Author: Sarah Mofford
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, some 1,300 state and federal law enforcement officers, coordinated by the FBI, raided the homes of some key members of the Avenues gang. A federal indictment named 88 suspected gang members, according to the New York Times, and detailed crimes that had been going on for decades. Forty-six suspects were arrested in the predawn raid.
The Avenues are a gang named for a series of streets running through the northeast area of Los Angeles, including Oxy’s neighboring communities Highland Park and Glassell Park. Though the Avenues have different sectors based on their location, according to the L.A. Times, the park that is considered the center of the Avenues’ territory is Glassell Park, which is within walking distance of the Oxy campus.
The 222-page indictment names murdering rivals, dealing drugs and graffiti tagging as the crimes committed by the Avenues gang. According to local Channel Two news (KCAL), these specific crimes are accompanied by other unspecified gang crimes.
According to a Sept. 22 New York Times article, the Avenues preyed on community members, and two named suspects allegedly attacked a resident in a parking lot and shot him to death when he tried to call for help. Another woman was pistol-whipped and shot, but survived to identify her assailant. The gang is also accused of making threats and carrying out acts of violence against police officers, including the shooting of a law enforcement officer last year.
The first altercation with police, according to Channel Two, was in Feb. 2008. They reported, “Avenues gang members open fired with handguns and an AK-47 on Los Angeles police officers. Police shot back, killing 20-year-old Daniel Leon and injuring another man.” Then, in August, off-duty Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Juan Escalante, was shot outside of his parents’ house in Cypress Park. Officers had been investigating the Avenues gang before these incidents. Four members of the gang were arrested for this crime and one is suspected to still be at large for his crimes.
Also included in the indictment is the intimidation of African-Americans through graffiti and threats of violence. An article published in 2006 in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report detailed how the Avenues and other Hispanic street gangs in Los Angeles were waging campaigns of terror against blacks. According to the same Southern Poverty Law Center report in 2005, four Avenues members were convicted of violating federal hate crime laws and sentenced to life in prison after murdering two black men.
Channel Two and the New York Times state that in June 2008, a federal indictment was issued against the Drew Street branch of the gang. They were reported to be one of the most active and violent sections within the Avenues and produced significant drug sale for the Mexican Mafia. According to the New York Times, the Mexican Mafia is a prison-based gang that oversees much of the street gang activity in Southern California. However, after the busts, the Mexican Mafia named new leaders and tried to mend the inner fighting of the Avenues, according to Channel Two and The New York Times.
Gangs and related gang violence is not a new occurrence in Los Angeles. On Jan. 18, 2007, the Advancement Project, an L.A.-based think tank that, according to their Web site, works to dismantle structural barriers to inclusion, secure racial equity and expand opportunity for all, called the past two years of gang prevention a failure. According to the southern California-based independent radio show Uprising, the Advancement Project recommended a plan that would incorporate prevention, intervention and community redevelopment programs. At the same time, Los Angeles city and county officials have pledged to create new policing teams in the San Fernando Valley and have proposed a $50 million tax increase to fund anti-gang programs.
Despite the recent arrests, many students feel safe walking around Highland Park. “Compared to Philly, it’s pretty darn safe,” Maurice Judge (sophomore) said.
Sunil Damle (first-year) agrees, “I definitely feel safe in Highland Park. I just got a haircut at a barbershop there. I think a lot of people often look at the neighborhood and because a lot of people come from places that are aesthetically better looking, they think Highland Park is ghetto.”
According to a Sergeant of the Los Angeles Police Department gang unit, Oxy students don’t need to worry about being mistaken for gang members. According to the officer, the most common role that Oxy students may find themselves in is as the victim of a crime like being mugged by gang members, but that can happen anywhere. The crime experienced by Oxy students is not necessarily because of the Avenues.
However, there are only a handful of gangs in the northeast of Los Angeles and the officers in Gang Units make it their job to stay on top of members of the gangs. Though the federal government and police did arrest many of the central gang leaders, gang prevention is always a work in progress. The Avenues are very entrenched in the neighborhood and some records show second and third-generation gang members. The Sergeant does predict that over the next several months there will be a decrease in criminal activities related to the Avenues because of the recent arrests.
For more information on the gang activity through out L.A. and The U.S.A see http://www.streetgangs.com/
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