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March Protests Gang Violence

Safety: About 100 parents, teachers and children demand protection on streets near Gates Elementary.

December 14, 2001|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Martha Perez used to send her 7-year-old daughter, Anna, to Gates Elementary School with a blessing and instructions to behave and do well in class.

"Now I have to tell her that if she hears any shots, even if it's just firecrackers, to drop to the floor and not get up until a grown-up tells her it's clear," Perez said. "And then I pray because I don't know if she'll come back home safely."

Perez is one of more than 100 Lincoln Heights parents, teachers, children and residents who participated Thursday in a peace march to protest the neighborhood's escalating number of gang-related shootings over the last five months.

They marched down the streets surrounding the school escorted by police on foot and bike.

"This is all we want, more protection," said Arcelia Leyva, who walked with daughter, Nayeli, 9.

Shootings have occurred on each of the four streets bordering the school, many near the children's 2:40 p.m. dismissal, said Gates Elementary Principal Margaret de la Mora.

The violence has become so commonplace that the school at 3333 Manitou Ave. regularly holds "Take Cover" drills, where the children are trained what to do when there is a shooting. The school also has ordered four lock-downs in the last six months--securing children with an adult in a room until police clear the area.

The most recent incident took place at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 28, when some children were still at the school. Two women were shot and injured less than a block away.

"There were many, many children here. These people don't seem to have any regard," de la Mora said. "The children are scared. . . . Sometimes I wish we could build a concrete wall around the school. There's nothing protecting kids from what's happening except a chain-link fence."

According to statistics from Hollenbeck Police Division's crime analysis department, 72 shooting incidents have occurred in the area around the school this year, compared with 50 total last year.

Councilman Ed Reyes is working with the community to organize against the violence and help officers in the area do their job, he said.

Reyes is working with parents to create "safe passages," where volunteer parents serve as guards at key entry points to the school. The parents deliberately marched past problem gang areas Thursday, said Columba Mendez, parent mentor and community representative for the school.

"It's kind of like we're saying, 'Here we are. This is our home too,' " Mendez said.

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