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
The LAPD was not especially surprised to see South Los Angeles, with its high concentration of gang members, bear the brunt of last year’s killings. The four LAPD divisions there — Southwest, Southeast, Newton and 77th — absorbed 47 percent of the city’s murders last year. Of 227 killings there, two-thirds of the victims were black; so were 70 percent of the suspects.
The LAPD’s West Bureau, by comparison, experienced just 10 percent of L.A.’s homicides in 2006. The number is particularly jarring because the bureau takes in not just affluent coastal neighborhoods — Pacific Palisades, Venice, Playa del Rey — but communities as far east as crowded Koreatown. In West L.A, the No. 1 public-policy problem was traffic, not murder. In fact, residents within in the LAPD's Southeast Division were 36 times more likely to be murdered than those in the West L.A. Division.
Jan Perry, a 51-year-old former paralegal, represents part of South Los Angeles on the City Council, pursuing neighborhood-based initiatives to improve the health of her constituents, many of whom live in poverty. To give them a safe place to exercise, Perry restored a small wetland in her park-poor district. To give them better food choices, she backed a farmers market at 42nd ?and Central.
What Perry didn’t grasp, however, is how much violent death would dominate her work. Since she took office in 2001, she has consoled murder victims, attended funerals, paid for burials and identified funds for grief counseling. In five years, she persuaded her colleagues to offer financial rewards in 52 criminal cases, including one for the murder of a 4-year-old.
Such grim paperwork makes a bid for fresh produce sound almost quaint. And even Perry was unprepared for the scene that greeted her last June 30. Contacted by police about yet another murder, Perry parked on Central Avenue, once a boulevard for buzzing black jazz clubs. She walked east on 49th Street, toward news cameras, a crowd and three bodies on the ground. “I didn’t know what blood smelled like,” Perry recalls. “Now I know.”
DAVID MARCIAL, 1996–2006
LARRY MARCIAL, 1984–2006
LUIS CERVANTES, 1989–2006
Six months later, police refuse to give almost any details about that afternoon. What is known is that shortly before 4:30 p.m., a large, dark vehicle drove down 49th Street toward the home of 33-year-old Sergio Marcial, a truck driver raised in the neighborhood with no ties to gangs, and two passengers, described only as African-American, jumped out with assault rifles.
Marcial had just gotten home from work, stopping to say hello to his two sons, 10-year-old David and 12-year-old Sergio Jr. The father of four went in to take a shower and, as he was getting dressed, heard dozens of shots. He ran to the living room and saw a hooded gunman spraying his front yard with bullets, killing Luis Cervantes, a 17-year-old neighbor. Marcial’s 22-year-old brother, Larry, an aspiring singer and the father of two, was shot and killed as he ran for cover.
As Marcial approached his front door, he saw the gunman turn to 10-year-old David, injured on the sidewalk, and shoot him a final time. Sergio Jr. survived, with major wounds. “I was going crazy,” Marcial says. “I was just screaming for somebody to call the ambulance. Five minutes before, I was out there talking with them. My sons asked me if they could ride their bikes.”
The slaughter occurred on a hot Friday, the first day of the July Fourth weekend. Marcial’s sister — the aunt of David and Sergio — was driving toward the house at the time. “I could sense something was happening. I could see the helicopters. [My family] called me a few blocks before I got home, but I could see the helicopters from far away.”
When Councilwoman Perry got there, Luis, David and Larry were covered with sheets — two in the driveway and one on the sidewalk, now coated in blood. An ice cream truck down the street kept playing the same sickly-sweet, singsong ditty, over and over again.
LAPD officials estimate that each homicide costs the city at least $1 million, including police work, legal-system costs and loss of business activity. That doesn’t begin to capture the toll on 49th Street. On that day, a father lost his little brother and youngest son. The neighbors lost their 17-year-old boy. Two toddlers lost a father. And a family that had lived 25 years in the neighborhood — raising children, shopping at the store, going to the local library — was betrayed by that same neighborhood.
The 3-year-old daughter of Larry Marcial knows her father is dead, yet continues to ask for him. “You can tell she’s not the same little girl anymore,” says Maribel Marcial, her aunt. “She’s missing something, and of course, it’s her father. We try to read books with her, or take her outside and play. It’s something that she has to grow up with, and we have to help her.”
Each day is a struggle for Sergio Marcial too. The family no longer lives on 49th Street, sleeping over at the homes of their grandparents, aunts and uncles. His sister quickly went back to work, to help Marcial keep up mortgage payments on the house. Marcial’s son Sergio Jr., now 13, has trouble walking and sees a therapist to deal with his rage.