Latino gang makes African-Americans its target in Canoga Park
Nickson Gilles came to Southern California last summer with dreams of carrying a football to stardom - first as a Pierce College running back, then maybe at USC or even the NFL.
Instead, he was carried out on a stretcher, his dream shattered by a shotgun blast that police say was leveled at him by an alleged member of the Canoga Park Alabama gang.
Gilles, an African-American from Florida, was shot in the neck, shoulder and left eye Sept. 3 after the Pierce Brahmas' first game of the season. It was just one of many attacks against blacks that landed Canoga Park Alabama on L.A.'s list of most dangerous gangs.
The Latino gang hasn't hidden the fact that it targets African-Americans in this community, which just two years ago earned the prestigious All-AmericaCity designation, largely due to its racial diversity.
The city's gang list and another that branded Gilles' accused assailant, Fernando Araujo, one of the city's most wanted gangsters offer little solace to Gilles, who has undergone three eye surgeries and hasn't played football since he was shot.
"That whole tragedy messed up my whole life right there," Gilles said in a phone interview from Florida.
Since July 2006 there have been 12 shootings targeting Canoga Park blacks. Following two recent attacks, police have stepped up warnings to African-Americans to be wary of Canoga Park Alabama.
Some blacks in the community, as well as educators working with African-American students, said they have felt the wrath of the gang's racist campaign of violence firsthand. But other blacks paint a more idyllic picture of Canoga Park, one that helped it become the first Los Angeles community to win the All-America honor in the award's 58-year history.
Once a predominately white community, today Canoga Park is about 50 percent Latino, 28 percent white, 15 percent Asian and 4 percent black, according to a 2005 American Community Survey listed in a California State University, Northridge, report.
Although police can't pinpoint why "CPA" has focused on blacks, one possibility is street culture emulating prison life, where black and Latino inmates have repeatedly clashed as they align themselves along racial lines.
"It could be a young guy trying to make his stripes (or) an order from somewhere else or random gang stuff," Los Angeles Police Department Lt. Tom Smart said. "Hopefully, it's a little flare-up and not a continuing trend, especially as the summer heats up."
With the last two attacks on blacks in and around Lanark Park separated by mere days and feet, police want African-Americans to be on alert for any trouble.
"I feel we have an obligation to let (black people) know that they could be targeted," Smart said. "I'd like to remind them to be mindful. It's random."
The most recent shooting occurred about 10:40 p.m. on June 13 when a 23-year-old African-American man drove into the parking lot of Lanark Park.
His attackers, believed to be several Latino males who remain at large, walked up to the car, asked where he was from - a common gang challenge - shouted racial slurs and shot him in the chest and shoulder.
Two days after that shooting, two 15-year-old black boys helping their uncle's girlfriend move out of a nearby apartment on Lanark Street were allegedly beaten in an unprovoked attack by several CPA members. At least one of the attackers shouted a racial epithet during the beating that was caught on an apartment surveillance camera, police said.
Gabriel Chavez, 18, Juan Carlos Sanchez, 20, and two Latino minors were arrested for allegedly taking part in the beating and face felony assault, hate crime and gang-crime enhancement charges.
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