Drive-By Shooting Rips Into State Senator's Family Turf

There was a drive-by shooting earlier this week in Norwalk, on the turf of a Latino gang.

It was pretty much the usual stuff, the kind of thing that most of us feel immunized against, a squalid reminder of life someplace else.

The cops said two blasts from a shotgun were fired from a stolen car. The shooter, and the other passengers, were said to have ties to one gang. They were supposedly gunning for rivals, to show them who's boss.

Sheriff's deputies stopped the car and arrested two girls and a boy inside. Another man, just over the legal border of adulthood, got away.

Nobody was physically hurt. This time. A teen-ager on a bicycle pedaled off before they could fire any rounds his way.

This particular drive-by happened to go down in state Sen. Cecil Green's district, which straddles Orange and Los Angeles counties. And the senator's only granddaughter, 16 years old, happened to be one of the girls inside the stolen car. Now she's in Juvenile Hall.

So an unusual twist has elevated this particular drive-by to an event bigger than your average news. Perhaps that means it will open a few more eyes.

If a member of a state senator's family could have been in that car, maybe one of your own could have been there too.

"You can be helpful, loving, corrective, and still it can happen," Green told me the other day from Sacramento. "We've done all the things that good parents, and grandparents, do.

"Our kids haven't wanted for anything. We've been there when they've had snotty noses, and when they have not. The concern for their health and their well-being, and the love, is there. But it still happens."

Green's granddaughter, whom I won't name because of her age, has a twin brother who the senator says is about as good as they come. He and his sister are pals. Their mother, Jan, is the Greens' only child.

Green says that he and his wife, Mary, are as close--if not closer--to their grandchildren as they are to their daughter. About a year ago, Jan moved her family from Norwalk to Sacramento, he says. The reason was to keep his granddaughter from hanging with a bad crowd.

"I don't think she was in a gang," Green says. "She's in love with a gang member, the one who got away. . . . She hadn't been down to see him since they left. Whether they had been in touch by phone, I don't know."

Green says he is talking about his family's problems because they are similar to those of others whose names are not so often in the news. His granddaughter has tested the family's patience plenty of other times, as well.

The family's difficulties, Green adds, have only toughened his resolve to fight gangs and drugs statewide. He has introduced several pieces of legislation with that end in mind.

"She didn't pick up with a bad crowd up here," he says. "She had been attending school. But she had been working part time at a hamburger place. I think that's how she got the money to buy the bus ticket down there. I'm not sure her mother knew. She just got on the bus and left.

"She is 16 years old. You can't just lock them up. What are you going to do, aside from love and educate them?"

Still, Green says he believes that his granddaughter should be held accountable for any crime in which she may have taken part.

She was arrested early Tuesday morning and has been behind bars since. Green says coincidence conspired with bad luck to keep her in Juvenile Hall this long.

The child's mother was in an automobile accident on her way to work Monday; although she was not seriously hurt, her car was demolished. Green, in the midst of the budget debate in Sacramento, says he could not get away until today. He says he plans to ask authorities to release his granddaughter to him this afternoon.

"Even though you still love them, you cannot condone everything that they do," Green says. "If they break the law, they should pay for it. I hope this is a lesson for her. I'm sure it's not very comfortable in there, although, on the other hand, she is in there with a group of people that are abusers and violent types. You wonder what other lessons she is learning as well."

Norwalk Sheriff's Deputy Scott Carter, a member of the department's anti-gang unit who is investigating the drive-by, says the charges against the youths include assault with a deadly weapon, shooting into an inhabited dwelling and joy riding.

"They were in a rival gang area, looking for trouble," he says. "Obviously, they found it."

Carter says the anti-gang unit, dubbed Operation Safe Streets, has targeted 13 Latino gangs within a 49 1/2-square-mile area. Green's granddaughter, he says, isn't a member of a gang, but the others arrested with her have admitted that they are.

"They were trying to avenge a rival gang," Carter says. "It was nothing big, just some difference over turf. . . . That's the way it usually is. It can be something like crossing out someone's name on the wall. . . . They call those puto marks. . . . It means they are not a man."

Carter lets go with a wry laugh over that one. He says gangs live by a code that most people do not understand. That's why he asks me not to print the names of the gangs themselves, because "they'll just get off on that."

Green says he has been having a hard time trying to understand the code as well. But he's learning every day.

"To me, this was a total surprise," he says. "I thought that had all ended when she moved up here."

But then the senator pauses before he goes on.

"You can't think your kids are like you are, because they are not. They are individuals. You can say, 'My kid won't do that.' Then they do that. . . . And then what do you do? I can't answer for what my daughter, or granddaughter, or my wife does. Only for myself. . . .

"But helping to solve these kinds of problems, that's what I'm in public service for. At least I speak from experience, and not from just thinking something. This is one of the bad experiences."

Green's granddaughter is scheduled to appear in Juvenile Court July 18.

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