Independence Day on Drew Street in LA as gang tamed
By Carol Forsloff
LOS ANGELES – The residents of Drew Street are celebrating now that members of the Avenues Gang have been rounded up by police and prosecuted for behavior that was not just intimidation and terror, but killing, especially African Americans, the gang’s principal targets.
The Avenues Gang had been bragging about the fact they did not just “hurt people but killed them” and in defiance would not run from police but pursue them.
This behavior occurred in blue-collar neighborhoods of Cypress Park, Glassel Park and Drew-Estra. The gang was referred to by U.S. attorneys and investigators as particularly notorious, targeting and assaulting innocent members of African American neighborhoods. Any African American who entered gang territory, even inadvertently, would be ordered out.
Following prosecution of four Avenues gang members on federal hate crime charges related to the murder of two African-American men, the Los Angeles Police Department turned to federal law enforcement for help in confronting the strongest, dominant, and most feared members of the Avenues gang, those from the Drew-Estra neighborhood.
A meeting of LAPD detectives with the United States Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations Division reflected the seriousness of the danger brought about by gang activities, especially those of the Avenues gang, especially when officers were assaulted with rifles when they attempted to respond to neighborhood calls.
As the gang’s defiance continued, investigators and prosecutors made a decision to work with community stakeholders to develop a comprehensive strategy not just to criminally prosecute gang members but to examine some of the underlying concerns within the community that had been tormented by gang hatred and violence.
The motto became, “It’s not about the gang—it’s about the community.”
This motto propelled a joint federal-local investigation leading to the indictment and prosecution of 70 Avenues gang members and associates. In fact the federal prosecution of the major players, or clique, of the Drew Street neighborhood group became the largest and most far-reaching effort against one gang anywhere in the united States.
The commitment of law enforcement went beyond just gang members’ prosecutions. Leaders of the community together with the City of Los Angeles and members of law enforcement combined efforts to bring about meaningful changes to clean up and reclaim the neighborhood.
This brought about “Independence Day, ” the residents proclaimed as they held a block party to celebrate a one-year anniversary of the Drew Street takedown. The neighborhood had been liberated from fear and terror that had been created by the Avenues gang.
Even with the celebration, however, there was more for authorities to do. A second and more wide-ranging attack began on the Avenues gang, culminating in an operation that targeted the gang as a whole.
The 2008 murder of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante by Avenues gang members brought a concerted effort from the United States Attorney’s Office and the LAPD to end the gang violence. They put together a task force with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, creating a team to combat the problem of gang violence.
As a result of team efforts, and the task force cooperation with the community, a second racketeering indictment charged 88 Avenues members and associates.
The task force continues to develop comprehensive strategies to secure the safety of the citizens of northeast Los Angeles.