Thursday, July 27, 2006

Black and Latino gang violence in Compton

Megan Garvey:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca redeployed deputies to Compton on Tuesday in response to a bloody weekend that left four dead and numerous people wounded, including two young girls.

The move restores the additional staff Baca ordered into the gang-plagued city earlier this year after homicide levels in 2005 reached near-record rates. In recent weeks, sheriff's officials said, staffing had dwindled as some task force members were promoted or transferred.

"Clearly, the past week has shown that the community is not stable enough to sustain a reduction in staff," Baca said Tuesday. "We have moved personnel back into Compton and we will keep them there … until we have a clear indication that the community is stable."

The violent weekend — which saw 20 gang-related shootings — capped several weeks of escalating gang activity in a city that had seen a dramatic drop in shootings and homicides since the task force was created in January.

Through early July, sheriff's officials said, there were 13 gang-related killings in Compton, compared to 38 for the same period the year before. Shootings were down by more than 50%.

As of Sunday, there had been 21 homicides in the city and another three killings within blocks of the city boundaries in unincorporated areas also patrolled by sheriff's deputies. Nearly all of the killings are thought to be gang-related. A year earlier, the total at this point in the year was 40 in the city and four nearby.

Baca said some of the recent violence appears to have been racially motivated — with black gang members attacking Latinos and Latino gang members attacking blacks.

He said the racial overtones have reinforced his belief that it would be "morally wrong" not to assist Compton despite the city's inability to pay for more deputies.

"There's no question about it that the additional personnel have had a huge impact in blocking off opportunity and access to victims," he said, calling some of the attacks "callously random."

"It's: 'We're going to hit someone who is an innocent person, but that doesn't concern us at all.' There are no rules of engagement with these gang members," he said. "They are reckless, wild and need to be stopped."

Among the recent victims: two girls, ages 2 and 3, who were wounded in a drive-by shooting Friday night while playing in their family's frontyard.

The renewed level of violence stunned elected officials and residents who had hoped the downturn in crime would last.

At a City Council meeting Tuesday, Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux's voice cracked with emotion when she described the scene of a weekend shooting that killed a 19-year-old man on the street where she lives.

"There were people standing outside, devastated by this," she said. "One 15-year-old was outside and he was pacing the sidewalk and refused to come inside, he was so upset."

Arceneaux said she wanted "some reassurance from the sheriff that this mayhem" would be stopped, adding that "gang members had sent the word out" that more attacks were planned.

Sheriff Baca back for more

4 Fatally Shot At Week's End In Compton

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