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Harbor Gateway group makes call for unity

Activists march to the site of a Latino gang shooting of a black girl and say they'll come back each week until race relations improve.

December 31, 2006|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Jeanette Strickland felt compelled to stop at Del Amo Market in the Harbor Gateway neighborhood of Los Angeles on Saturday -- not for milk or eggs, but to send a message.

"I have no problem with anyone," Strickland, an African American mother of three, wanted her Latino neighbors to know. "Our kids go to school together. They can talk and learn together, but they can't come home and be together."

Strickland and her daughters, 11 and 14, joined nearly two dozen activists and neighborhood residents to call for an end to the racial violence that they said for years has kept blacks in fear of a Latino gang. Earlier this month a 14-year-old African American girl was killed in what authorities describe as a racially motivated hate crime.

Cheryl Green was fatally shot the afternoon of Dec. 15, as she and friends stood on one of the neighborhood's narrow residential streets. Three others were wounded.

Ernesto Alcarez, 20, was later arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and a hate crime. Jonathan Fajardo, 18, is still at large. Both are members of the 204th Street gang, police said.

On Saturday, activists gathered in front of the convenience store in the 20300 block of South Harvard Boulevard to call for racial healing and a crackdown on the gang.

Many blacks said they normally steer clear of the market because it lies in the heart of the gang's turf.

"We've got to tear up the stigma that we can't get along," said Eddie Jones, president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Assn. "It's not true; we can get along."

Pedro Baez, a Harbor Gateway resident with a weekly blog called "Voice of the People," echoed Jones' call for unity, adding he was "very much appalled" by the unprovoked attack.

"The people who committed this heinous act do not represent the brown community," Baez said.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other elected officials to provide more resources to the understaffed Los Angeles Police Department and to hold an "emergency summit" to find ways to combat hate crime.

After the brief news conference, Jones led the group on a three-block march down South Harvard. Participants sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "We Shall Overcome." Jones shouted greetings, in English and Spanish, and shook hands with some of the residents drawn outside by the commotion. A police cruiser with two Harbor Division officers slowly followed the demonstrators.

The group stopped for a prayer and brief memorial service at the spot where Cheryl died -- on the sidewalk in front of a tidy beige stucco house with green trim, Christmas bunting still on its door.

Candles and flowers crowded the walkway. Jones said that the group would be back next Saturday, and all the Saturdays after that, until the situation improves.

"We'll be here every Saturday," Jones vowed. "We don't want to see any more kids killed."

jean.merl@latimes.com

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