By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It took a few years, but, Paiva says, "Things are calmer now." The gang presence began to taper off in '96, a full year before the injunction. The neighborhood is cleaner, safer. About the city's action, which Paiva supports, he says, "Of course it's nice to feel recognized . . . but they're coming after the show."
Though 18th Street is much less visible now, Paiva cautions that the real show is far from over. "We need more in this area," he insists, more child care, more housing, more educational opportunities, more job training, more jobs. "I don't plead today. I demand."
ALMOST EVERYONE IN PICO-UNION AGREES THAT CRIME, and 18th Street's presence, have dropped remarkably in recent years. And most of them -- community activists, cops, gang members themselves -- are willing to take credit. What is not at all clear, though, is whether the injunction had anything to do with that drop.
One thing, however, is certain about the injunction: It has kept Saul Valdez off the streets for the better part of the last year. A quiet kid, Valdez, one police officer testifies, "is a prime example of why we need to break the gang's stranglehold on the community and its residents. Valdez has a strong mom who maintains two jobs and keeps a clean house. He appears to be a very intelligent individual who has joined the gang mostly because he lives right in the heart of the gang's activities." Living where he does has been keeping him behind bars of late.
Valdez found out about the injunction when he was 17, while serving time in juvenile hall for selling cocaine. "The cops took the paperwork up there, told me to ä sign it," he says. He'd been jumped into 18th Street when he was just 13. Though Valdez's docket records, Deputy City Attorney Nicole Bershon's memory and his own account differ slightly in the details of his subsequent arrests, in broad strokes they tell the same story. Just a month after being released from youth camp, Valdez was picked up "for hanging around with my homeboys and for being on a bike." He made the papers for being the first 18th Streeter in Pico-Union to be charged with violating the injunction. He served 20 days for that, this time in county jail, having come of age just two and a half weeks before the injunction took effect. "The second time," Valdez says, "I was out for one day and they picked me up. Again I was just hanging around with my homeboys." According to Bershon, as he was being arrested he told the police, "This injunction don't mean shit to me. I only got 20 days the last time." He served four months. Once released, in an effort to preserve his freedom, he moved in with a sister who lives outside of Pico-Union. But three weeks after getting out, he found himself back in the hood. "They busted me with a beeper." (Bershon remembers that bust as also being for littering.) That time he was sick of it. He tried to run, but for his efforts was charged with resisting arrest as well. "I just can't stay out of the neighborhood," Valdez explains. "All my friends are there."
Not surprisingly, Valdez finds the injunction effective, a little too effective for his taste. Even on the streets, he says, "It's changing everything. It's all quiet."
WHILE MOST OF THE ADULTS CONTACTED for this story agree with Valdez that things are quieter, shockingly few had heard about the injunction, suggesting, perhaps, that the city attorney's enthusiasm for community involvement has been largely rhetorical. The vast majority of those who know about the court order support it. As one neighborhood activist puts it, "I'll take anything that'll help out to better the community. Anything's better than nothing."
But there is little uniformity of opinion in the neighborhood, and the differences break down evenly and dramatically along age lines. With the sole exception of Saul Valdez, those in the neighborhood under 25 interviewed for this story, and most of the adults who work with them, have little faith in the injunction's effectiveness. Laura, a slight girl of about 16 with wide, silent eyes, agreed to talk at a nearby community center. She was put on probation about a year ago following a minor scrape with the law involving a few friends from 18th Street. But she doesn't get along with her mother and has run away twice to move in with 18th Streeters, although she says she no longer claims membership.
Laura insists that while the gang is less visible, its activities have continued. "They try to kick it where they won't get caught. For selling drugs it's harder. But it's still the same." And they have no trouble collecting rent. As much as the injunction and the increased police presence may have inconvenienced her friends, "They say 18th Street's never gonna die out. There's new cliques coming out. There's more youngsters coming in."
Other youths at the center are equally convinced the injunction won't work. "They just get more and more people in. If two leave, five more come in," one says. The only effect they allow it might have would be to weaken 18th Street in relation to its rivals. In one kid's words, "The other gangs are gonna get more street."
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