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
"While I can’t talk about personnel investigations, I will tell you, in the course of a criminal investigation earlier this year, we know from wiretaps that targets of these narcotics investigations encouraged each other to make complaints about a specific officer who they knew to be investigating them," Diaz says. "We checked them out and concluded he had done nothing wrong."
Attempts to interview Mrakich are rejected by the LAPD, but his commander laughs when told that many gang members spoke badly of the officer.
"We have a lot of bad things to say about Grape Street, too," says Captain Diaz. "They are killers, dope dealers and robbers. Mrakich and [Victor] Ross are very effective in the projects, and of course many people hate them, quite naturally."
Unlike some in the LAPD, Diaz praises the now-fallen peace treaty.
"There was a lot of skepticism in the department about the treaty, but I believe it made a significant difference in the violent-crime rate," says Diaz.
"Obviously, the truce thing was good in that people weren’t shooting each other. But now, unfortunately, that is over."
On the evening of April 9, Officers Oscar Ontiveros and Darren Stauffer, from Diaz’s Southeast Division, are involved in a shooting that kills Bounty Hunter Spencer "Fox" Johnson after, they say, he pointed an assault rifle at them near Bellhaven and 112th streets. Gang sources say Fox was on the lookout for a Grape Street attack at the time.
In the early-morning hours of May 9, another Bounty Hunter, Kemal Hutcherson, 24, is gunned down — not by police — on perhaps the most cruelly named street in the city, Success Avenue.
Though it has a nationwide bad rep (and this story won’t make it any better), citizens who live here have a great deal of pride in Watts. I’ve never heard anyone boast, "Man, I’m from Bel Air," but folks seem almost eager to tell you they’re from Watts. And because of their resiliency, and because of the mostly good memories of the 1992 treaty, there is much hope that this current battle of the projects will not be left to fester and maim and kill for years.
In the last two weeks there has been a call to fight the good fight. Not to cave in to the violence and accept it as in days of yore. Not to just be outraged when a cop kills a black kid, but be outraged when a black kid kills a black kid.
In the projects, a new group of respected, slightly older gang members — not just famous triple O.G.s like Big Hank from the Nickersons or Elementary from Grape Street, but adults in their mid-20s and -30s, men and women who are trying to reach the youngsters and quell the killings — have emerged.
One of those young men is Bow Wow from Grape Street, who has been meeting with his counterparts from the other projects and reporting back to the young homies.
"We need to keep conversating," says Bow Wow. "There’s a new leadership, and we just need to keep talking and not shooting."
The older guys can help, but much hope is put on the new generation of leaders.
"We are dealing with a new generation who are trying to maintain the tradition of peace, trying to make a difference in a positive way," says Gregory Thomas, supervisor of those gang-intervention workers at CSDI. "Young brothers with respect. Guys that have been through a lot and changed."
The spirit behind the new leadership is that the new violence has heaved the responsibility for peace on the newer generation, and a lot of younger men are stepping up in an effort to stop this madness. They are trying, for example, to prevent a 15-year-old from getting into a car with an AK-47 and shooting another black boy because he lives in a housing project that is similar to his own but has a different name.
"This is not about the Nickerson Gardens or the Jordan Downs or the Imperial Courts," says Michelle Irving, a former Sybil Brand regular turned gang-intervention worker. "Those are just names someone gave three housing projects."
Citing the same impetus that was behind the 1992 treaty, the adults say they are doing this for the children. "It’s sad to see a young person walking down the street worried about if he or she is going to get shot," says Irving, who was "a mother and father at age 14." "They should be walking down the street thinking about school. Thinking about a future. A bright one."
As Aqueela puts it, "Peace is not a destination. It’s a journey with peaks and valleys along the way."
In Watts, that journey just might be never-ending. But at least there’ll be a whole lot of people along for the ride.
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