Despite the high temperatures and sweltering heat plaguing South Los Angeles, an overflow crowd of community residents, activists, gang interventionists and law enforcement packed into Hamilton United Methodist Church on Sunday, Sept. 12 to discuss the recent surge in homicides in South Los Angeles.
The emergency meeting, organized by 8th District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and co-chaired by U. S Rep. Karen Bass and 9th District Councilman Curren Price, was called after statistics revealed that gang-related homicides and violent crime had risen sharply during the month of August with 39 reported deaths, the most homicides since July 2009.
Nearly half of the homicides occurred in South Los Angeles.
LAPD Deputy Bill Scott, who attended the forum, said that nearly 80 percent of the homicides in South Los Angeles reported this year were related to gang violence.
The meeting also touched on the endemic problems fueling the homicides, including lack of educational opportunities, jobs and programs for youth, and the need to forge better communication with police.
Scott blamed social media for ramping up the violence, citing a recent photo posted on Twitter and Instagram that showed the bloody bodies of two men who had been shot and were sprawled on the sidewalk.
“Those types of posts are going to start problems,” Scott said. “We have to come up with solid solutions.”
Harris-Dawson, who said that he had noticed the spike of shootings occurring in August, met with Mayor Eric Garcetti, gang interventionists and police about an an appropriate response to the killings.
“We’ve been losing people day by day,” Harris Dawson said.
Back up police and gang interventionists have been dispatched to patrol the streets to monitor gang hot spots in the community.
Bass acknowledged that more funding was needed to help quell the rash of gun violence in the community, adding that she and other representatives were planning to meet with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Congress to help funnel more resources into South Los Angeles.
U. S Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard also confirmed that she plans to work with Bass, state Assembly member Holly Mitchell and other local representatives to obtain funding for various public safety programs.
“Even with limited resources, we will find a way to get around (the funding shortage). We all need to work together to fight the root of violence that is happening here,” Roybal-Allard said.
Price was also there, and he made reference to possible ways to prevent violent deaths in the community.
“So many people have lost their lives. We need to do something different because we are not getting the results that we want,” Price declared, adding that civic officials will be “marshaling all resources possible” to establish a Gang Prevention Fund. “We are here to take our community back. We deserve to have safe and clean streets for our families and for our kids.”
Gang interventionist Aqeela Sherrills maintained that long term strategies to train the next generation of interventionist were greatly needed and that a stronger crisis intervention team should be formed.
“Law enforcement is killing our youth, and it’s a systemic problem,” Sherrills continued. “We can’t have officers killing our children and there’s no accountability. We have to invest money to make sure our officers get some therapy, counseling and training.”
State Assembly member Holly Mitchell pointed out that there would be more prevention and accountability now that body cameras had been mandated for the LAPD.
During the public comment period, dozens of community residents lined up to voice concern about the rash of violence plaguing their community.
Thomas Wilson spoke softly through his jaw that was wired shut and announced that he was one of the young men whose bloody photo had been posted on the Internet.
“The LAPD left me on the ground for 10 minutes because they thought I was dead,” said Wilson, who added that a number of passersby approached the scene and snapped pictures. “My kids were in the car. I never cried so much in my whole life,” Wilson said, adding that the second man in the photo died from his wounds.
Kevin Brown, a community outreach worker with the Crenshaw Church of Christ, noted that there needed to be a concerted effort made to get guns off the streets.
“If we have DUI stops, we need to have gun stops,” he pointed out. “Get the guns out of the car and off the streets. Let’s address the gun violence first, that’s the elephant in the room,” he said.
Many others called on a different type of problem solving to combat the violence.
“When I was 9 or 10, we called it gangbanging. Now it’s a gang war,” said James McAfee, pastor at the Eagles Nest Evangelistic Fellowship Church. “We never get to the root of the problem, we only discuss the symptoms. The only way that we can find solutions to this violence is to deal with the root causes of the problem.”
Tanya Summerise-Carter wore a bright orange T-shirt emblazoned with the names of her two deceased sons who had been murdered. Carter said she was doing everything she could to protect her last remaining son.
“It’s our kids that are doing the killing,” Summerise-Carter declared, addressing the crowd. “The kids are getting killed.”