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Post  Drop Out on Tue May 13, 2008 5:54 pm


From a window in her north Pomona home, Melba Robison sees a neighborhood transformed.

New homes are springing up across the intersection, and before long, young families will be moving in.

But when she shifts her gaze - looking not through the glass but at it - a jagged hole near the glass' lower edge reminds her of darker days.

Sixteen years ago, a bullet went through the window, just above her oldest grandson's bed, lodging itself somewhere on the other side of the room.

Violence and drug dealing were common then, and gang members who had taken over a nearby park left children nowhere to play.

The misshapen dime-sized hole remains in the glass to this day.

"The neighborhood is going to go back to the way it was if we don't stay on top of it," Robison said. "I don't think we'll really ever have many gangs or drugs, but we don't want any."

Robison's neighborhood has been more fortunate than many in Pomona, where gangs and the battle to check them goes back decades.

Gangs in Pomona have claimed the lives of hundreds - 50 in the last five years - and ravaged the futures of uncounted others.

Police and community activists, sharing purpose but lacking a unified strategy, have celebrated few successes, and the city's gangs remain omnipresent.

Nonprofit agencies and school programs work just as hard to keep their funding as they do to spare the city's youth.

Meanwhile, city leaders, who neglected entire portions of the city, for decades have wavered in their commitment to funding the fight, squabbled over its priority and at times even dumped fuel on the fire - naming two city parks after rival gangs who claimed the land as territory.

Though police call the current situation manageable, saying the worst years of gang violence have passed, the fatal shooting of a California Highway Patrol officer outside Pomona Superior Court in April by an alleged aspiring gang member is a jarring reminder that the problem persists and - barring major and long-term changes - will continue to threaten future generations.

"It's not like you can go and define a single program that can do away with gangs," said Pomona Councilwoman Paula Lantz. "It's a sociological problem that has to do with generations, that has to do with culture, that has to do with parenting."

Humble roots

Pomona in the late 1940s was a sprawling citrus town where segregation thrived between whites and a growing Hispanic population.

At a time when most people didn't know what a gang was, a group of young Latinos faced with prejudice and disparity began calling themselves "Sharkies."

Not quite dangerous, but not exactly innocuous, the Sharkies claimed south Pomona as their own, taking on the name "Pomona 12th Street" when numbered street signs sprouted on the east-west roads in front of their modest single-story homes.

Other gangs followed, provoking the kind of street fights seen in "Gang Boy," a little-known 1954 film based on a rivalry between white and Latino gangs in early 1950s Pomona.

The film, starring actual Pomona gang members, captures the gangs at their humble beginnings, along with some of the first police efforts to steer them straight.

In the film, after beefing up patrols in anticipation of a bloody brawl, police sit rival gang members down to work out their differences democratically. Not wanting the next generation of children to grow up "feeling inferior and unloved in an angry world," gang members denounce violence and call a truce.

"Since that truce day, there has not been one outbreak of group violence," a proud narrator reports at the film's end.

In fact, he says, the gangs have built a ballpark for the youth, volunteered for charities and collected food at Christmas to give to the needy.

"Here is the evidence of a small beginning, perhaps," the optimistic narrator suggests.

The peace did not last.

Sometime in the '50s or '60s - police haven't pinpointed just when - a sharp division arose between leading Sharkie families. While specifics of the dispute aren't clear, the conflict angered a faction of the gang enough to break ranks and form their own gang.

Thus was born Cherrieville, and with it, Pomona's most fierce and long-running gang rivalry.

In the years that followed, Pomona 12th Street and Cherrieville members frequently skirmished over territory and girls, ending up in hospitals and jail. They fought with fists, tire irons and, later, guns.

Pomona 12th Street had made a headquarters of sorts at Madison Park, which became popularly known as Sharkie Park. Cherrieville members made a hangout of a vacant lot on the west side, on Hamilton Boulevard.

Often innocent victims got in the middle of it. During his first night in the city in 1962, now-Mayor Eddie Cortez - then a tow truck driver and mechanic with a young family - heard a gun blast across the street from his new apartment in 12th Street's turf.

Some gang members had crashed a party and started a fight over a girl who switched boyfriends, he later learned.

As the '60s progressed, community members were learning they couldn't afford to ignore the city's gang problem.

Volunteers worked with schools and after-school programs to offer children better alternatives to gangs.

Future Councilman Willie White, sensing a disconnect between the city's youth and police, pushed for a junior police program at the YMCA. Young people enrolled in the academy got uniforms and - more importantly - a better relationship with officers. At first, the junior officers faced the ridicule of their peers, but the program caught on and would last for the better part of 20 years, White said.

Residents hired gang members for work projects, which brought the double benefit of cleaning up neighborhoods and giving gangs something productive to do.

Pomona police even sponsored a Cherrieville softball team, donating jerseys to teen gang members.

But still, the continuing violence grabbed headlines, and the rivaling Cherrieville and 12th Street cemented a reputation as the city's two major gangs.

Explosive growth

Memorial Day 1970 began with optimism.

For the third time in six weeks, warring 12th Street and Cherrieville members had arranged a "peace meeting" - this time for Sunday afternoon softball at Madison Park.

When two patrolmen came by to check on the gathering, the 50 to 75 gang members hanging out in the park had finished the ballgame and were drinking beer.

Beer, officers told the crowd, was not allowed at the park. Neither was parking on the grass, which many of the gang members had done.

When a second patrol car arrived, two more officers recognized a man in the crowd, Joseph Rivera, as being wanted on an old traffic warrant.

Before they could handcuff him, Rivera shoved them away and took off running into the crowd. Officers pursued, and after clubbing him over the shoulder with a night stick, knocked him to the ground.

A riot erupted. Gang members threw rocks, bottles and punches.

The mob grew to almost 300 people. The 20 to 25 policemen who eventually arrived arrested 29 before fleeing the park in fear of their lives, officers said at the time.

"If we had thought that the arrest of Rivera on a $302 traffic warrant was likely to touch off a riot, we would have skipped it and picked him up some other time," Police Sgt. Richard Hannibal said at the time.

But the damage had been done. As many as 500 angry protesters assembled outside police headquarters to protest the police tactics. Others set fire to trees and vacant lots all over south Pomona, keeping the Fire Department busy with 26 runs in 16 hours.

Nearly 300 law enforcement officers from across the region came in to disperse the crowd, arresting another 23 before things settled down around midnight.

The progress made between police and the Latino community in recent years was suddenly tattered, enraged protesters said in the ensuing week.

"That rapport is gone today," said David Ochoa, a leader of La Raza Unida de Pomona, which had helped organize the softball game. "What happened last Sunday set it back at least 10 years."

It was a rocky start to a decade that would see the number of gangs in the city grow exponentially.

A perfect storm for a gang explosion had brewed five years earlier with the six-day Watts riots in August 1965.

A massive layoff at Pomona's General Dynamics plant that same year meant affordable housing was readily available in Pomona, and black families looking for a new start saw opportunities for better lives.

But instead of escaping Los Angeles gangs, well-meaning parents transplanted the gang mentality.

Not long after the first Bloods and Crips gangs started forming in Los Angeles in late 1969, the Island Bloods sprung up in north Pomona and the Trey 57 Crips began to grow on the west side.

Latino students bullied at school by the black gangs banded together for protection, starting gangs of their own in the early '70s.

In the Angela-Chanslor neighborhood in south Pomona, a maze of alleyways and apartment buildings, an influx of new nationalities brought cultural conflict, said former Councilwoman Cristina Carrizosa. Crime that would plague the neighborhood's streets for decades began to set in.

"The one thing I could never figure out was why it wasn't abated at the time," said Carrizosa, who represented the area on the council from 1993 to 2002. "It was allowed to grow and grow and grow."

Around the time of the 1970 riot, city officials began looking to address the problem by expanding and upgrading the Sharkies' park and Cherrieville's vacant lot.

Design committees met to plan playgrounds and pinata poles, hoping to connect children with positive activities and show gang members people cared about their neighborhoods.

"That was one attempt, I think," said Mickey Gallivan, who served on the Sharkie Park Committee in 1971. "The feeling was if you gave these kids somewhere constructive to go, something constructive to do, you could reduce some of these antisocial behaviors."

The completed parks opened in 1973 and a year later won the city a design award and plaque from the state's Parks and Recreation Society.

But the parks continued to be a haven for violence where youth were recruited for drug dealing and passing officers were fired upon or targeted by rocks and bottles.

It didn't help when city officials unwittingly fueled the fire...

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Post  TumbleWeed on Tue May 13, 2008 6:43 pm

This is an old article, from the Inland Valley bulletin I think it was called. But good read nonetheless.

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