Hundreds of people gathered in Watts Sunday for an unusual event that combined a call to end street violence with the throaty roar of souped up engines and colorful low-riders.
Organized by a group called the United In Peace Foundation, the event began with three hundred people rallying against race-based tension between Latino and black neighborhoods and gangs.
“If we’re going to fight for something, we need to fight for peace,” said D’Joy Cagle. She told the crowd she lost her son years ago in a gang shooting.
Crime in Watts has improved since 2011, when 23 people were killed there. There have been four homicides since the beginning of this year, according to The LA Times homicide watch database. Last year there were 11 homicides in Watts.
After the rally, about 200 members of several car clubs showed off their vintage cars tricked out with jerky hydraulics and smooth paint jobs.
Then a caravan of those brightly colored, souped-up, low-riders cruised through South Los Angeles flanked by motorcycle riders. They all waved small orange flags that read, “United In Peace."
“They’re two different worlds coming together,” said Adriane Hunt, a member of the United in Peace Foundation. “We want to take the message to the street.”
The group began organizing monthly low-rider cruises last October as a way to mix various car clubs and motorcycle clubs to prevent rivalries, she said. The events also help riders mend differences with the police --they're often type-cast by authorities as troublemakers because they hang out in groups, checking out each other’s ride, listening to music, sometimes revving their engines.
“The police are always chasing them out,” she said. “Now they get to do that and not be harassed.”
Sunday's event came two days after the Los Angeles Police Department welcomed a new batch of gang interventionists.
Twenty-two people trained as mediators or gang interventionists received their certificates to work in neighborhoods that have high amount of gang-related crimes on Friday.
LAPD chief Charlie Beck said the work they will do helped lower crime in a city that had become notorious for its gang problems.
“Things had always gotten worse every year and I came to expect that,” Beck said as he reflected on his early years as a cop. “But none of that is true. We don’t have to be that place.”