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Silver Lake Fights Back

Neighbors shaken by deadly gang violence in the area surrounding the triangle-shaped Laurel and Hardy Park south of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake are reacting cautiously to promises from city officials and police to crack down on shootings and other crimes.

Police presence has increased, Councilman Eric Garcetti said, with more patrols in the area and more outreach to neighbors worried about the violence — and thinking about abandoning an area that for several years has been flavored by young musicians and artists taking a chance on an urban community with unique character and all-too-common problems. “Crime statistics have been trending down in the area,” Garcetti said, “though we do get a lot of calls about gunshots, and there’s a feeling out there that there is a problem.”

Statistics kept by the Rampart Division of the LAPD show steep drops in crime in the area — but noticeable increases in reports of shots fired. Police say many of those shots are the result of drunken, gun-bearing residents and have been reported for years. But many also have been fired as part of a turf battle between gangs being pushed out of their territory a mile to the south into streets that for years have been the domain of the Silver Lake 13. Silver Lake 13 member Valentin Rangel was shot to death near Laurel and Hardy Park over Labor Day weekend.

Garcetti is hosting a community meeting on crime Thursday night to give neighbors a chance to meet LAPD Rampart Division Captain Charlie Beck and city gang-intervention counselors who have been talking with young men, including active gang members, at risk of being drawn in to the violence.

It remains to be seen whether the stepped-up police presence and neighborhood organizing will sway people like Jules Shapiro and Juliette Tworsey, bandmates who moved to this corner of Silver Lake from West Hollywood to be near the clubs and other musicians who have made the area an Oz for urban hipsters.

“Our nerves are pretty rattled,” Shapiro, guitarist for Firefly, said. “It’s bad in the alley here on Reno Street. Someone fires a gun, and it takes the police 20 minutes to show up. We go out and we see a lot of other bands, and they go out on the street at night and could get caught in the gunfire. It’s just not worth ruining your life over.”

Tworsey, the band’s singer, and Shapiro live just a short walk from the Music Box Steps made famous in a Laurel and Hardy movie. They said they are looking for another place to live.

The two were among dozens of Silver Lake residents who said they enthusiastically responded to an earlier call for a community meeting on neighborhood violence, only to be repelled and discouraged when, many claim, the September 30 “emergency” gathering turned out to be a recruitment effort for the Church of Scientology. For three weeks, angry recriminations have coursed across cyberspace from residents who believed they were betrayed into believing that the session was to be an official city or neighborhood council response to the violence.

Barbara Dakin, a longtime community activist who has led anti-crime efforts in the neighborhood, denied there was any recruitment effort at the meeting, which featured LAPD officers and a member of Garcetti’s staff, before performances and presentations by people who many neighbors claim represented Scientology. But Dakin took responsibility for misunderstandings about the meeting, which she said was never intended to be marketed as an official city function.

“I really goofed,” Dakin said. “After an attempted homicide I walked the neighborhood trying to reach the kids, the gang members and everyone. I put this event together for them. And then when we got there, there were all these people who were never there before. I should have ended the meeting after the crime reports from the police officers.

Longtime resident Rusty Millar, recently elected co-chair of the new Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, predicted there would be no lasting damage from what apparently was a clumsy organizing effort by a well-known local activist. “Barb is good at wanting to get together with the public to talk about problems in the agenda,” Millar said. “It became apparent to a lot of people, including myself, that there was another agenda at that meeting. But it was an excellent idea to get the police to come in and talk to people in the area.”

Millar added that “We all have a right to express our opinions in this country, and once people see that the neighborhood council is not a front for Scientology, I think they will come back.”

Tworsey, at least, was balancing her thoughts about leaving the neighborhood against enthusiastic suggestions for city improvement and community activism. She offered several suggestions for funding more police — and offering music and arts programs for school-age youth who otherwise might be attracted to gang life.

“There are a lot of things we could do,” Tworsey said. “How about speed bumps on Reno?”

The community meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 23, at the Russian Orthodox Church, 650 Micheltorena St.


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