Los Angeles Gangs Heeding Court Order to Erase Graffiti
February 13, 1983, Sunday, Late City Final Edition
New York Times, Section 1; Part 2; Page 48, Column 3; National Desk
DATELINE: LOS ANGELES, Feb. 12
On the city’s storefronts, billboards, houses and cinderblock fences, there is a new look: the clean wall. Such structures are emerging from the spray paint of gangs’ graffiti wars, but neither businessmen nor homeowners did the cleaning up.
Rather, such gangs as the Dogtown, the Primera Flats and the 62d Street East Coast Crips are cleaning their own ”turf.” In December, Judge John H. Cole of Superior Court inspired the effort by ordering five days in jail for 72 gang members unless they cooperated with the drive led by the City Attorney, Ira Reiner.
Police Officer Is Encouraged
”It’s gone a lot further than we thought it would,” said Detective Roy Jensen, a veteran of the citywide unit that copes with gangs. ”It was questionable when we started.”
Mr. Reiner said he was was uncertain last June when he sought a crucial ruling that made the campaign possible. He needed concurrence from the bench in the notion that gangs were, in fact, unincorporated associations.
Legally, graffiti are considered a public nuisance, but criminal citations depend on catching the offender in the act. Civil action would be possible, prosecutors argued, if gangs were held collectively responsible for their members’ scrawling.
Mr. Reiner had some trouble getting affidavits to support his contention that gangs were terrorizing neighborhoods with scrawls marring their ”turf.”
‘Nobody Wanted Names Used’
”We talked to plenty of people who complained, but nobody wanted their names used in court,” he said. ”There was an elderly businessman whose walls were slathered with graffiti, but he was afraid his store would be torched if he covered it. A school principal didn’t want to name people he thought were responsible for fear the school would be trashed.”
Prosecutors, nevertheless, convinced Judge Cole that their proposal could work, in part by organizing support. They solicited money for supplies from businessmen and got the Standard Brands Paint Company to sell them paint at cost.
They arranged for cleanup supervision through the Community Youth Services Project, a Los Angeles County-financed agency that uses former gang members to prevent confrontations.
On Sept. 17, Judge Cole issued a preliminary injunction certifying the three gangs as legal entities in northeast, southeast and southcentral Los Angeles. He ordered their 72 members to do at least five hours’ painting, logging their time with community youth service supervisors.
Leland Wong, the youth agency’s chief monitor for the drive, said 64 gang members eventually reported for work and groups of five or six went to the streets with a supervisor three or four times a week.
Graffiti as a Signature
”You know, every social class has its signature,” Mr. Wong said. ”For some people, it’s Calvin Klein jeans. Graffiti is a way for gangs to get notoriety, so the attention and support was all some guys needed. We’ll keep sending out crews until the case is dropped.”
Some gang members Judge Cole did not cite have asked about taking part, Mr. Wong said. But he agreed with Mr. Jensen that cheerful cooperation was not the rule. ”A lot of guys we served tell us graffiti was something they did when they were young,” the detective said, referring to serving court papers, ”but they don’t do it anymore, so why should they be responsible for what younger members do?
”We told them, hey, you guys are the el grandes, the big shots – you can stop the kids from doing it better than we can.” A bench warrant has been issued for the eight gang members who did not respond to Judge Cole’s order. Their case is to be reconsidered Feb. 17, when a hearing is scheduled to review the progress of the other gang members.