Hawaiian Gardens residents protest gang injunction
Posted: 07/28/2009 09:04:45 PM PDT
HAWAIIAN GARDENS - About 100 community members took to the streets and City Hall Tuesday night in protest of a federal gang injunction that opponents say has unfairly targeted the majority of Hispanic men in the community and is being abused by local law enforcement.
Residents opposed to the injunction, which targets members of the Varrio Hawaiian Gardens gang and its associates, shouted slogans decrying police harassment and carried signs asking where filed complaints had gone and what was happening to incarcerated loved ones.
The opposition group, which calls itself R.A.G.E. Hawaiian Gardens (Residents Against Gentrification Efforts), marched and rode bikes from a local shopping center at one end of the less than 1-square-mile town to City Hall, covering the distance in a matter of minutes as a man in Native American garb kept time on a drum.
"This is just an excuse for the sheriffs to harass Hispanic residents, they're the biggest gang of all," one marcher, who identified himself only as Juan, said.
"Ever since that deputy was killed they have been harassing us. I'm sorry it happened, but it doesn't give them the right to take our rights," he added, referring to the 2005 murder of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Jerry Ortiz.
Ortiz was gunned down by a VHG gangster who was under investigation for the attempted murder of a black man.
The subsequent investigation, and conviction of the killer, who is now on death row, found the long-standing gang had strong ties to the Mexican mafia and was the primary source of drug dealing, weapons exchange and other illegal activities in town.
It also was known to actively target black members of the community, who compose less than 5 percent of the city's population, federal, state and local authorities said earlier this year when a permanent injunction was put in place. The injunction makes it a crime for members of the gang and their associates to congregate in public, ride their bikes (unless it's to church, school or a job) or participate in any crimes or gang-related activity.
As protesters of the injunction neared City Hall Tuesday night, they cheered passing motorists who tooted their horns. Once inside the council chambers, which was filled to standing-room-only capacity, the crowd waited to hear Sheriff Lee Baca, who came to town for the meeting.
Baca was whisked into a closed-door meeting upon his arrival and the council did not emerge until an hour after the regular city council meeting was scheduled to begin.
Pastor Barry Bruce was given the floor prior to the sheriff and said the community had many unanswered questions about the injunction and about the LACSD's performance in recent years.
Bruce accused local sheriff's deputies of abuse of power and civil rights and said the community has no trust in the department or its officers.
He accused the local sheriff's station, based in Lakewood, of losing complaints filed by people over the injunction and other issues, including racial profiling
He also demanded the City Council and the Sheriff's Department survey local residents on their view of the department and look into the feasibility of having a locally run police force in Hawaiian Gardens.
"We are supportive of law enforcement," Bruce said at the start
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca gets a greeting from Hawaiian Gardens residents Crescencia Martinez, front left, and Jesus Bernal as he enters the Hawaiian Gardens City Hall to talk to the city council about the gang injunction. (Steven Georges/Staff Photographer)of his speech. "(But) we want just law enforcement, we want fair law enforcement, we want righteous law enforcement in our city."
Members of the protest group in the audience applauded Bruce several times during his address. Baca also received a rousing round of applause when it was time for him to speak.
"My reason for coming here tonight is to see what we can do to build the public's trust," Baca told the crowd.
The sheriff vowed to meet with members of the community on several Saturdays until he has heard "every complaint."
Baca said members of his staff had a number of ideas and programs available to address many of the issues, including how one can get out of the injunction if they were wrongly included or have turned their lives around and are no longer a member of the gang.
The captain that heads the Lakewood Station, which patrols Hawaiian Gardens, and other key members of his force will attend the weekend meetings, which will be scheduled at the community's convenience, the sheriff said.
And Baca vowed that he would do whatever he could to address the community's concerns through frank and respectful discussions.
"What I'm trying to do is remove the excuse-making .. and get to the issues," Baca said.
"I don't think criticism is something you should fly from."
For a more in-depth look at the injunction check Sunday's edition of the Press-Telegram.