Residents of a mostly black Harbor Gateway area say they live in fear of a Latino gang
When Charlene Lovett moved her family to Harbor Gateway six years ago, she thought it would be a respite from the gang violence she had known in South Los Angeles. Her new neighborhood bordered Torrance, a city she associated with a more tranquil life.
So she was startled when neighbors came by her apartment and cautioned her about the 204th Street gang, a Latino gang known for preying on residents of the mostly black neighborhood. They specifically told her not to go north of 206th Street, a block away.
People "warned me to beware, stay away from that side," Lovett said.
And then it happened. Two weeks ago, Lovett's 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Green, was standing with a group of friends on Harvard Boulevard, just south of 206th Street, when two men approached them in broad daylight. Without saying a word, one suspect pulled a gun and opened fire, killing Green and wounding three others, witnesses and police said.
Ernesto Alcarez, 20, was later arrested and charged with first-degree murder and a hate crime because the Dec. 15 shooting is believed to have been racially motivated. The other suspect, Jonathan Fajardo, 18, is still at large. Both are members of the 204th Street gang, authorities say.
Such a brazen act of violence has highlighted the racial tensions that have held this working-class neighborhood in a state of fear for years, residents and city officials said.
At a town hall meeting Thursday night, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn urged the city attorney to pursue a gang injunction to staunch crime in the neighborhood and to take legal action against landlords who rent to families with gang members. Hahn's district includes Harbor Gateway, the narrow strip of city territory that connects South L.A. with the harbor area. She compared Green's neighborhood to the South during the era of Jim Crow segregation.
"This reminds me of a really bad time in the history of this country," Hahn said. Yet "here we are in Los Angeles, in 2006."
Residents say the Latino gang has terrorized their neighborhood for years and in some instances has forced them to change where they shop, how they commute, even how and when they step outside their homes. They say they feel confined to a three-street area, stretching south from 207th to 209th streets, between Western and Denker avenues.
Keith Smith and his 16-year-old grandson, Antoine Johnson, who live in an apartment above Lovett's family, said they knew the gang was racist when they moved into the neighborhood three years ago, but never imagined that it would be so predatory. Concerned for their safety, they described how they often peek outside their door, looking for Latino youths, every time they leave their home.
"They circle the block and see if anybody's out and if there is, they come back and start shooting," Johnson said. "They're always looking around for somebody."
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