By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
While Hahn insists that the purpose of an injunction is to give a community the opportunity to improve itself without having to contend with gang activity, Klein and others question whether this in fact happens. "That's fine," Klein says, "if you have somebody who's gonna help the community regroup, but it ain't gonna happen by itself." Klein sees the solution as being "genuine community policing, where the community has as much to say about the allocation of police resources as the police. Then it's the community's community. It doesn't belong to the cops." But he cautions that such a change would be difficult. "I'm enormously pessimistic about our ability to pull this off, so in some sense I suppose suppression and injunctions are really the best we can do. I would hate to think that's true. That's a terrible statement about our society."
"I DON'T SEE ANYTHING NEGATIVE ABOUT THE INjunction," says Detective Steve Sena, a 21-year LAPD veteran who's been with Rampart Division's CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit for the last five years. During an interview, he points with pride to a series of papers taped to one wall listing all the murders in the division, year by year. 1995 takes up two full sheets, each one a couple feet square. 1996 gets a sheet and a half; '97 fills just one and '98, through October, not even one. "It feels good," he says. "Feels like you're doing something."
A few minutes later, driving me around the injunction area, Sena stops his patrol car at the corner of 11th and Park View and points to the recently repainted restaurant on the corner, which, he says, used to be filled with gangsters at all hours. The restaurant's security guard, Sena says, had to pay them off to avoid trouble. Across the street is a long cement wall, freshly spray-painted "EST" (for 18th St.) in 4-foot-high letters. "This used to be inundated with drug dealers," he says, gesturing at the empty blocks in front of us. "You would see wall-to-wall homeless along this wall."
But even Sena doesn't give the court action full credit for the improvement. "I don't put everything on the injunction," he explains, driving on. "I put it on everyone being involved, everyone meaning probation, parole, INS, the state, anybody and everybody. Community leaders even came onboard." All of those groups, he elaborates, began to coordinate their efforts beginning about three years ago, in a series of drug crackdowns.
Later, driving up Burlington back toward the police station, we pass a few new 18th Street tags. "They're still here," Sena says. "They're not here in the numbers they used to be, though." In the early days of the injunction, he says, "They were so confused about what the injunction was, they really didn't know what to do, and crime dropped. Whoom! Now they understand what it's about, so they're going slightly underground." But even now, he says, the court order has made his life easier. "It's always nice to see someone do three to six months rather than three to six days," he says, adding that it enables him to arrest kids he otherwise couldn't touch.
CARLOS PAIVA HAD BEEN IN THE UNITED STATES FOR eight years when he was asked in 1989 to take over as pastor at Angelica Lutheran Church in the heart of Pico-Union. He was shocked, he says, at what he found. "We were surrounded by gangs . . . I was involved just to bury them." Paiva learned that most of his congregation lived in overcrowded, decaying buildings, had little access to health care, had to spend all their time working, "and they find their kids just raised alone." There were next to no after-school programs, no libraries and very few jobs to hope for. And he found a generalized, mind-numbing neglect on the part of all city services: He says he was put on a 12-year waiting list when he called to complain about a broken streetlight and told he'd have to wait 14 years for the city to trim the trees that were blocking the lights that did work. Graffiti stayed where it was painted; trash stayed where it was left; the police were understaffed and unresponsive.
"We have already paid our taxes. We are human beings, we don't have to plead. In Beverly Hills [do they plead]? No. Why do we have to do it? Is this a different country . . .? I came to the point," Paiva says, "this is an extreme analysis I have -- somebody wants Pico-Union to be like this." No one, in city government at least, was trying very hard to make the neighborhood anything other than what it was. Pico-Union is not just poor -- a high percentage of its residents are recent immigrants. Many are undocumented, which keeps them not only out of the aboveboard job market, but out of the voting booths, and gives officials very little incentive to be responsive to their needs.
Paiva's frustration was apparently shared by others in Pico-Union, who, the day after the Rodney King verdict, took to the streets. Much of the neighborhood was left in ruins. "When we tried to invite other companies to invest and to reopen over here, nobody wanted to open," Paiva recalls. But from the neighborhood's ashes, a movement grew. In June of 1992, more than 40 local nonprofits began meeting to coordinate their efforts. Some groups staged cleanups, picking up the trash that the city wouldn't, washing off graffiti. Others struggled to provide decent housing, child care, after-school programs for troubled teens. Neighborhood Watch groups grew braver. More patrol cars roamed the streets, and in the post-Gates LAPD, to some extent at least, the police made an effort to address the neighborhood's concerns, meeting monthly with community members.