Race Divide

A MEMBER OF A GANG notorious for terrorizing African Americans has been charged with pointing a gun at a 17-year-old black student after summer-school classes at Blair High School in Pasadena. The confrontation was the second assault on a black youth in the last month by Avenues gang members from Highland Park.

Thirty-seven-year-old James “Drifter” Campbell, who is white, was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and criminal threats. He was arrested outside a drug store in Highland Park by Los Angeles and Pasadena law-enforcement officials on August 3.

According to Pasadena Police Department Commander John Perez, Casey Carter had just finished classes for the day and was leaving campus on July 17 when Campbell, who is the father of a girl Carter was dating, yelled out to him. Carter crossed the street to speak to Campbell when the gang member pointed a gun at him. The two exchanged words and Campbell drove off.

“It is going to take several prosecutions before [authorities] get their message across that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated,” said a law-enforcement official who is familiar with the Avenues and the July 17 incident. “I believe it was racially motivated.”

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Campbell has been in and out of state prison since 1989. In 1996, he began an eight-year prison term for voluntary manslaughter. He returned to prison again in 2004 after he was caught with a bulletproof vest. Two months ago, on June 9, a few days after he was paroled, he was shot in the chest just after 5 p.m. in a parking lot in Glassell Park by rival gang members. Bullet casings from two handguns and an AK-47 were found at the scene.

In an unrelated case, Zelvin Reyes, a 17-year-old graduate of Lincoln High School, was shot to death July 22 after attending a party on Avenue 40 — Avenues gang territory. Police are trying to determine whether members of the Aves 43, a clique of the larger Avenues gang, were involved in the slaying, which followed a fight between gang members and a black teen during a party of 100 or so mostly high school students. According to law-enforcement sources, gang members confronted the black teen, who was singing, and told him to “shut the fuck up.” Reyes, who is Latino, was leaving the party when a second run-in occurred between gang members and the black teen and other partygoers. One of the gang members pulled out a gun. No one has been arrested in connection with the slaying.

Both incidents occurred as four Avenues gang members faced trial in federal court in downtown L.A. for a series of racially motivated attacks against blacks who lived in Highland Park between 1995 and 2001. Federal prosecutors contended that the gang members threatened, intimidated and beat African Americans who dared to make Highland Park their home, and ultimately killed three black residents. Kenneth Kurry Wilson, 38, was shot to death by a van full of Avenues gang members early on a Sunday morning on April 18, 1999, as he was attempting to park a Cadillac on Avenue 52, a tree-lined street just a short jog from Figueroa Street. The next year, Christopher Bowser, 28, was shot three times in the head while he was waiting at a bus stop. Bowser, who had lived in Highland Park with his mother since 1989, had been regularly chased down the street, threatened and, just eight days before his death, was beaten by the Aves 43 set. A third victim, 21-year-old Anthony Prudhomme, an aspiring music producer, was attacked in his bed and shot twice in the head.

The four-week trial marked the first use of a federal hate-crime statute against a street gang by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. On August 2, after deliberating for just over two days, the jury found the defendants, Gilbert “Lucky” Saldana, 27; Alejandro “Bird” Martinez, 29; Fernando “Sneaky” Cazares, 26; and Porfirio “Dreamer” Avila, 31 — all members of the Aves 43 — guilty of conspiring to interfere with the housing rights of black residents through threats and violence. Cazares, Martinez and Saldana were also found guilty of violating a federal hate-crime statute, which is based on the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, by killing Wilson because of his race and while he was on a public street. They were also found guilty of using a firearm. The four will likely serve life sentences. A fifth defendant, Merced Cambero, 27, who is alleged to have fired the shot that killed Wilson, is currently a fugitive.

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