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Pacoima Issues a Plea for Peace, Local Unity

A march on Van Nuys Boulevard is part of a community effort to calm what some view as rising tensions between blacks and Latinos.

September 07, 2003|Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

A day after two people were wounded in a daytime drive-by shooting in the northeast San Fernando Valley, scores of Pacoima residents, activists and local leaders marched Saturday morning along Van Nuys Boulevard to denounce gang violence and promote community unity.

Billed as the second annual "Hands Across Pacoima," the rally was part of a grass-roots effort to quell what some in the area view as rising friction between young blacks and Latinos.

"There seems to be a lot of racial tensions," said James Wallace, an off-duty Los Angeles Police Department officer who lives in nearby Lake View Terrace. "I'm here to support the march. If we can get everyone together in a safe environment, things will be better."

Tensions rose this summer after a young Latino was killed, allegedly by a black suspect, and a month later a young black man was gunned down, allegedly by Latino gang members.

On Wednesday, a 29-year-old Arleta man was killed in North Hills, but there are no suspects, police said.

While a sound system blared and marchers munched on tamales, organizers promoted a message of unity.

"We don't want to be labeled Mexican Americans or black Americans or white Americans; we are just Americans," said an energetic Patricia Segoviano, the recreation coordinator at Hubert H. Humphrey Park in Pacoima. "We need to integrate all people here to become one voice. A couple of bad people shouldn't ruin it for thousands of good people."

The marchers carried signs, balloons and a globe to symbolize their mission of "advocating peace here and around the world."

One marcher was ex-gang member Albert Heredia. He said his dream as a youth was to follow in his father's footsteps and go to prison. Fortunately, he said, it never happened.

"Sometimes you get locked into a mentality like that, but we need to focus on stopping the violence and helping the young people get an education and jobs," said Heredia, a gang intervention worker for the Community In Schools program based in North Hills.

"We've got a lot of young people here today and this is just a start."

An assistant city attorney participating in the march called the event "completely awesome."

"It's all about bringing the community together," said Deborah Breithaupt, who works out of the Foothill Division. "A lot of these kids usually don't feel comfortable going from one neighborhood to another because of the different gangs. But events like this help break down barriers."

Resident Curtis Morris, a father of two, stood to the side and surveyed the activity.

"It makes you feel better just by getting involved," he said. "And that's the key. People need to get involved."

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