Gang Member Vows to End Violence in Harbor Gateway

In today's newscasts and talk programs, KPCC has been examining racially-charged gang violence in Los Angeles. Police say ground zero is Harbor Gateway, where the 204th Street Gang for years has targeted blacks. Today, a group of residents pledged to promote peace and racial tolerance. The agreement followed a meeting yesterday between the mother of a victim of the gang and one of its leaders. During the meeting, the gang leader promised to end attacks on African-Americans. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports.

Frank Stoltze: The unusual meeting took place outside the Del Amo Market, deep in the heart of 204th Street Gang territory. A place many blacks don't go.

Najee Ali: This is Charlene. This is Jonathan. He is responsible for bringing us together in memory of your daughter's death.

Stoltze: Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope brokered the face to face meeting between Charlene Lovett and Jonathan O'Gorman.

Two members of O'Gorman's gang stand charged with murdering Lovett's 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Green, because she was black. O'Gorman promised Lovett he would work to end the violence.

Jonathan O'Gorman: We can come to a truce, we can have peace, you know what I mean? Because nobody wants anything to happen to any one of their kids.

Charlene Lovett: I wouldn't want to see or imagine anyone feel the pain that I've had to feel, and still feel, and it's a beginning and it's a positive beginning.

Stoltze: O'Gorman denies his gang targets blacks. The 32-year-old says the bullet that killed Cheryl Green was probably intended for someone else in an ongoing war with black gang members.

Jonathan O'Gorman: It's been almost like the Hatfields and McCoys. I mean, at times it's been really bad, and I think that now is the time to really put that behind us, man.

[Sound of police radio]

Stoltze: Few people know more about the 204th Street Gang than LAPD Officer Dan Robbins. On a recent evening, he sits in his black and white outside the same Del Almo Market.

Dan Robbins: This is where the gang members come in the afternoon and loiter. In the past, there have been hate crimes here. We've had shootings, actually murders back here in the late '90s, early 2000.

Stoltze: He says in one case, members of the 204th Street Gang lit a car on fire and rolled it into an apartment complex occupied mostly by African-Americans.

Robbins: You have gang members that, inside prison, are indoctrinated into a racist lifestyle. They come out here, train the younger gang members in those beliefs.

Stoltze: Officer Robbins says the assaults increased as more blacks moved into what had been a mostly Latino neighborhood.

Robbins: This community, it's so small, it's so easy to see the changing racial makeup, and I think that provides all they need to react.

Stoltze: Mike stands outside Del Almo Market. The 43-year-old father of five won't give his last name. But he freely admits he's a member of the 204th Street Gang. He says he grew up here. And so did his father. Mike laments the arrival of blacks.

Mike: We had a nice little community here, and it's not nice anymore, and because of them.

Stoltze: What did they bring?

Mike: Ghettoism. They brought low life, just, they're dirty, man.

Stoltze: Dirty?

Mike: It was nice before they came. It would be nice if they would just leave and leave us alone.

Stoltze: Mike believes Cheryl Green's murder has gotten too much attention. He wonders why the recent murder of a Mexican immigrant hasn't been labeled a hate crime. He believes the killer was an African-American. As he talks, a black woman passes him on her way out of the store.

Cynthia: Yeah, we get along fine, we get along fine.

Stoltze: Mike nods politely towards Cynthia, who also declines to give her last name. She says she's lived here 16 years.

Cynthia: Me and Mike, our kids grew up together.
Stoltze: Police say the 204th Street Gang targets blacks, that the little 14-year-old girl was killed because she's black.

Cynthia: Maybe. Sometimes it's the younger ones that don't know no better that might act up.

Stoltze: African-Americans who tell a different story have marched every week since Cheryl Green was killed last month. During one recent march, 19-year-old David Cary, Green's brother, says the gang has drawn invisible but deadly lines.

David Cary: I ain't never walked past this border right here. Like Harvard Boulevard and 205. I never walked past here, and I never stepped foot inside that store, until today.

Stoltze: Cary and other marchers come upon the letters NK written on the sidewalk. They know its 204 gang graffiti.

March participant 1: This says nigger killer.

March participant 2: Y'all so mad at niggers, you know what I'm saying, take your ass back to Mexico where y'all live in poverty.

March participant 3:That's what makes Congress want to enforce laws with the illegal immigrants that sneak over.

March participant 2: You know what, I'm hurting, I'm hurtin', because y'all took a little girl like that didn't have nothin' to do with none of this, you know what I'm saying? Man...

Stoltze: To try to prevent this animosity from escalating into more violence, law enforcement and political leaders are promising more police, and programs for kids in this Harbor Gateway neighborhood. Residents say it's about time.