Community Essay : 'Children Were Prisoners in Their Homes' : Civil libertarians who protest injunctions barring gang members from certain areas should talk first to the people who have been terrorized.

Eva Courtney is president of the Summit Neighborhood Assn

We are a diverse community in the Summit Avenue neighborhood of Pasadena. We are Latinos from South America, Central America or Mexico and we are blacks from the United States, Jamaica, Central or South America. We are about 50% of African descent and 50% Latino.

For the past 10 years, however, we suffered as rock cocaine was sold on our streets, mostly on Summit Avenue (our main commercial street?). At one point it was sold 24 hours a day, rain or shine. Driveways were always crowded with buyers and sellers.

Gang and crime activity on our streets got out of hand when a young man was killed over a game of dice. It got out of hand when a store managed by a nice African American woman was going to be closed down because of gang activity. It got out of hand when no Latinos could visit a local park because a gun would be pointed at them or things were thrown at them. It got out of hand when a Latino and black lady were sent to the hospital because they were trying to stop a group of young men from taking over their apartment building.

An African American family that had lived on Summit Avenue for 35 years was brave enough to go to the police department and had their home shot at and an obscenity spelled out in big red letters on their sidewalk. That honest family moved out of the neighborhood. Adults and children witnessed sex in open parking areas, drive-by shootings and graffiti. We experienced a drunk man beating up on a woman in the middle of the street. There was an eight-foot long line of fire fueled by gasoline on the sidewalk as a sign of retaliation. Also, as intimidation, gunshots were fired in front of our homes.

If you drove through, you would ask yourself why the streets are dirty, why some of the lawns are not watered. You may think that people do not care but the reality is that people have been afraid to go outside. Our neighborhood association does block clean-ups but we have had to concentrate on cutting cut shrubs and wonderful old trees so that the drug dealers can't hide behind the greenery. One young man even used a tree branch to swing from and jump on an unsuspecting woman to snatch her purse.

Each crime is a reason that we in the neighborhood strongly support the district attorney's injunction issued last month to keep the local gang, the Denver Lanes, from carrying on their illegal businesses on our streets. The gang members and hangers-on, who are specifically named in the injunction, are forbidden to carry their beepers and walkie-talkies on our streets, from drinking or writing graffiti, from terrorizing honest citizens and even from riding their bikes.

Some local residents and civil rights activists are worried about bicycle riding being included as a prohibited activity for the named defendants on the injunction. Well, I tell you that if the drug dealing had continued, there would be no one riding bikes. The children who play on the street were becoming prisoners in their homes because of the drive-bys and speeding cars. The NAACP also expressed concern that the injunction might be racist, but after seeing the solid neighborhood support and safer streets, has decided not to challenge it.

I believe the injunction is a blessing. Residents recognize that we still have a problem but at least peace has been restored. We can sleep at night and walk the streets without being afraid. Children are no longer being exposed to negative behavior in public.

With the injunction, we plan a program for next spring to clean up and plant flowers in the courtyards of apartment buildings. We'll also be cleaning up vacant lots.

The Summit Avenue Neighborhood Assn. has joined Pasadena's Coalition for a Non-Violent City. We will be working with two other neighborhood associations to use the grant we were awarded from by coalition and the city to assist our youth. We may not be able to reclaim the lives of the lost young men who have terrorized our neighborhood, but we will be helping the younger generation--mainly junior high school students--to stay on the right path so that this history does not repeat itself.

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