July 11, 1997
Support: Officials say stopping group meetings the key
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Jefferson Park once belonged to the 18th Street Gang. Gang members in the Los Angeles neighborhood would hang out on corners, deal drugs, get into fights, even strip cars in the owners’ driveways.
Nowadays, though, street vendors sell frozen treats. Children cool off with garden hoses. Neighbors chat over fences.
“It’s peaceful,” says resident Rosario Gonzalez.
City officials credit the change to the city’s serving notice on 18 gang members last March that they were about to be banned from gathering in groups of more than two anywhere in public in the neighborhood.
On Friday, a judge is expected to formally impose the free-association ban, an increasingly popular – some say unconstitutional – way for cities across the nation to fight gang violence.
Los Angeles already has won three similar court injunctions against other gangs in different neighborhoods.
In Jefferson Park, the 17-block area of working-class homes still bears the scars of its occupation by one of the most dangerous street gangs in the West. Scrawled on nearly every road sign are graffiti reminders: “XV3,” “18,” “EIGHTEEN.”
But just being named as targets of the ban apparently put enough heat on the gang members to drive them off street corners.
The ACLU issued a study in May suggesting that crime went up in areas where gang injunctions have been enforced. Authorities disagreed, saying the numbers might have gone up because there were more police in the area and residents were emboldened to report crimes.
Some residents acknowledge that having tranquility might mean bending the U.S. Constitution a little.
“I know it’s discrimination, but they’ve earned it, through what they’ve done,” says Dora Mendoza.