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Injunction Has Community Feeling Handcuffed

Separating family ties from implications of gang affiliation can be hard in Jordan Downs.

April 28, 2006|Sandy Banks | Times Staff Writer

Gang injunctions have evolved from their early days, when they typically targeted a handful of identified gang members. "Now they've gotten to the point where they say ' ... and anybody else,' " said Malcolm Klein, a USC emeritus professor of sociology who has spent 40 years studying gangs. "It's an open invitation to expand the notion of who is vulnerable.... A single stop [by police] can qualify someone as a gang member."

Deputy Chief Earl Paysinger, who commands the LAPD's South Bureau, said the department is "trying to respond to the vast majority of the community who are sick and tired of being victimized by young black men who don't care who they hurt or maim."

"Is there collateral damage?" Paysinger said. "I presume that periodically there are situations where unfortunately somebody [who is not a gang member] might be named [on the injunction]. Is that to say we target people? I don't think we do. But does it happen? Of course it does.

"But I would strongly assert there are a lot of young men out there in Jordan Downs who make it from home to school and back every day without getting stopped by the police."

Until last year, Jordan High School senior Rashad Newsome was one of those.

Newsome, 19, has a part-time job and plans to attend junior college this fall. He has been ranked by college football coaches as one of the nation's top high school fullbacks.

He is also, at least officially, a member of the Grape Street Crips.

Last August, he said, LAPD officers stopped him and three teammates as they walked back to the complex from football practice and asked if they were on the injunction. None were, he said. Officers asked their names and nicknames, he said, then told them to lift their shirts to check for tattoos.

Newsome has a nickname, "Dooley," given to him by family members so long ago, he said, that he can't remember why or when. The name is tattooed on his arm -- but he has never belonged to a gang, he said.

The four football players were taken by police to the Southeast Area station and served with copies of the injunction, adding them to the list of restricted gang members, he said.

Since then, Newsome has been arrested twice, once when he was walking home from work. He says he was alone, but police say he was with two men arrested near him. Another time, he was arrested as he left the project's computer center with neighbor Carell Johnson, 17, who is also on the injunction.

"The boys had just finished their homework," said Carell's aunt, Jordan Downs resident Emma Williams. "They had to write a paper, and the police arrested them ... took Dooley to jail and Carell to [juvenile hall]."

No charges have been filed against Newsome in either arrest. Carell is due in juvenile court May 3, Williams said, but she hopes the case will be dismissed "when the judge sees Carell's report card. He's got a 3.25 [grade point average] and he's heading for college, Cal State Fresno, in July."

Former LAPD gang Officer Steve Strong said such cases are not uncommon. Strong is a private investigator who retired from the department 10 years ago and now testifies -- primarily for the defense -- in gang prosecutions.

"You have some officers who think everybody in the neighborhood is an active gang member, some who just don't like anybody questioning their authority ... [and others] who get in a personality conflict with kids in the neighborhood," Strong said.

"They're wasting too much time on peripheral nobodies, while the hard-core [gang members] are still running rampant."

But Pearce, the sergeant who heads the gang detail, says he can tick off a list of peripheral nobodies -- "really nice, respectful kids" -- who slid into gang life and wound up in prison or dead. "[For] the guys who are lightweights, getting on the injunction might be the best thing to happen to them, the thing that forces them away from gang life."

Or it can be the thing that forces them toward that life, said Cromwell, the former gang member. "You've got these young guys, trying to stay out of trouble, but they keep getting arrested anyway," he said. "So they say, 'I might as well.' "

Jordan Downs resident Tryon Byrd was added to the injunction in September when he was a passenger in a car stopped by police for having no license plate. A month later, court records show, Byrd was arrested on suspicion of violating the injunction. One week later, on Nov. 1, he was arrested again on an alleged injunction violation.

When the Nov. 1 case went to trial last month, police testified they targeted Byrd because he was wearing baggy clothes and "loitering" with other gang members in an area frequented by Grape Street Crips. They told the court Byrd admitted a history of gang membership that goes back 14 years.

But Byrd, who is 23 and a student at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, said he never told police he belonged to a gang. "I was like, 'I don't gangbang," he said in court.

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