997

A recent spate of gang violence in the Venice area left four people dead and 10 injured in two months, rekindling fears in the community that the shootings would escalate into a gang war like the one that left 17 dead in 1994. Residents braced themselves for the worst as the Shoreline Crips, a mostly black gang from Oakwood, clashed with the Culver City Boys, a mostly Latino gang based in Mar Vista.

On April 3, 14-year-old Rafael Adan was gunned down as he walked home from middle school with some friends. Police said the boy was not involved in a gang. Rafael's death sparked outrage in both the Mar Vista and Oakwood neighborhoods. Shaken community members gathered in meetings and gang prevention workers heightened efforts to put a stop to the violence. The Rev. Robert Shipp and community activist Raphael "Spud" Anderson led efforts to broker a cease-fire, which has held for the past month and a half, between the two warring gangs. MATEA GOLD spoke with them about the impact of the gang warfare on neighborhood children and the efforts to bring peace.

RAPHAEL 'SPUD' ANDERSON

Community activist, Oakwood

The children are going through the same syndrome that anyone under combat would be. I think the parents need counseling in both communities--people are shell-shocked. The children don't think they have a future. They're afraid to dream. They've seen too much of their uncles being shot, their dads being shot, and they're afraid. So when you ask them what they want to be when they grow up, they say, "Well, I'm not going to grow up." I think we're treating our children very badly. Our children are living under conditions they should not be.

I say to them that I love you and I'll be here for you. And that everything looks bad on the outside, but we'll get together and fix it, just like a puzzle.

Things are looking better. There's the baseball league and from 9 in the morning to 5 at night, the park is full with people and lined with cars. People are coming out to see their neighbors. It's very refreshing. That's where I get my satisfaction, that they can come and run around the park. And they also are writing their feelings down. That's quite powerful--it makes them feel like someone is listening. It makes them feel empowered.

We want to get the letters from children on both sides and think that will make a difference because we all love children. Not just our children, but all children. I think when we read these letters, it's going to make everyone say, "Hey, for the children's sake, we've got to get past this." We have to get past our personal hatreds because we're ruining our children.

I think the reaction is quite powerful for the people in the gangs. They sure don't want to put this terror on the children. We must love our children.

Right now we're trying to organize the community with people in Mar Vista, so one little thing will not start such a catastrophe again. We need jobs and education, something so that we can avert this the next time.

The cease-fire is holding. It's definitely holding--this is a new era. Nobody wants to go to jail. It's quiet, people walk around, you see couples. The kids walk around outside. They go to the ice cream man. Everyone is coming out.

ROBERT SHIPP

Associate minister, New Bethel Baptist Church, Oakwood

My son and daughter were afraid to go out. They were afraid that somebody in their family was going to get hurt. Kids want to be able to go out and play; they didn't understand why they had to be locked up. I would explain to them what's going on, how innocent people get killed by stray bullets. I didn't want them around anywhere a gang member might be.

It's important to talk about it because a lot of people hold things on the inside. Then you can never get it out and that can cause anger, bitterness, depression. They need to let their true feelings out.

The principal at Westminster Avenue Elementary School said their kids would write essays. We also started making a videotape of kids at the Pearl White Theater. We plan on getting it out to both communities, letting people check it out and see how the violence really affected kids, hoping that would get some sense into them.

I always talk to my kids about gangs and drugs. I let them know [gang members] are caught up in something they really don't understand. They find themselves trapped. That's when the reality hits them. I explain how I used to be a gang member, that it's not fun. They've got to duck and hide from the police. Nobody really likes living like that. They stay in gangs because they need the protection. I let them know a lot of them die at a young age. This isn't a life anyone wants.

What we're trying to do now is get jobs. I got a few people hired at the Ralph's. If we can get jobs into this community, that will play a big part in keeping kids busy. They pretty much will avoid the negative stuff.

I believe [the cease-fire] is going to hold up. I see that gang members really don't want this violence. They don't want any problems, they don't want these police around the way they were. They don't want to be where they're carrying a gun all the time. I think we're going to have a good, quiet summer.

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