Compton officials -- joined by an array of community activists and religious leaders -- announced Thursday that they plan to seek gang injunctions and start offering rewards of $500 or more for information leading to arrests and convictions, measures intended to help stem this year's rapidly rising homicide count.
Addressing a standing-room-only crowd in the City Council chambers, Mayor Eric J. Perrodin said his community would not tolerate continued violence.
"We are putting criminals and gang members on notice: It's time to pack your bags. Crime is not accepted in Compton," he said.
He told residents that the city also was planning to aggressively pursue abatement of drug houses and rundown properties, and would renew its focus on gang intervention programs.
The meeting was held the night after Michael Buchanan, 18, of Los Angeles was shot to death about 11 p.m. as he walked to his parked car on Evers Avenue.
Buchanan's death was the third slaying in the last week and the city's 43rd this year -- more than all of last year. At least another four killings have occurred in unincorporated areas within blocks of the city limits.
At the current pace, Compton's homicide rate would far surpass recent highs in major American cities.
The killings, which have come alongside a rise in gang-related shootings, have residents fearful.
Thursday night, people filled every seat. Some stood in the back or sat on steps or benches outside and listened to the meeting over loudspeakers.
The panel, seated at tables that stretched the width of the room, was made up of City Council members; officials from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols Compton; representatives of Los Angeles County Superior Court; nonprofit organizers; pastors; a priest; and ministers from the Nation of Islam.
"We've buried so many children, we've just buried so many children," said Father Stan Bosch, a pastor at Our Lady of Victory/Sacred Heart Church in Compton, his voice trembling. "But I believe we are the hope."
Speaking of racial tensions in the city of 96,000, where Latinos now outnumber African Americans, Bosch said the community needed to reach across ethnic barriers. "I really believe there is healing when we let those boundaries drop and we know each other by name -- not by gang name, but by Bobby and Billy and Pedro."
The forum, called Making Neighborhoods Safer, was billed as a chance for community members to offer ideas to prevent and solve crime.
The variety of questions underscored a long list of problems troubling Compton residents, including gang violence, prostitution, graffiti and a lack of guidance or jobs for young people.
But it also revealed many long-standing tensions between the community and law enforcement: the desire of residents to see criminals arrested and prosecuted, the fear of possible police abuse and the hope that their young people can instead be steered in the right direction.
Minister Tony Muhammad, the West Coast representative of the Nation of Islam, expressed concerns about any get-tough approach to crime, cautioning that many young black men wrongly fall into broad concepts of what gang members look like.
He also questioned deputies' difficulties in solving homicides in the community, given that fewer than a dozen arrests have been made in connection with this year's slayings.
"Let an officer get killed, they catch the shooter in eight hours," Muhammad said. "But a brown or black brother get killed and you can't find anyone who'd talk to you? Watch out, Compton."
Other speakers said that their focus now lay primarily with the victims and that strong action was needed.
"We've got to stop playing with these people and get them off the street," said Royce Esters, president of the civil rights group National Assn. for Equal Justice in America.
"They're killing our sons and daughters. We've got to stop fooling around. I'm saying we need a multitask force, we need the FBI, ATF, the DEA to come in here," Esters said.
Capt. Eric Hamilton, who heads the Compton sheriff's station, said that some of those agencies were at work in the community and that he was open to more partnerships.
But he said that such agencies had come into Compton before without lasting change.
"In my opinion the key is the folks who are out here," he said, gesturing to the audience. "What are you going to do? It's terrible that we've had these murders, terrible. But if you're just here for the dialogue, then it's just an exercise."