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
The dispersal strategy is a pretty interesting notion on which Bratton might want to expand. Gang hangouts not only endanger innocents, they endanger gang members. If you want to cap an enemy homeboy, you look for a place like the Clarence Street place, where you’ll likely be shooting fish in a barrel. Indeed, well before the Ray HernandezStephanie Raygoza murders, gang workers and friends had pleaded with Martha Campos, the house‘s rent-paying tenant, to move herself and her two homeboy sons to a safer area. Even Campos’ oldest son -- an intelligent, exceptionally personable 29-year-old ex-homeboy who‘d left the neighborhood and made good -- pleaded with her to move. Then, four months before the HernandezRaygoza killings, the elder son dropped by his old street and was shot to death by gang members at 3 in the afternoon, a block from his mother’s house. If the PSU could have forced Martha Campos to move a little sooner, three people might still be alive.
Back at the stakeout, the hours pass uneventfully. In a city with a skyrocketing homicide rate and a police force that, by the chief‘s own reckoning, is 3,000 officers short of the number needed to protect and serve its populace, it’s hard not to wonder how sensible it is to have six cops and eight volunteers spending an entire evening watching a wall.
At 11 p.m., a popping noise that might be a gunshot turns out to be a firecracker. By half past midnight, the uniformed officers want to pack it in. Gonzales argues for going on to the First Street location, but when he turns the ignition key in the undercover van, the engine won‘t start. When the tow truck finally drops him off at 1:15 a.m., Gonzales decides it’s too late for First Street, and heads into his office to do paperwork.
I drive over to First Street on my own, but find the freshly painted stucco surfaces between Gless and Clarence streets still pristine. Just for the hell of it, I cruise elsewhere, then drive back to First Street as the clock hits 2 a.m. The landscape has markedly changed: Across the blocklong stretch of recently clean walls someone has sprayed a series of brilliant red letters with the smooth, careless ease of a skywriter: ”TMC“ the letters spell over and over. TMC, TMC, TMC. Under various inscriptions, the same someone has signed his name, ”Danger,“ in blood-colored paint, still fresh enough to be sticky.
When I touch the red paint, it has an oddly mnemonic effect. Suddenly, I remember the precipitating event that, two years ago, brought in the gangsters who killed Stephanie Raygoza: It was graffiti. That Sunday afternoon, some TMCs had crept a few blocks south into Cuatro Flats territory and tag-banged a bunch of walls. Three hours later, the Cuatros retaliated with guns.
The next morning, I call Cara Gould, operations director of Homeboy Industries, the nonprofit under which Homeboy Graffiti Removal operates. I ask her what she thinks of the whole graffiti-stakeout thing. ”I think going after graffiti is good,“ she says, ”but for heaven‘s sake, be smart about it. Go to the hot locations, not the ones that were hot two weeks ago, don’t go with big white vans that any homey can make as belonging to the police, and go late. But, if you do it right,“ Gould continues, ”and you arrest the homeboys who are tagging -- trust me, nine times out of 10, you‘ll have also just arrested the shooters.“
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