Officials and residents are digging in, preparing for a scorching summer of gang violence following last week’s shooting at a graduation party that left one teen-ager dead and nine others wounded.
The Sheriff’s Department has beefed up its patrols on both sides of 166th Street, Norwalk’s southern border with Artesia. It has become a demilitarized zone of sorts between rival gangs in the two cities. Norwalk’s new anti-gang counselors have spent the days since the shooting talking to youths to prevent a retaliatory attack.
There is desperation and fear in the poor Latino neighborhood called Barrio Norwalk, where bullet holes in stucco walls are a reminder of drive-by shootings. About 40 residents met with city and Sheriff’s Department officials Tuesday night to form a Neighborhood Watch group.
“We know there’s going to be retaliation,” said one woman. “What can we do?” All of the residents asked not to be identified.
Norwalk and Artesia officials are scheduled to meet today to curb the gang violence that crosses their border.
No one has been arrested in the gang-related shooting that killed Jesus E. Diaz, 16, of Artesia shortly after 1 a.m. last Friday. Diaz, a reputed member of the Chivas gang of Artesia, committed what turned out to be a fatal error. He attended a graduation party on the north side of 166th Street, in Barrio Norwalk territory.
Three attackers wielding a shotgun and handguns fired over a wall into a crowd of 100. Two of the wounded also are reported to be Chivas members.
Witnesses reported that the gunmen shouted the word Norwalk. Others told investigators that a car passed shortly before the shooting and the occupants yelled “Norwalk, numero uno !”
There is a rumor that the gunmen were tipped off by four girls who had arrived at the party and saw Diaz and the other Chivas members. The girls reportedly left and never returned.
On a street corner in Chivas territory earlier this week, several gang members hunkered down, smoked cigarettes and watched passing cars. They lamented the death of Diaz. They said they were not sure who was responsible and said they know nothing of retaliation.
“He was too young,” said the 15-year-old with Chivas tattooed on his hand.
The youths said they spent last Saturday and Sunday with other Chivas members washing cars at a nearby gas station to raise money for Diaz’s family. More than $2,000 was raised, said George del Junco, a Norwalk anti-gang counselor.
North of 166th Street, at Hermosillo Park, members of the Barrio Norwalk gang played handball. One of the youths declined to say anything when asked if Barrio Norwalk was responsible for the shooting. The other spoke up: “It was Norwalk. They’re (Chivas members) going to come back. If they do come back, we’ll come back.”
And so it has been year after year in the barrios of Norwalk and Artesia, where gang membership can span generations.
It was just over a year ago that another highly publicized shooting focused attention on the poor Latino neighborhood. In May, 1989, local high school football star and honor student Juan Enriquez was killed in a drive-by shooting near his Barrio Norwalk home. Enriquez did not belong to a gang. No one has been charged with the killing.
Since then, Norwalk has taken various measures to deal with its gangs. Earlier this year, the city kicked off a program in which five community workers are dispatched to gang areas and schools to counsel youths and parents. They try to involve gang members in sports and other activities.
“Given the chance, there’s something there for each one,” said Norwalk counselor Mike Vital. “They don’t have any direction.”
The city also has a new Park Ranger program to monitor municipal parks, which are favorite hangouts of some gang members. And Norwalk is paying the Sheriff’s Department to deploy a new anti-gang unit that includes four deputies and a sergeant.
Norwalk officials emphasized that their gang problem is not just in Barrio Norwalk. The city’s third gang-related killing of the year--a stabbing death--took place last Saturday in the northern area of the city where the Neighborhood gang is entrenched.
On the south side of 166th Street, Artesia officials say they are doing their best to quell the gang violence even if their program is not as extensive as Norwalk’s.
Artesia’s emphasis is on law enforcement. The city, which also contracts with the Sheriff’s Department, has been paying extra to have a deputy assigned specifically to Artesia. That deputy spends a lot of his time in north Artesia, officials said. The city will employ a second “dedicated” deputy next month, City Manager Paul J. Philips said.
Artesia Mayor Robert Jamison said Wednesday that the city will “do anything we can to alleviate the situation.” A Neighborhood Watch program is a possibility, he said.
“There’s a whale of a lot of nice people living up there being terrorized by just a few,” Jamison said.
In the second meeting today between Norwalk and Artesia officials, Norwalk may send gang counselors to northern Artesia to meet with members of the Chivas gang. The sheriff’s substations that serve the two cities will participate in the meetings.
Artesia is served by the sheriff’s Lakewood substation; Norwalk is policed by a substation at the Norwalk Civic Center.
“We need to work together to solve the problem,” Norwalk Mayor Luigi A. Vernola said.
Norwalk and sheriff’s officials have called on the community to help with information on gang activity.
“You’re our eyes and ears,” Capt. Norman L. Smith told the Norwalk residents who attended last Tuesday’s meeting. “Without your help we’re not going to be successful.”
Smith is the commander of the sheriff’s Norwalk station.
The residents said they would cooperate. But they also deluged Smith with complaints of rude deputies who allegedly respond slowly to calls.
“The residents don’t feel they’re really looking out for us,” one woman said.