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Pinoy Abroad

FilAms in crossfire as LA gang violence rages

April 11, 2008 8:11pm
LOS ANGELES - Last year, four Filipinos—Fermin Pagaling, Benjamin Abella, Emanuel Valenciano, and Severa Madrona—met gruesome deaths in the streets of this city, where gang-related crimes infest neighborhoods in staggering frequency.

Pagaling, 56, was stabbed to death at 503 W. 209th St under broad morning light on January 3.

Two weeks after, on January 15, 55-year-old Abella, was shot in the head on the westbound 60 Freeway near Indiana Street in City Terrace.

Eight days later, Valenciano, only 22, was stabbed repeatedly in an alley at 1322 S. 5th Ave. in Midtown.

In the morning of September 18, Severa Madrona, a 76-year-old woman, was beaten to death at the intersection of Eriel Avenue and 152nd Place in Gardena.

Two weeks ago, Latino and black families mourn new casualties of gang-related violence.
Sgt. Anita Shaw returned from her second tour in Iraq to bury her 17-year-old son, Jamiel. Anthony Escobar, 13, was shot and killed picking lemons for dinner. Lavareay Elzy, 6, fights for his life, shot in the head while riding in his family’s SUV.

A recent report by CBS and the “Los Angeles Times" says that 80,000 gang members—mostly blacks and Latinos—proliferate this city of nearly four million people of diverse ethnicities.

Almost 75 percent of youth gang homicides in California have occurred in LA County, according to Connie Rice, author of the study “A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to L.A.’s Gang Violence Epidemic."

The face of gang members taking over the streets is also diversifying. While black and Latino gangs—notably, the Crips, Bloods, Mara 18, Avenues, and Florencia, 13—lord it over in most blocks, other gangs from other ethnicities chime in.

Caucasian, Pacific Islander, and Asian gangs—including splintered Filipinos in Carson, Glendale, Eagle Rock, Panorama City, San Fernando Valley, Rowland Heights, West Covina, Cerritos, and Lakewood—fight for either turf supremacy, cultural identity, economic/territorial power, or plain-and-simple life and limb protection.

The most identifiable Filipino gangs in the county include Akhro Pinoy, Satanas, and remnants of Bahala Na Gang, Batang City Jail, Oxo, and Sigue-Sigue Sputnik.

“Gang violence has always been a major problem in LA County," Joel F. Jacinto, executive director of the non-profit Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (Sipa) told Philippine News. “And it has always been present in the Filipino community, especially that we are one of the biggest communities here."

Located in Historic Filipinotown and founded in 1972, Sipa provides health and human services as well as community economic development programs to the now diverse, multi-ethnic youth and families residing in the area as well as Filipino Americans all over Los Angeles County.

“For 36 years now, we have worked with families so that we could help youths especially lead a gang-free and non-violent lifestyle," Jacinto adds. “Early intervention is utmost since we believe that gangs are a continuum of delinquency, it all starts with barkadahan. We offer certain programs as alternatives since gangs, in a way, provide misguided individuals certain emotional security as well as economic means."

One of these alternatives is Lummis Day, northeast LA’s annual June festival, one of this city’s more popular community projects that Sipa participates in. Joma Santos, 23, a Filipino website designer in San Fernando Valley, found “positive distraction" through community projects that made him look at the more interesting aspects of LA’s multicultural charm than the disjointed virility of street violence.

“I thought guitar-playing was uncool," says Joma, who joined a gang in 2005 to protect himself from rival gangs. “But it didn’t take me long though to realize that gang life will only lead me to ruin."Francisco “Paco" de Jesus, 24, spews a masculine defiance.

“My Tito was a bosyo at the Manila City Jail," the Eagle Rock-based busboy boasts as he shows off an Oxo tattoo on his left shoulder. “Pinoy tayo, p’re. We should not allow others to treat us as trash."

Whatever the case, blood continues to spill as the young exalt and cling to a gang life’s fatal romance with macho street cred and survivor’s instinct. And while neighborhoods triple-lock doors, the police sounds an SOS.

The Department of Justice recently enacted a plan “to effectively fight and limit the impact of gang violence nationwide." This plan includes two primary elements: Prioritize prevention programs to provide America’s youth, as well as offenders returning to the community, with opportunities that help them resist gang involvement; and ensure robust enforcement policies when gang-related violence does occur.

These developed while the Filipino community’s Sipa, and other programs and organizations such as Gang and Violence Prevention Partnership, The California Wellness Foundation, Teens & Violence, Gang Out, and Let Our Violence End chip in their own efforts and dedication.

In the long run, these solutions may not suffice. “The Filipino Channel doesn’t move me," blurts Benjamin “BJ" Gomez, 17, Paco’s cousin, whose parents work a combined 120 hours a week and so he has a lot of time on his hands. “We gotta have some action." - Philippine News
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