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Stop the War ... in L.A.

January 23, 2002

Community leaders last week called for a cease-fire, not in the Gaza Strip but in Los Angeles. Pleading for a moratorium on violence over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a coalition of South Los Angeles nonprofit organizations and neighborhood activists launched a campaign against gang terrorism that last year cost at least 50 lives in the Police Department's 77th Street Division alone.

After falling for seven years, homicides citywide rose in 2000 and again last year, to 584, with most tied to drugs and gangs. The increase has sparked fears of a return to 1992's record high of 1,096--about the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in Middle East violence over the past 15 months.

Why don't such numbers strike outrage here?

Outrage struck South Los Angeles in November when 13-year-old Marquese Rashad Prude, who was not involved with gangs, was killed by suspected gang members in the lobby of the St. Andrews Park Recreation Center.

From the response to the tragedy--200 people attended a meeting on the shooting--came the coalition. Its first goal after the weekend moratorium is to create safety zones at parks, schools and community functions.

To get there, the coalition aims to improve historically testy relations between the black community and the Police Department so that police officers are seen as community partners, not an occupying army. As coalition member Henry T. Stuckey put it, "It's impossible for us to stop the violence without the LAPD. And it's impossible for the LAPD to stop the violence without us."

The group has also enlisted the participation of Los Angeles school board member Genethia Hayes, who promised to work to expand after-school programs.

Ahead are plans to hold town hall meetings in churches citywide to develop neighborhood-based plans to counter gang violence. Because South Los Angeles residents are shouldering their share of responsibility doesn't absolve the rest of Los Angeles from doing its part.

Like many cease-fires, the King holiday moratorium was broken; the three-day weekend did not pass without violence. But police reported that violent crime, including aggravated assaults, robberies, sexual assaults and homicides, was down 16% from last year's holiday.

Whether the decrease had anything to do with the moratorium is impossible to measure. What is certain, however, is that nothing will really change until all of Los Angeles decides that it won't tolerate homicide numbers here that rival the number of murders in the Middle East.

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