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South-Central Forum Maps Strategy to End Gang Violence

Times Staff Writer

It was a town meeting of a sort that South-Central Los Angeles has rarely seen.

More than 150 people gathered at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday afternoon to seek solutions to the gang violence gripping the area. The meeting, dubbed “End the Nightmare, Save the Children, Reclaim Your Community,” was portrayed by its organizers as the first community-wide forum of its type--and the latest in a series of summits, truces and other similar efforts over the past year.

What made this event different was that, for the first time, there was no one group taking sole credit for its occurrence and no organization claiming that it alone had the best philosophy to stop the bloodshed. Instead, community activists--some of whom have differed in the past over methods to stem the tide of gang killings--sat side by side on the church’s plaza level, answering questions along with law enforcement officials and offering advice to community members.

Wanted to Set Example

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Their attempt at unity was the result of the realization that they could hardly tell gangs to stop fighting when they themselves were battling.

“Even if 50 showed up, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to do,” said Jessica Crenshaw, a meeting coordinator. “And it will only grow.”

The large church in the 2200 block of South Harvard Boulevard was filled with community leaders who came to teach, parents and children who came to learn, and former gang members and victims who came to testify. The meeting--which brought out county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn--was sponsored by the Community Youth Sports and Arts Foundation (CYSAF), the Brotherhood Crusade, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and First AME Church.

Information Tables

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Among 20 groups and agencies setting up information tables at the meeting were Community Youth Gang Services, Parents of Watts, the Los Angeles Police Department’s CRASH and DARE units and representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s SANE program. Speakers at the four-hour forum included Inglewood Juvenile Court Judge Roosevelt Dorn, Los Angeles NAACP chapter President Joseph Duff, and Danny J. Bakewell, president of the Brotherhood Crusade.

Bakewell called on concerned South-Central residents--from ministers to black police officers--to voluntarily patrol six-block sections of the area. Bakewell described his plan for the neighborhood patrol group, which he wants to start up in the next 35 to 40 days, as “people-driven.”

“It’s important that we stand up,” Bakewell said. “Why should we expect police that live in Sherman Oaks to demonstrate more concern than we do? It’s our block, where we live, where the crack houses are located.

“We’re going to see if we can, in a given amount of time, keep our community free of drugs and gangs. . . . This is not just some philosophical cleaning up. This is hardball.

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Toll of Gang Violence

Ann Dirks, a South-Central resident, stood in front of the gathering and relived the pain of losing two grandsons and one son within five months to gang warfare. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same, but we must help these kids and let them know that we love them,” Dirks said. “My three kids knew that they were loved.”

Several representatives from groups within the community said they could start the process.

“Everybody says their program is the answer, (and) that’s a shame,” said CYSAF founder Chilton Alphonse, who came up with the idea for the town meeting. “The various service providers in South-Central who have been fighting over the little money that’s been made available have decided we have to come together and help our community. Then we have a chance. We can’t do anything if we are separated.

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Citizens’ Responsibility

“We’re saying that the citizens and people who live in South-Central have the responsibility of reclaiming our community,” Alphonse said.

In between the speeches were songs of inspiration sung by the church’s choir, and a viewing of excerpts from a documentary, “Gangs: The American Nightmare,” which summed up in minutes the terror that many in the church live with every day.

‘Got to Reach Out’

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But members of the community said they may not live that way for long. Not if the people of South-Central continue to unite as they did for four hours on a Sunday afternoon at First AME church.

“If we can touch one parent, one child, one family, we’ve done something,” Crenshaw said. “You’ve got to reach out. These are children. They’re committing adult crimes but they’re still children.”


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