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
MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council vice president Jennifer Gill is aghast over the Burk murder and the rampant drug dealing nearby. She says the council in September will likely ask the City Council to permanently cordon off Leeward to most vehicular traffic, a move that has worked to curb crime off Pico Boulevard in Pico-Union.
“Especially after the murder,” she says, “we can probably get the city to seal off that street with a gate.”
Still, as the drumbeat by LAPD Chief William Bratton will attest, crime is down. The addition of the Olympic Division to cover an area once split between the Rampart and Wilshire divisions has added more than 150 officers to parts of Koreatown, Wilshire Center and Mid-City. The zone covered by Olympic has seen two homicides so far this year — Burk’s included — compared to 10 in 2008.
Mortal enemies Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street, two of the two biggest criminal organizations in California, neighbor each other, with 18th Street’s epicenter mostly west of Hoover and MS’ mostly east. While in the 1990s the two used to put each other’s soldiers in the hospital on a weekly basis, today there’s nary a shot fired. Police and community activists have no proof of a truce, but the lack of violence, they say, suggests one. “They have to have some kind of understanding to conduct business,” says a community leader who did not want to be named.
“They’ve been quiet,” says the LAPD’s Grimes. “This year they haven’t committed any shootings on each other, at least in our division.”
Although, Grimes says, his Gang Impact Team and Narcotics Enforcement Detail will continue to put undercover sellers and buyers on Leeward, there’s only so much the police can do without the help of the community, particularly landlords.
“It’s a decent area, they just need to take care of the buildings so decent people will move in and the folks selling narcotics will go away,” he says.
Adds senior lead officer Konian, “It’s not just about the police making arrests. If people know it’s the place to buy drugs, you get a lot of people coming in and a lot of sellers coming in. The street needs proper lighting. And we need to put pressure on the owners of these buildings that are not being utilized.”
The neighborhood council’s Valdez agrees, adding that a little redevelopment south of Wilshire wouldn’t be such a bad thing. “Gentrification is always a huge issue, and people here want to maintain the cultural fabric,” he says. “I think some level of evolution is inevitable, as long as people aren’t just thrown out but are given resources and opportunities to change their current position in life.”
On a recent afternoon young skaters hanging out in front of the church on Leeward say it’s a decent place to grow up. Twenty-year-old Luis Contreras says gang members “don’t kick it like they used to.” And police officers, he says, eying a black-and-white, “pass by a lot.”
His friend, 18-year-old Jose Mejia concurs, even as he glances warily over his shoulder at a young gang member with a shaved head, perched atop the church’s front stairs: “It’s peaceful here.”
Note: Headline has been corrected to reflect that Leeward Avenue is not downtown.