Flight From Gang Violence Proved to Be Futile

Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 2006

When Charlene Lovett moved her family to Harbor Gateway six years ago, she thought it would be a respite from the gang violence she had known in South Los Angeles. Her new neighborhood bordered Torrance, a city she associated with a more tranquil life.

So she was startled when neighbors came by her apartment and cautioned her about the 204th Street gang, a Latino gang known for preying on residents of the mostly black neighborhood. They specifically told her not to go north of 206th Street, a block away.

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And then it happened. Two weeks ago, Lovett’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Green, was standing with a group of friends on Harvard Boulevard, just south of 206th Street, when two men approached them in broad daylight. Without saying a word, one suspect pulled a gun and opened fire, killing Green and wounding three others, witnesses and police said.

Ernesto Alcarez, 20, was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime because the Dec. 15 shooting is believed to have been racially motivated. The other suspect, Jonathan Fajardo, 18, is still at large. Both are members of the 204th Street gang, authorities say.

Such a brazen act of violence has highlighted the racial tensions that have held this working-class neighborhood in a state of fear for years, residents and city officials said.

At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn urged the city attorney to pursue a gang injunction to staunch crime in the neighborhood and to take legal action against landlords who rent to families with gang members. Hahn’s district includes Harbor Gateway, the narrow strip of city territory that connects South L.A. with the harbor area. She compared Green’s neighborhood to the South during the era of Jim Crow segregation.

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Residents say the Latino gang has terrorized their neighborhood for years and in some instances has forced them to change where they shop, how they commute, even how and when they step outside their homes. They say they feel confined to a three-street area, stretching south from 207th to 209th streets, between Western and Denker avenues.

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Police and residents said that in the heart of the territory the gang claims is Del Amo Market, a convenience store on Harvard north of 204th Street. The next closest market is a quarter-mile away, the closest supermarket, a mile away.

The market’s owners, Seong Son, a Korean immigrant, and her son, Jeremy, said gang members are their customers but usually cause no problems.

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But many black residents say they have never set foot in the market. “I don’t even know what it looks like,” Lovett said.

Another resident, Derek Thomas, 21, said he hadn’t been to the market since he was 10. He stopped to buy some candy, but Latino gang members told him to leave, he said.

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. . . Carl Wagner and his family moved to Harbor Gateway five years ago to escape South L.A. gangs and crime. The family also was warned not to stay.

In August, Wagner was shot in the leg outside the apartment he shared with his wife, Donya, and their five children.

No arrests have been made in the shooting, so a motive has not been established. But Donya Wagner said the motive is clear.

“It was racial,” she said.

After the shooting, their landlord asked the Wagners to leave, and they returned to South L.A.

“The blacks here are scared,” she said. “They’re scared to death. I couldn’t believe it until I became one of them.”

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