Somebody tossed Robert Pollard a message last week.
He came home to find that a military-style smoke grenade had broken his window and rebounded, landing in the yard near his goldfish pond. The attack was just the latest incident in an escalating spate of violence against Pollard and his business partner, Brian Collier, both of whom are known in Venice's Oakwood neighborhood for cooperating with police efforts to stem the neighborhood's intense drug-related violence.
Police are investigating the attack. But Pollard thinks he knows what's going on.
"It's outright intimidation," Pollard said. "Those people still control this neighborhood."
George Khoury, a police officer with the Los Angeles Pacific Division who was formerly assigned to a special task force in Oakwood, agrees.
"There was definitely a message behind (the attack)--don't cooperate with the police," he said.
Pollard and Collier have been ignoring that message--a commandment for self-preservation in many struggling neighborhoods like Oakwood--ever since they moved into the area in 1986. In those days, drugs were so rampant that dealers flagged down customers in the daylight. Many dealers were members of interwoven crime families. Other residents minded their own business and kept their mouths shut.
But the newcomers regularly informed police about the activity going on outside the high fences and barbed wire surrounding their shared duplex. They participated in anti-crime neighborhood marches and in cleanups. Pollard even cruised his pickup around the block to catch sight of any illegal activities.
As a result, they say, they have endured attacks and vandalism on a regular basis. Car windows have been smashed more times than they can recall. Last month, Pollard's Cadillac was stolen and dismantled. His girlfriend's car was bashed with a sledgehammer. Their homes have been robbed and their lives threatened. Recently, somebody pumped six bullets into Pollard's truck.
When they would walk out the door to inspect the damage, Collier said, a gang leader was often across the street, watching. "He'd raise his finger and smile this stupid Cheshire Cat grin," Collier said.
Pollard said that while walking through his neighborhood he has been taunted: "Honkie, go home!" Profane graffiti on his home's walls have also had racial overtones.
Oakwood itself has been polarized by tensions between some of the relatively affluent white newcomers and the poor black residents who have been there longer. Some longtime residents are even convinced that there is a conspiracy on the part of developers, police and politicians to drive poor blacks out of what was, until the 1970s, a predominantly black neighborhood.
Some residents resent Pollard and Collier, who are in the building business and who own several properties in Oakwood.
"This is the only little black city by the sea, and they're trying to turn this property into another Marina," said Jesse Franklin, a 40-year resident of Oakwood.
"He's one of the persons who came in here to take over," said longtime resident Pearl White about Pollard, adding that she does not condone violence.
Collier and Pollard insist the latest attack, however, has nothing to do with such hostility. It was revenge, pure and simple, they say, for their help to police who raided a crack house across the street earlier this month.
Police broke into the home and arrested two men for possession of cocaine, seized $3,312 in cash, and found about two ounces of cocaine, said Richard Vincent, a detective with the West Bureau's narcotics squad.
Several neighbors said that they had fed police anonymous tips about the crack den, but that Collier and Pollard did so openly.
"They're very brave about it," said one neighbor. She refused to identify herself: "I do not want to incur their wrath," she said, alluding to the dealers. "They still have a stranglehold on the neighborhood."
Neighborhood activists vow to continue their battle against dealers and gang members.
"We can't let these bastards burn somebody's house down . . . or intimidate others from stepping forward," said Phil Raider, a member of the Oakwood Beautification Committee, a neighborhood organization.
Raider and others said they are frustrated that police are classifying the smoke grenade incident as vandalism, a misdemeanor.
"They should treat this as an act of terrorism, not an act of petty vandalism," Raider said.
The grenade only burned a fern and sent Pollard's goldfish in a panicked swim. But police said that if it had landed inside Pollard's home it could have started a fire.
"This was attempted murder," Pollard said.
Pollard and Collier were so shaken by the assault that they considered moving out of the neighborhood. But by week's end, they had recovered their resolve. "If someone doesn't stand up, nothing will change," Collier said.
Pollard agreed. "We're here to stay," he said.