Gang members and Long Beach police this week made a rare appearance together as the two sides participated in a local cable television program about gang life in Long Beach.
Four police officers and four current or former gang members took part in the panel discussion, which was broadcast live Sunday on CVI Cable.
Former gang members complained that police stop them for no reason and threaten them. "It's not right the way officers treat people," said ex-gang member Aquil Saafir, 24.
Fanya Baruti, 35, added: "Many brothers and sisters wouldn't come here today because of intimidation by police."
The officers denied that Long Beach police harass gang members. They said they only stop those who match the description of a suspect or who are committing a crime.
"The Police Department doesn't care if you're in a gang," Officer Michael Foster told the panelists. "We're going to judge you by your acts. If you break the law, we're going to stop you."
Sgt. Buz Williams, a gang investigator, added: "I think the gang members have a lot more to fear from other gang members than police."
Police said they hoped the meeting would help establish better relationships with gang members.
The program was the second in a three-part series. The premiere show earlier this month let gang members explain why they joined. In the final program in May, gang members are to appear with families who have lost children to gang violence.
The series comes at a time when police have reported an increase in drive-by shootings and other gang-related incidents in the city. Latino and Asian gangs, who had been observing a truce made last year, have been shooting at one another in recent months. Latino and African American gangs also have clashed. In one incident, one gang member was killed, police said.
City Human Relations Commissioner Gloria McMillan organized the series for her weekly show, "Perspectives With Gloria."
Much of Sunday's two-hour program focused on baggy clothing, with gang members insisting they are not hoodlums because they wear loose jeans and oversized football jerseys.
"They need to stop judging a book by its cover," said Thaisan Nguon, 15. "I shouldn't have to dress differently just so I don't get stopped by the cops."
Police said they do not single out people who are wearing baggy clothing. However, they emphasized that wearing such clothes makes young people targets for rival gangs.
A few callers agreed with police that baggy clothes place young people in danger by inviting unwanted attention.
"If you don't want to be affiliated and harassed, don't wear it," said one caller who identified herself only as Andrea.
The two sides shook hands and everyone ate sandwiches together after the show.