Pulling turf out from under gangs

A notorious L.A. neighbourhood is `calmer’ after everyone was evicted from a gang-ridden complex, an official says

January 25, 2007, The Toronto Star
Betsy Powell
Crime Reporter

The experience of evicting all tenants – law abiding or not – from a gang-ridden apartment complex in south Los Angeles two years ago is paying dividends, says a Los Angeles city councillor.

“(It’s) calmer, much calmer, very quiet. Kids are able to walk down the block now and go to school without the same level of fear that they had, which went on for … probably 20 years,” said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the area that includes the three privately owned buildings that were ordered vacated.

Toronto is trying a similar tactic here in publicly owned Jamestown in Rexdale where Toronto police targeted the Jamestown Crips last spring in a massive gang sweep called Project XXX. The leaseholders of 13 units with family members charged during the raids have received “termination” notices. Eight are challenging their removal before the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal, which will decide whether each of the evictions is justified.

Los Angeles has had decades of practice fighting gangs, with mixed results. One method helping to clean up neighbourhoods is the use of “civil gang injunctions,” a court order designed to prevent members of turf-based gangs from participating in certain activities in a prescribed area. Failure to abide can result in a six-month jail sentence or $1,000 fine. That is having the effect of “improving the quality of life in neighbourhoods,” said Jonathan Diamond of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office.

But it was a judge’s order in December 2004 – at the urging of city officials – that led to authorities forcing the relocation of people living in the 24 units, many of them used by the 69 East Coast Crips for an assortment of criminal activities.

Some of the tenants were eligible for relocation assistance. There, as here, several residents fought their displacement, arguing it was unfair to treat everyone as criminals.

But as city officials tried to rid the L.A. complex of crime, the city attorney’s office was building a case, collecting declarations from dozens of police officers and community members to paint “a picture of an entire neighbourhood at risk,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The use of the apartments by the Crips has turned the surrounding community into an urban gang war zone and poses a clear and present danger to the community,” testified Reginald Gay, senior lead officer for the LAPD’s Newton Division, the newspaper said.

Court also heard the immediate area had the highest number of homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies and rapes in the division.

But some argue moving troublemakers around might be a short-term solution because it merely exports the problems to other areas. Alex Alonso, owner of L.A.-based website streetgangs.com, said gang sweeps and attempts to displace gang members doesn’t address much deeper problems.

“A lot of critics have argued that `Okay, you cleaned up this little nine-block area, now you made the gang move over to an adjacent community to do the same thing there,'” he said, speaking generally.

Besides, what’s to prevent gang members from simply driving back to visit neighbourhoods where they lived before being forced out, said Alonso.

Perry said that wasn’t the case after officials shuttered the complex. Unlike Jamestown, everyone was relocated and the buildings closed.

Officials are now in the process of trying to redevelop the complex for sale.

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