Washington’s Long Beach neighborhood struggles to shake off violence – Press Telegram
Iris Ornelas didn’t feel safe growing up in Washington’s Long Beach neighborhood.
Sometimes drug dealers and prostitutes were walking around, she recalls. Sometimes strangers would watch her in the alley that bordered her garden, where she and her younger brother were playing soccer. She didn’t like going to the store or anywhere on her own.
Yet, said Ornelas, 34, she doesn’t remember much violence.
But now she often hears gunshots, she said, and sees headlines about people injured or killed near her home.
She is afraid to go out in front to water her lawn.
“In addition to gang violence, there is a lot going on in our neighborhood,” she said. “Which is sad, because it is a good place to live; we could prosper.
“We have a beautiful park, but the kids don’t feel safe there – they can’t go to college feeling safe, they can’t walk around. “
Police say they have one of the highest gun assault rates in town, in part because of gangs.
In response to the increase in violence, in a pilot A program called Neighborhood Walks, police took to the streets and spoke to residents to improve their relationships from early March to May 1.
The agents mixed the hours and days of the week to try to reach more people. The city’s Long Beach Activating Safe Communities program, run by the Department of Health, was also launched in Washington, with the goal of increasing programs for youth and connecting residents to social services.
The goal: to reduce armed violence by 20%.
“My heart falls every time I hear (gunshots) through my window,” said City Councilor Mary Zendejas, who represents the neighborhood and lives just south of Willmore.
“Historically, there has always been violent crime in the district, and there has always been an opportunity to try to stop it,” the city councilor said. “But we don’t know why this keeps happening – we need to keep delivering programs that we think will help.
“I believe that young people had to choose a life of violent crime because there was no other opportunity available to them,” Zendejas said. “I hope that through programming and other things, like providing resources to this neighborhood, we can provide opportunities. “
Washington is bordered by the Los Angeles River Canal, Long Beach Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, and Anaheim Street. About 9,000 people live here, according to the US census.
Washington is largely two-story apartment complexes and single-family homes with a few restaurants, gas stations, and liquor stores on the thoroughfares that line it. Some warehouses and other businesses are clustering on the western outskirts. A few parks are scattered around, with Washington Middle School sitting near the middle.
Recently, about 20 young people rode in the skatepark on 14th Street while a handful of the little ones played in a nearby playground. A few people washed the cars, took out the trash or went for a walk.
A estimated at 8.7% of residents own property, compared to 40% for Long Beach as a whole, according to city data. The median household income level is $ 28,700, almost half that of the rest of the city, said Ana Lopez, who works for the Long Beach health department.
In 2020, violent crime increased overall in the city, perhaps in part because of the pandemic, with aggravated assaults jumping 19% from 2019. 42% bump.
“During our normal shifts, it’s more like responding to crime, going out and calling because it’s a busy area,” said Officer E. Alvarez, whose patrol pace includes Washington, during a neighborhood walk. “It’s an opportunity for us to slow down, not exactly to deal with the ongoing crimes but just to talk to the community.”
Residents and officers spoke about issues like graffiti and homelessness, she said, “instead of just reacting.”
“In the past, we had issues where they didn’t want to talk to us or tell us what had happened or give us a statement if they had witnessed a crime,” Alvarez said. “Just because they’re afraid.”
From March 5, when the program started, to mid-April, the number of shootings reported by Washington fell 40%, Chief Robert Luna said. (This was the most updated statistic available).
When the neighborhood walks ended in Washington on May 1, they continued in North Long Beach until August. Subsequently, the police department will examine the future of neighborhood walks.
Robin Garcia rents a quadruplex on avenue Magnolia and lived in the building in 2018. She is part of the neighborhood association and often comes to her building to do maintenance.
“It was livable, it’s nice,” she says. “The ice cream truck would pass, the families would come out, the children would play. I really didn’t have much of a problem until the guns were stuffed.
She said she had witnessed three shootings. A person was shot dead in his driveway a few years ago – he didn’t see this one.
“I can’t say I’ve seen the direct benefits of these programs firsthand, but I know these things take time,” she said. “Personally, I find it disappointing that we don’t have a clear plan because it’s going to take time – we should have had something in place yesterday. …
“It’s not an overnight problem,” she said. “These are generations and generations of gang issues. … No one deserves to live like this, with bullet holes in buildings and cars.
“I think it’s a wonderful community, full of hard working people who are just trying to enjoy some peace. I’m still trying to think of the missing link to pushing this community – but it seems the city is putting a lot of resources into place, like it’s a band-aid. But we have systemic issues that need to be addressed with long term plans – I don’t know what the answer is, and that’s where we are.
Yes, the police neighborhood walks are gone, at least for now, but the Department of Health’s program has remained in place. He wants to reunite troubled children with counselors or life coaches, in addition to partnering with Pacific Gateway, a placement agency in Long Beach, to help people find jobs.
Activating Safe Communities hopes to dig a little deeper into the community.
“What often happens is that if a person gets shot, they go to the hospital but we don’t know what happens after that,” said Lopez, the community impact officer. “(Now), we will see what is going on in their families, learn how to support them and the outreach team will try to defuse (any tension).
The membership of the Washington Neighborhood Association has increased. There have been community cleanups and other events, with the mitigation of the coronavirus pandemic providing more opportunities.
“We can’t stop a bullet,” said Ornelas, the 34-year-old who grew up here in Washington. “But there is more to the act of cleaning up, it helped in a way to counteract this negativity of crime.”
“It’s about showing that there are also good things and trying to keep morale up. “