Friday, February 16, 2007

Today's LA Times carries a story about the legendary Ramona Gardens Housing Project, also known historically as Big Hazard or Hazard Grande. It's your typical piece about the residents being stuck between a rock and a hard place - gangsters on one side and the cops on the other. What prompted the story was the recent death of Mauricio Cornejo, a resident of Ramona who died while in police custody. The cops are under suspicion that they beat the guy to death but the prelim autopsy doesn't show evidence of blunt force trauma. So we'll have to wait to see the cause and manner of death in the final Coroner's report.

The Times piece leaves a lot to be desired for those hungry for information and context. There's a little timeline at the end of the piece that's titled, A History of Tensions. This "history" is way short of definitive. There are only three items in that "history." So for the benefit of the reading public, here's what you're not getting from our leading urban newspaper.

For decades, Hazard was an R&R stop for paroled felons, even if they didn't originally come from that neighborhood. It was a place where the newly returned decompressed, kicked back and got their marching orders. Hazard had an on-and-off relationship with the Carnales. Some Hazard alumni include "Charlie Brown" Manriquez, "Sluggo" Pineda, Manuel "Rocky" Luna, Roy "Sonny B" Balesteros, Daniel "Danny Boy" Pina and Richard "Chico" Cruz. This is not a definitive list by any means, but noteworthy players.

Some of these names are still in good standing while others have met their end for various transgressions.

Charlie Brown, Rocky and Sluggo all went down. Rocky was a tecato collecting without authority and allegedly consulted with Edward Olmos in American Me. Charlie Brown apparently got his for also consulting on the film. Sluggo was found near the train tracks stabbed 40 times with a screwdriver and his throat ripped open with a torn up beer can.

In February 1992, Juan "China Boy" Arias (from Artesia) and David "Smilon" Gallardo got into a big shootout right in the middle of the projects over Hazard's failure to regulate four of their own. Taxation and all that. Arias took one in the chest but survived and Smilon was arrested soon after in Vegas. Both of them were rolled up in RICO case number one in 1995.

Then on May 13, 1992, Ana Lizarraga was machine gunned on Lancaster by Jose "Joker" Gonzalez. Joker claimed Hazard. Lizarraga in her own way also claimed Hazard as a gang intervention and drug rehab worker. She too allegedly consulted with Olmos on the film. A year later, Joker was sentenced to life for her murder and is apparently still in up status.

Now you know, so there you go. You'd think with all the resources at the Times they could maybe dig a little deeper.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

It appears the LAPD is making good on its promise to bring down the hammer. Last week Chief Bratton and the Mayor released its list of the top eleven gangs targeted for suppression and a list of Most Wanted fugitives. Yesterday, they put teeth into the initiative by scooping up 110 suspects in the San Fernando Valley and arresting 64 of them on various charges. According to the Daily News, there's a 50-member Task Force roaming the Valley and that's the entity responsible for these arrests.

Careful readers of the gang initiative will realize that the gangs they swooped in on yesterday - notably Blythe and Van Nuys - are NOT on the list of top eleven gangs. So what's the story?

If history is any indicator, the people scooped up yesterday are the easy fish. The point is to get these guys off the street and in front of investigators who will probably press them for information. Out of any population of recently arrested, you will invariably bag a few who are looking at a second or maybe even a third strike. Those are the folks more likely to give up a little information in exchange for certain considerations.

That information of itself isn't all that useful. But what it does is provide enough probable cause for a judge to agree to wiretaps and other forms of surveillance to go after the shot callers and multi-jurisdictional operators. Keep in mind that the Valley Task Force includes Federal agents. The Federales have a lower threshold than local judges for obtaining wiretap orders. Not to mention more money for assigning bodies and using better gear.

The track record for this type of Federal and local cooperation is spectacularly good. Diligent students will recall the three big RICO cases of the mid and late 1990s that started precisely with this scenario. Sweeps of the low hanging fruit that yielded intel followed by surveillance and ultimately followed by Federal indictments.

Just to round things out, another sweep took place further east in Chino Hills, Fontana, Bassett, West Valinda, Pomona and West Covina. The sweep netted six arrestees, dope, guns and over $30K in cash. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A round of interesting comments from some of the more thoughtful commenters set me off on a train of thought. The question bouncing back and forth addresses the issue of street shootings involving non-players and civilians. I was going to post some thoughts on the LA Times' recent addition of a Homicide Blog to its web page. This is a good idea that's been long overdue. It was something I wanted to do here, but as a one-man-band lacking the resources of the Tribune empire, it was beyond reach. The Homicide Blog, as some readers have pointed out, underscores the vile nature of kids shooting kids based on the question to which there is no correct answer - "Where you from?"

The son of an old friend of mine was shot and killed in front of a movie theater ten years ago after two guys rolled up on him and his girlfriend and asked that infamous question. The kid said, "I don't bang." It was the last thing he ever said. Trust me. I watched this kid grow up. He learned to swim in my pool, I cooked him and his friends burgers and we watched my Monty Python videos. He didn't know one end of a gun from the other and he was walking the straight and narrow.

His girlfriend said that when the two guys pointed the gun, he didn't run. He threw himself on the girl and they back shot him. Not real sporting. It doesn't take much courage to shoot an unarmed non-player in the back. It takes even less to shoot girls in Highland Park or Harbor. Ultimately, it's this type of episode that has finally motivated our politicians and law enforcers to bring out the heavy hammer and start using it. Even Barbara Boxer is calling for a nationwide anti-gang Task Force. And she wants enforcement, not midnight basketball.

My sense is, if you want to play at being a gunslinger, go find another gunslinger to play with. Don't ruin innocent lives and shoot the defenseless. That's not courage. It's slaughter and it brings shame, not respect.

When Jimmy "Character" Palma shot and killed the 5-year-old and 9-month-old Moreno children after he took care of Tito Aguirre and Lido Moreno, the Brothers had no stomach for that. Character got his in SQ as soon as they could get their hands on him. The outrage over killing innocents obviously isn't reserved strictly for the law abiding. Unfortunately, that message isn't being sufficiently enforced.

In the old days, some people invented logical ways of dealing with personal or factional enemies. In Europe, they even published books and manuals on how to do it right -- the Code Duello. They met at dawn with loaded pistols and settled problems face to face at 25 paces. May the best man win.

According to those old manuals, the choice of weapons was up to the challenger. It was guns, knives, swords or whatever. One of the wierdest duels ever took place inside a moving horse-drawn coach. The challenger chose knives and the opponent accepted. The terms were that the two would climb in and stab it out for the length of time it took the coach to circle a small park.

The coach went around once and stopped. Neither of the bloodied combatants had achieved satisfaction, so they went around once more. Second time around, still no satisfaction. So they went around a third time. At the end of the third trip, both parties had bled out and died. Sure it's crazy, but hey, it was their beef and they both had the courage to handle it mano a mano.

You've got to at least respect them for settling it man to man and having the brass balls to do it without dragging innocent people into their problem.

In the not too distant past, cowboys handled their business at high noon on Main Street with Peacemakers. First hit wins the fight. They had terms like "Bushwacker" for those who didn't handle their business correctly and the citizens strung them up not so much for killing, but for not doing it right.

So you have to ask yourself, is it possible that pasty aristocrats in frilly shirts and powdered wigs had more balls than a backshooting gangster who takes out people who have no part in a neighborhood or personal beef? Just something to think about.