A security firm affiliated with Minister Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam won city approval Tuesday to begin patrolling 15 federally aided apartment buildings in a section of Venice that has experienced widespread gang activity and drug dealing.
Tenant activists who first proposed hiring the group to guard their buildings cheered after the Los Angeles City Police Commission voted unanimously to grant a patrol permit for N.O.I. Security Agency, effectively ending the controversy.
"It's been a long fight. It's worth the wait," said Regina Hyman, head of the tenant organization at the Holiday Venice buildings in the Oakwood section of the seaside community. "I'm glad we've got security now so we can sleep at night and our kids can play."
N.O.I. Security will begin patrols once details for the $53,676-a-month contract are worked out with Alliance Housing Management, which manages the buildings, according to Adbul Arif Muhammad, a spokesman for the security company. The security firm emerged as the winning bidder and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the deal earlier this summer. This will be the first time in California that the Nation of Islam will be hired to patrol federally subsidized housing.
Muhammad declined to describe how the group would patrol the area. Under the bid, the company will provide 14 unarmed guards for nighttime foot patrols. The buildings are currently staffed by a lone security consultant who tenants say has been unable to stop to drug dealing and gang fights.
The arrangement had been contested by Jewish organizations, who charged that the Nation of Islam has a history of racism, anti-Semitism and violence and is unfit to receive federal subsidies. But on Tuesday, one of those groups, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith made no statement. The proposal faced only minor opposition from the Jewish Defense League and from Latino representatives who said some Latino residents opposed having the black Muslim group patrolling the neighborhood but were afraid to speak out.
Xavier Hermosillo, head of the Latino group NEWS for America, questioned whether the Muslim organization would hire equally from all racial groups. Muhammad declined to discuss the company's hiring policy except to say that it is an equal opportunity employer.
Leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, which had loudly opposed the contract, received unspecified threats and did not attend the hearing, Regional Director David A. Lehrer said. But he reiterated his group's opposition.
"It wasn't all that long ago when a record of bigotry and racial hatred would have disqualified an organization from receiving a contract of this type. It's a sorry statement that times have changed," Lehrer said.
The proposal won support from several African-American organizations as well as from Jewish neighbors who argued that the Nation of Islam could succeed in stemming crime where police had failed.
The 15 apartment buildings are located over several blocks of Oakwood, a smattering of older bungalows and apartment buildings that were once predominantly occupied by blacks but have recently become heavily Latino and, along the area's gentrifying edges, Anglo.