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Graffiti Workers Getting New Jobs

Ex-gang members were idled after Homeboy Industries shut down program.

August 21, 2004|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

Two weeks after Homeboy Industries ended its graffiti-removal program in Boyle Heights in the wake of the shooting deaths of two workers, most of the former gang members who lost their jobs are going back to work.

Mayor James K. Hahn and labor leaders from the building and construction trades in Los Angeles announced Friday that the graffiti team members had been offered positions as apprentice painters, electricians, ironworkers and other tradesmen.

"These are the guys that need a second chance," Hahn said, praising the work that Homeboy Industries and its founder, Father Gregory Boyle, had done to combat violence over the last 12 years. "We hope that by the end of the week, everyone on the team will be working."

Two weeks ago, the workers' prospects did not look so good. On Aug. 3, 25-year-old Arturo Casas was shot to death just a block from Homeboy Industries as he drove to a graffiti-removal assignment in one of the organization's trucks. And in June, 34-year-old Miguel Gomez was shot as he painted over graffiti. Police concluded that the shootings were not in retaliation for removing gang graffiti. But the killings prompted Boyle to halt the anti-graffiti program, saying he did not want to risk the lives of the young men.

Boyle founded Homeboy Industries after the 1992 riots as a way to give job experience to former gang members who, because of felony records or other reasons, had trouble finding jobs. The program has been widely praised as a model for anti-gang efforts nationwide. "We're really pleased that Mayor Hahn put out a plea for assistance from the unions for these guys," Boyle said in a statement Friday.

The mayor's office reported that seven of the 15 young men who worked on the anti-graffiti team signed up to become apprentices in the painters union and five will join the ironworkers union. The other three are in the process of joining a union. Those involved in helping find the jobs are Ironworkers Local 433; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11; the Los Angeles and Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council; and District Council 36 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

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