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Violence stirs gang fears in L.A. area formerly plagued by one

Shootings, graffiti have residents of Drew Street in Glassell Park worried. A clique of the Avenues gang was entrenched there before a crackdown largely rooted it out.

May 10, 2012|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
  • An LAPD officer walks on graffitti-scarred Drew Street in 2008 in front of two apartment buildings that were targeted during a multi-agency operation against the Avenues gang.
An LAPD officer walks on graffitti-scarred Drew Street in 2008 in front… (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles…)

Several violent incidents, including the shooting of a 13-year-old boy, have sparked worries of renewed gang activity in a northeast Los Angeles neighborhood where city authorities have invested many resources to combat a notorious gang.

Years after a largely successful effort to clear a subgroup of the Avenues gang from Drew Street in Glassell Park, authorities say it appears that rival gangs are looking to exact revenge on, or humiliate, a once powerful and predatory enemy.

"I think there's payback a little bit there," said LAPD Lt. David Kowalski, supervisor of the Northeast Division's gang unit.

Last month, drive-by shooters injured the 13-year-old as he stood in a driveway. The boy had no gang affiliation, police said. Two gang members from another neighborhood were arrested in connection with the case.

In late December, 19-year-old Edgar De Jesus, a documented Drew Street gang member, was shot and killed near Estara Avenue and Fletcher Drive, two blocks from Drew Street. Police believe he was targeted by another gang.

Drew Street residents have also reported seeing rival graffiti in the neighborhood.

"Because the Avenues' power is weakening, [smaller gangs are] able to come in" and commit shootings and vandalism, said Juan Aguilar, a gang detective who has worked the two blocks of the residential street for most of his nine years in the Northeast Division. Years ago, such gangs would never have attempted to enter the neighborhood, authorities said.

Police say they have yet to see an instance of retaliation on behalf of the Avenues gang — an indication of how weakened it has become.

In 2008 and 2009, federal indictments sent more than 140 Avenues gang members, including 70 from the Drew Street clique alone, to prison.

The city attorney's office has taken such actions as seizing property on the street and reselling it, and ordering landlords to evict tenants. In a celebrated instance in 2006, the office took possession of and later tore down the house where Drew Street matriarch Maria "Chata" Leon and her many children lived, and which police considered a nerve center of the street's drug trade.

A community garden now thrives where the house once stood and Leon, a Mexican citizen, is serving eight years in federal prison for felony illegal reentry into the United States.

While the incidents have raised concerns, residents and authorities said they did not fear a return to the crime that gripped the area during the Avenues' heyday.

The 13-year-old's shooting last month "is not a positive incident, but it is an isolated incident," said Bradley, who chairs the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council and goes by only one name.

The city has let trees grow instead of trimming them every year, as it once did to clear sight lines for police. Also, a farmers market is planned for the area, which will soon be renamed Fletcher Square, said Bradley.

A combination of gang injunctions, police investigations and emboldened citizenry willing to report crime has kept Drew Street and other Avenues cliques in disarray, Aguilar said. Gang detectives, meanwhile, have more time to build cases that can act as deterrents, he said.

"We recovered that area for the community, and our goal is to keep it recovered. Our goal is to stay on it and keep the pressure on these guys."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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