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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Mean streets of Los Angeles
LA street riot
The streets of LA erupt after a basketball match
By David Willis in Los Angeles

In six weeks' time, Los Angeles will host the Democratic Party's national convention, when Al Gore will formally be anointed as the party's candidate for president.

Thousands of delegates and media will be present, as well as hundreds of demonstrators.

But for the moment, the attention of the city is focused on it own soaring crime rates.

Every one of those kids is just dying to die. They go into an enemy's territory not so much to kill, but in the sure hope that they will catch a bullet and die

Father Gregory Boyle

There have been more than 60 murders in just eight weeks. The victims have included the police chief's granddaughter, who was shot dead near a fast food restaurant.

With police resources stretched to their limit, the fear now is that the gangs could take advantage of the Democratic Party convention to step up their street warfare - and that more innocent people could get caught in the middle.

Death wish

On the run-down streets of the East Side, police attend another drive-by shooting. Two women weep as a teenager's bullet-ridden body is placed on a stretcher.

Shot in the back as he walked down the street, the young man was a member of one of LA's most notorious gangs.

It is an all-too familiar occurrence. There are said to be nearly 65,000 gang members in this city, and their feuding over territory and drugs is on the increase.
Police resources are stretched to their limit

Father Gregory Boyle, who works with gang members in the hope of rehabilitating them, says many of the gang members don't want to live.

"Every one of those kids is just dying to die. They go into an enemy's territory not so much to kill, but in the sure hope that they will catch a bullet and die," he says.

"It's the urban poor's version of teenage suicide. They think of being put out of their misery and that they really don't want to live."

A growing number of young people are fulfilling that wish.

Chino is shaven-headed and lavishly tattooed. He grew up in one of the poorest inner-city areas and says he joined a gang simply because he wanted to fit in.

He told me he had lost many of his friends in the escalating war on the streets.

A lot of gang members were used to getting beaten up two or three times a week by the police

Harado Lopez

Most of the gang members who are killed are victims of drive-by shootings, he says.

But something is different. Now innocent people are being drawn in.

Among those caught in the crossfire was 20-year-old Laurie Gonzalez, granddaughter of the Los Angeles police chief, Bernard Parks.

Police involvement

Her car was caught in a hail of bullets which it is thought were intended for someone else. Laurie died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Police spokesman Lieutenant Horace Frank says her death has brought home to everyone the extent of the problem.

"Anytime something like that happens, it's tragic and it hurts a lot," Mr Frank says.

"When it happens to our chief of police, it certainly hits home. It really intensifies our efforts as a department to truly go out after gang members and to cut that gang activity in the city of Los Angeles. The lines between right and wrong became fuzzy and indistinct."

In a Los Angeles courthouse, a handcuffed police officer bares his soul.

Rafael Peres was once a senior member of the LAPD anti-gang unit.

After being arrested for reselling seized drugs, he agreed to give evidence against his former colleagues in return for a lesser sentence.


He told how fellow officers routinely planted evidence, beat up and occasionally killed people they believed were gang members.

As a result of his evidence, more than 80 convictions have since been overturned.

Yet community welfare groups say many of the bad old practices still prevail.

One of those groups, Homeze Junidos, which aims to get gang members off the streets, is now seeking an injunction to stop the police from harassing gang members.

Its leader, Harado Lopez, says the police behave like a gang with the law on their side.

"A lot of gang members were used to getting beaten up two or three times a week and they didn't believe there was no harm in that. 'Hey I just got beat up by the cops, no problem'," Mr Lopez says.

"But we teach them their rights. That's what the cops are most afraid of - that these gang members will get to know their rights."

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Basketball hooligans mar LA glory
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