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Activists walk area beset by violence

Residents of Harbor Gateway talk about their fear and despair after another shooting occurs Saturday.

January 22, 2007|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Three days after police and federal agents promised a crackdown on racial attacks by gangs in the Harbor Gateway area, African American activists returned to the neighborhood Sunday to talk to residents about how to end the violence and to decry what they say is a "race war."

To residents' dismay, another attack occurred Saturday morning. A 34-year-old African American man was shot without provocation by a Latino as he waited for his daughters to pick up a friend for a birthday sleepover, police said.

As the activists walked the quiet streets, police watched from their cars and a helicopter. African Americans, Latinos and whites came out of their homes and described their despair at living in a neighborhood where, they said, the crack of gunshots was an almost nightly occurrence. Neighbors also complained that, despite the heavy police presence Sunday morning, they were not seeing enough routine patrols in their neighborhood.

"I'm scared," said Linda McIntosh, as her children clustered around her beneath the bullet-pocked facade of her apartment building. "This is the third weekend in a row of gunfire."

A few feet from where McIntosh stood on Plaza Del Amo, broken glass lay scattered in the street -- left over, she said, from Saturday's shooting.

Ten yards away, in front of the house of McIntosh's neighbor, was a small shrine adorned with a crucifix and dried roses cracked from the sun -- a memorial to a 23-year-old Latino man, Arturo Zaragoza, who neighbors said was shot in his driveway without provocation late last year.

The Harbor Gateway area, a strip of Los Angeles connecting South Los Angeles to the port, has experienced racial tensions for more than a decade as African Americans have moved from a nearby housing project to the predominantly Latino neighborhood, officials said.

In recent weeks law enforcement officers and political leaders have expressed concerns that interracial gang violence is rising across the city.

The Harbor Gateway neighborhood burst into the news last month when Cheryl Green, a 14-year-old African American, was shot to death in midafternoon in what police said was a racially motivated attack because she had crossed into an area claimed by a Latino gang.

The latest shooting was about a mile south of where she was killed. Neighbors said an African American man, his wife and two daughters had driven to the corner of Del Amo Plaza and Harvard Boulevard after a children's party at a bowling alley to pick up a friend for a birthday sleepover.

The girls had gone to the door of the friend's apartment building to ring for her, as their parents waited in the car.

Several Latino men approached the car, neighbors said. One shot the father. The mother screamed for her children to run, and then drove away to escape the hail of bullets.

She took her husband to a hospital. Her girls ran five blocks as gang members chased them, then hid and called a relative from their cellphone to pick them up, neighbors said. Police confirmed that the girls had been chased, but had no further details. They did not release any of the family members' names, but said the father survived the shooting.

McIntosh and other neighbors said they heard their account of the shooting from the mother of the girl the family was picking up.

Standing nearby, Sharon Braggs, who lives in the same building as McIntosh, said the city needs to do more to stem the violence.

Braggs, who has lived in the neighborhood for nine years with her three children and nephew, said she was terrified to let her children out of the house, or to invite her mother over after dark.

"I used to sit on the porch," she said. "I don't do that anymore."

Najee Ali, an activist who runs Project Islamic Hope and has been trying to negotiate a truce among gangs in the area, vowed to return to the neighborhood Saturday to hold a community meeting to discuss public safety.


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