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Gang Violence or Community Reconciliation:: A Tale of Two Cities

Recent shootings in Santa Monica and Venice have been attributed by some to an escalating gang war between a Santa Monica street gang and one from Venice, although that interpretation of the events may be overstating the gang war connection according to others.

Now, efforts are underway to promote “goodwill and empathy” between the communities and the families affected by such events, says Oscar de la Torre, executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) in Santa Monica. At a community gathering on Saturday evening, November 1, de la Torre announced a November 15 live art auction to benefit the family of Adam Pacheco of Venice, who was shot and killed on Abbot Kinney Boulevard on September 28 [Santa Monica Mirror, October 2-8] in an incident that may have sparked at least some of the shootings since then.

The most recent local shootings occurred over the weekend of October 24-26 and included: the report of a single shot fired in the Pico Neighborhood late on Friday night, October 24; an attack on two men, killing one, near the western intersection of Washington Boulevard and Washington Place at the Los Angeles/Culver City boundary on Saturday night, October 25; and the shooting of two students in Santa Monica near Kansas Avenue and Cloverfield Boulevard on Sunday evening, October 26. There had been no arrests in any of these incidents as of Wednesday afternoon, November 5, according to spokesmen for the Santa Monica and Los Angeles Police Departments.

Sunday, October 26

In the October 26 incident, two young Hispanic males were each shot in the leg and taken to area hospitals where they were treated for their wounds. One was identified by police as a 17-year-old; he is a student at a Santa Monica high school and not gang-involved, says de la Torre, who is also president of the SMMUSD School Board. The other victim is also a local teenaged student, says de la Torre. The shooting suspects were males who fled the scene eastbound on Kansas in a silver sedan with three or four occupants wearing sweatshirt-type hoods, according to SMPD Sgt. David Hunscke. Police had no further identification, he said.

Officers responded to the scene when a SMPD Traffic Service Officer reported hearing gunshots in the area at about 5:30 p.m. The officers located the 17-year-old near Kansas and Cloverfield. Further investigation revealed the second victim hiding in an apartment in the 2000 block of Cloverfield.

De la Torre was driving west on Pico Boulevard that evening and saw streets closed, police activity, and the community out. He saw a puddle of blood at Kansas and Cloverfield, together with a bloody shirt which he learned had belonged to a passerby who tried to stop the bleeding of the first victim, who had been seriously wounded. The second victim had been grazed in the leg and fled, de la Torre said. He reported that witnesses said the shots had been fired from an assault-type rifle.

While police searched the apartment building in which the second victim had hidden for any additional victims, officers encountered a wanted parolee who barricaded himself in an upstairs room with his girlfriend. Both eventually surrendered peacefully and were taken into custody. No weapons were recovered. There is no evidence that the parolee was involved in the shootings, said Sgt. Hunscke.

Saturday, October 25

In the October 25 incident, the Los Angeles Police Department reported that at about 8:15 p.m. two suspects wearing gray hooded sweatshirts and armed with handguns approached the two victims in a parking lot and asked where they were from; when the victims responded that they were not gang members, both suspects began shooting at them. Guillermo Lopez, 25, collapsed in the parking lot and died. His 19-year-old friend was also struck multiple times and was later taken to a local hospital in critical condition; he was still in the hospital on Monday afternoon, November 3, according to LAPD.

LAPD said the suspects were seen driving away from the scene in a gray 4-door Honda northbound on Wade Street. It has been reported that the suspects identified themselves as being from Santa Monica.

Friday, October 24

The Friday night report of a single shot fired in the Pico Neighborhood in which no one was injured has no relation to either of the other incidents in de la Torre’s opinion. He says that the incident relates only to an “internal conflict” in Santa Monica between Black and Latino youth.

Community Reconciliation

De la Torre notes that since at least 1998, the majority of youth victims of deadly violence in Santa Monica have not been gang involved, citing as recent examples Eddie Lopez (February 2006), Miguel Martin (December 2006), and Byron Lopez (June 2008, no relation to Eddie Lopez; see related story page 10).

“We need to build relationships between communities and stop the violence that is destroying lives,” he says. The November 1 community gathering at PYFC was an attempt to do just that. About 50 people turned out, including Eddie Lopez’s mother and Miguel Martin’s father, for what de la Torre called a “one-of-a-kind event” in which “courageous people shared their stories.”

As one of the needed initiatives to build relationships between the communities, Santa Monica’s PYFC will hold a November 15 live art auction to benefit a scholarship fund for Desiree Pacheco, daughter of the Venice victim on Abbot Kinney and a straight-A 7th grade honor student.

Referring to the neighboring communities of Santa Monica and Venice, de la Torre says, “We need to show that gang violence is not the only thing we have in common.”

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