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Shooting Fuels Anti-Crime Appeal : Safety: Neighborhood demands action. But most City Council members meet the plea with silence.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of residents and workers in the violence-torn neighborhood where a 12-year-old girl was brutally shot to death appealed to the City Council for help this week--but without much success.

“I’m here today not to ask for help but to demand your help,” said Aurelia Gonzales, president of the Washington Middle School Neighborhood Assn. “Our lives are in danger. For murderers no longer see the difference in clothing, the colors of our skin or if we are men, women or children. I wonder if they think of us as human beings.”

The murder of Anita Rochell Briones on Aug. 4 has particularly outraged the neighborhood. The girl reportedly pleaded for her life before her assailants gunned her down in the 300 block of West 15th Street.

Don Moore, the association’s vice president, said his granddaughter has told him she does not want to go to school in the area because she is afraid of being shot.

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And workers at the Long Beach Day Nursery, across the street from where Anita was killed, also are fearful, said Mary Soth, the nursery’s executive director. Noting that there have been several shootings in the neighborhood, Soth expressed concern for the welfare of the nursery’s 20 staff members and 80 children. “We are in danger,” she said.

The group asked the council to add police officers on foot patrols, provide additional recreation programs and create cul-de-sacs to deter drive-by shootings and drug dealers. They also asked for stricter enforcement of the city’s housing code.

Most members of the City Council reacted in silence. Only Councilman Clarence Smith, who represents the inner-city neighborhood, and Councilman Warren Harwood responded to the group’s concerns.

“I’m tired of seeing young kids killed in the streets,” Smith said. A year-old city program that was intended to clean up the area bounded by Anaheim Street, Pacific Coast Highway, Magnolia and Pacific avenues did not go far enough, the councilman continued.

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Last fall, city officials ranked the neighborhood near Washington Middle School as the worst in Long Beach after analyzing factors such as the crime rate, number of welfare recipients and percentage of absentee landlords. Afterward, city officials set up an improvement program for the area and achieved a number of changes.

For example, the city held a community fair, conducted two cleanup drives and ordered playground equipment for a grassy strip on 14th Street between Chestnut and Cedar avenues. The council also recently authorized increasing trash pickup to two days a week, and officials at Washington Middle School have opened their playground for after-school and weekend recreation use.

Smith and residents have praised the changes, but they say more needs to be done.

“I’m not satisfied,” Smith told his colleagues. After the meeting, Smith said he intends to meet with neighborhood residents to help them draw up some specific proposals.

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Councilman Harwood said city officials may have themselves to blame for problems in the neighborhood because they are the ones who allocate resources. But Harwood offered no suggestions, and no other council members addressed the group’s concerns.

“It’s as if they didn’t care. Most didn’t even express sympathy,” Soth said after the meeting. “I’m very disappointed.”

She and others pledged to continue pressing the council for changes.

This is the group’s second appeal to the council this year. After their first visit in April, police arrested dozens of gang members who were living in the garages of an apartment building on Cedar Avenue and had caused many of the frightened tenants to move. "(The police) did a great job,” the building’s owner, Julie Averill, said in a recent interview. “It shows it’s possible if they have the manpower.”

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Gonzales and others who live in the blighted neighborhood have likened it to a war zone.

Gang Detective Norm Sorenson of the Police Department said the neighborhood surrounding Washington Middle School is “one of those areas that is saturated with nightly shootings.”

Since Anita was killed, there have been three other shootings in and near the area where she died. On Aug. 7, Vicenta Salinas, 24, was wounded by two gunshots in the 1400 block of Chestnut Avenue. On Aug. 9, Ricardo Garcia, 21, was killed in an alley behind the 1700 block of Henderson Avenue.

That night, Ernesto Ortega, 17, who was visiting from El Paso, Tex., was killed nearby, in an alley behind the 1400 block of Locust Avenue. Ortega, whose relatives were preparing to move back to Texas, was murdered while hooking a U-Haul trailer to a truck, according to Police Sgt. Bob Bell.

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In addition, one youth was killed and another was wounded Aug. 6 in a west side shooting that police say was retaliation for Anita’s murder. Police said this week that they are investigating whether both Garcia’s and Ortega’s deaths may have been in retaliation for the west side shooting, in which Javier Vigil and Jimmy Montoya, both 18, were killed.

Shooting Sites

Here is a look at the spate of violence that has occurred over the last week in and around the Washington Middle School neighborhood of Long Beach.

1. Aug. 4: Anita Briones, 12, killed.

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2. Aug. 6: Javier Vigil, 18, killed and Jimmy Montoya, 18, wounded.

3. Aug. 7: Vicenta Salinas, 24, wounded.

4. Aug. 9: Ricardo Garcia, 21, killed.


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