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STANDING UP TO STREET GANGS

Job No. 1: Stop the Slaughter

September 03, 2002

On the day the Los Angeles Police Commission announced it had narrowed the candidates for police chief to 13, a suspected gang member walked up to three workers outside a Wilshire Boulevard Koo Koo Roo restaurant and shot them to death.

As this brazen triple killing illustrates, the most urgent task for the next chief will be quelling a three-year surge in homicides, most of them involving gangs. And not just when the bullets and bodies land in Brentwood.

What set the Wilshire Boulevard killings apart from the 425 other homicides in Los Angeles so far this year was location. Brentwood's polished high-rises are at least a mile from the nearest neighborhood known for what is euphemistically called gang activity, and even farther from the barrios and ghettos where young men with few prospects slaughter bystanders and each other with numbing regularity.

The unspoken assumption in the rest of the city is that as long as the mayhem is confined to neighborhoods where the chicken joints are cheap and greasy, it's not our problem; those of us with skinless, flame-broiled poultry tastes are safe. Outrage wanes once gangs go back to where they "belong."

This unwritten policy of containment condemns the city's poorest residents to lives of terror. (You don't get used to gunshots, even when you hear them every night.) And it promises everyone else only a facade of safety, one easily penetrated by bullets. The geography of fear recognizes no borders.

In South Los Angeles' 77th Street Division, the body count so far this year is 78--more than the 55 fatalities that resulted from the worst rioting in modern U.S. history, which a decade ago racked that very part of the city.

In the days after the 1992 riots, Angenelos long accustomed to leading separate lives flocked to South-Central--shaken and anxious but eager to pitch in and rebuild a community, to be a community. Today's rash of killings deserves no less a response.

Los Angeles can't go on pretending that it is two cities, rich and poor. Former LAPD Chief Bernard C. Parks, whose own granddaughter was killed by a gangster's bullet, worked to close the gap between communities.

Los Angeles needs a police chief who will pick up where Parks left off--someone who can make clear to Brentwood entertainment attorneys and El Sereno janitors alike that stopping gang slaughter is the department's most urgent task. It needs a chief who will serve and protect a single city.

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