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Harbor-Area Parents Meet With Police, Join Hands Against Gangs

Times Staff Writer

At an anti-gang meeting of parents and police Tuesday at LAPD’s Harbor Division, Louise DeDeaux learned about a nickname for her east Wilmington neighborhood that has been circulating lately.

Ghost Town.

The name seemed eerily appropriate in the aftermath of last weekend’s bloody gang-related shootings, when four people were killed and seven injured in Wilmington and Harbor City.

There have been 16 gang-related killings in the harbor area this year, including the killings last weekend, contrasted with six for all of last year, police said.

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Tuesday’s meeting, held for parents of gang members, was billed by Harbor Division police as a different approach to halting the bloodshed--an approach that brings in the parents, said Deputy Chief William Rathburn.

Guarded Optimism

“Even with young adults parents can have an affect on modifying their behavior,” said Rathburn, the commanding officer in charge of the department’s war against street gangs. “We can’t allow people to go on killing each other.”

Many of the 48 parents and community activists who attended the meeting agreed, but also met the new approach with guarded optimism. Few said their children are in gangs, although police contend it is not something people are willing to proclaim publicly.

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“We’re all afraid,” said DeDeaux, 34, who lives a block from the scene of a shooting Saturday night on Colon Street and Watson Avenue in which two youths died after the occupants of a van fired a shotgun at a group of pedestrians.

“The shooting is so close to home you feel like you have to do something about it,” said DeDeaux, a mother of two who has lived in Wilmington for 10 years. “I’ve never experienced it this bad before. There’s been times when fighting breaks out, but never murders.”

DeDeaux attended the meeting with her neighbor, Clarice Taft, who said she still keeps close tabs on her three adult children who live with her. “Too many parents leave their kids unsupervised,” said Taft, 52. “You have to try to work with the system.”

John Northmore, director of the Harbor City Teen post, said the meeting was a good idea, but he also was critical of police.

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“I’m for anything that’s going to get this problem solved,” Northmore said. Although Wilmington and San Pedro parents were well-represented at the meeting, he said that no parents of Harbor City gang members were invited by the Police Department’s anti-gang unit. He charged that the meeting would have been more effective if community activists had been involved.

Northmore attended the meeting only after he found out about it from other sources and called the Harbor station for more information, he said.

Police “come in here and they don’t know the good guys from the bad guys,” Northmore said. “They don’t make contact with people like me who’ve worked with gangs for the last 23 years.”

Went Door-to-Door

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But Officer Ray Gerber said about a dozen South Bureau anti-gang unit members went door-to-door throughout the Harbor area, inviting only the parents of youths who have been identified as gang members. Most of those invited came, he said.

“This was not for (community activists), but for the parents,” said Gerber, one of two anti-gang unit members who spoke at the meeting. “We wanted to make parents aware of the dress, the stance and the attitudes of gang members, to help them curb their children.”

At the height of the weekend violence Sunday, the Harbor Division put another 75 officers on the streets, in addition to the 12 to 15 officers who usually patrol the Harbor area on Sunday nights, police said.

Last weekend’s violence may be a continuation of a gang war over drugs and territory that has divided the east and west sides of Wilmington, police said. Since early this year, drugs and violence have escalated both in Wilmington and in a separate rivalry between Harbor City and East Torrance gangs.

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The violence last weekend began at 10:15 p.m. Saturday, when Edward Delgadillo, 16, and Hector Andrade, 21, were killed by the shotgun blasts fired from a van. Four others were wounded. Gang slogans were shouted before the shooting, police said.

At 1:15 a.m., there was a second shooting that police believe may have been in retaliation, police said. Andy Velasquez, 30, died from shots fired from a car as it passed 254th and Petroleum streets, near the Normont Terrace housing project.

A block away at 5:30 a.m., a 29-year-old woman was killed while standing on the corner of 255th Street and Marigold Avenue with three other women; a man had fired a semi-automatic weapon at the group, said Lt. Mike Melton. Police are investigating whether the shooting was drug-related, he said. The woman’s name has not been released pending notification of relatives, police said Thursday.

A suspect in the third shooting, William Oswald, 35, of Lomita, was arrested at his home Monday, Milton said. Police believe a 9mm Uzi reportedly found at Oswald’s home may be the murder weapon, he said.

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Oswald has been charged with one count of murder and one count of attempted murder, Detective Tom Lange said.

Van Recovered

No arrests have been made in the other shootings. On Tuesday, police recovered the white van believed used in the first shooting, police said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, DeDeaux said she has been working independently with other Wilmington parents to form an informal group to provide their children with entertainment, including outings to movies and amusement parks.

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Police sympathize with the need for more recreational facilities in the area, but Gerber said the department cannot fund them.

“Everything’s too expensive, even child care,” said Norma Ruiz, 30, a mother of three who lives in the Rancho San Pedro housing project. “We need more funds to open up more facilities, more recreational stuff for the kids.”

But the meeting with police was a good start, DeDeaux said.


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