When the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles held a long-planned news conference Monday to launch a nationwide "Week Without Violence" campaign, the grim happenstance of its timing was not lost on the participants.
"It's ironic . . . when the last few days have seen senseless murders," Mayor Richard Riordan said. He joined other officials and community leaders at the Police Academy for the campaign kickoff, which happened to follow gang-related weekend shooting deaths in two parts of the city. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti hoisted a copy of Monday's edition of The Times with a front-page story and photos of two toddlers who were shot--one fatally--when their car got trapped on a dead-end street in a gang-infested area near Mt. Washington.
"This is what we're all talking about today," Garcetti said, "but every week, unfortunately, we have a young black, brown, yellow or white child who is killed."
"This is not the Los Angeles I was born and raised in," said state Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles). Police Chief Willie L. Williams said a fatal shooting Saturday at a Reseda fast-food restaurant and the deadly gunfire Sunday on the Eastside are, "unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence."
Garcetti echoed sentiments repeated over and over Monday as he helped the YWCA drum up support for its Oct. 15-21 series of programs aimed at stanching the violence that haunts virtually every urban area in the country.
"We are all outraged, but it's not enough. . . . You must get involved," Garcetti said.
The seven-day series, beginning with a "Day of Remembrance" for crime victims, has an ambitious agenda--getting every American to do his or her part in halting their own or others' destructive behavior for a full week.
Each day will feature a different theme aimed at raising skills and consciousness: "Protecting Our Children," "Making Our Schools Safe," "Confronting Violence Against Women," "Facing Violence Among Men," "Eliminating Racism and Hate Crime" and "Replacing Violence with Sports and Fitness."
Laura S. Wiltz, chief executive officer of the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, said she hopes the week will mark the beginning of stronger citizen commitment to a "life without violence."
Saying that "more than 2.5 million women are victims of violent crimes in America every year," Wiltz said:
"These numbers have to stop, and the YWCA has a plan. . . . It all starts now with one week in October. One week to remember those lost to violence, one week to restore safety to our streets and schools, one week to renew our hope for a nonviolent future."
The day's headlines--and the sounds of gunfire from the nearby police shooting range--provided reminders about just how difficult it will be to realize that hope.
While Chief Williams called for more citizen help for the Police Department and Sen. Watson praised the YWCA for trying, Riordan called for finding "nonviolent ways to handle our anger and resolve our conflicts."
Afterward, the mayor said he welcomes the YWCA program because he has been saddened to hear from mothers throughout the city who have lost children to violence.
"My heart goes out to them all. . . . I can't just take it," said Riordan, who has made expansion of the LAPD and improved public safety the No. 1 goal of his Administration. Then, referring to the death of his only son several years ago in a scuba-diving accident, Riordan said, "I, too, lost a child" but added that the "totally senseless" nature of death by random violence could only make the burdens of the other bereaved parents even harder to bear.
But it was the youngest participants in Monday's news conference who drew the warmest response. They were 7-year-old Angie Marquez and 6-year-old Jorge Castillo, dressed in their Sunday best and reading their own brief essays about the need to stop the violence.
"If there was no violence in our world . . . everyone would feel happy. I would feel safe in the daytime and in the nighttime," Angie read.
Jorge put it this way:
"Violence is a thing that hurts, kills and destroys people. . . . Never think about growing up to be a cholo. Be a leader like Martin Luther King Jr."