‘Summer Night Lights’ Season Arrives
Summer Night Lights program now at eight more sites, including Highland Park and Lou Costello Jr. Rec. Centers.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
Over 200 young people employed as “Youth Squad” staff members for the Summer Night Lights program gathered at the Highland Park Recreation Center on Monday to kick-off the third year of Los Angeles’ gang prevention and intervention program.
The Highland Park facility and the Costello Recreation Center, located between Wyvernwood Garden Apartments and Estrada Courts Public Housing in Boyle Heights, are two of several new centers chosen to participate in the program that will keep parks open until midnight this summer.
Eight new locations have been added this year citywide, increasing the number of sites from 16 to 24. The program provides sports and recreational activities aimed at luring youths away from gangs during the summer months when, according to law enforcement officials, crime usually peaks.
City officials said the new sites were chosen because they are in high-crime areas.
Los Angeles Councilmember Ed P. Reyes (CD-1) represents Highland Park said that while the neighborhood could have used the Summer Night Lights program in the past, the need is even greater this year.
In March 2009, two Franklin High School students were fatally shot while standing on the sidewalk adjacent to the Highland Park Rec. Center and the city library, right by the bus stop, Reyes recalled. The accused shooter, also a teenager, was a known Dogtown gang member, according to police.
Reyes anticipates more gang violence may occur this summer due to the early release of prisoners.
“A lot of the guys from Dogtown came back out, guys from the Avenues. And so the sweeps of the Avenues left a void and now Dogtown wants to come in, and so there’s an intense struggle for control,” Reyes told EGP, noting that the early releases started about two months ago.
According to the program’s director, Guillermo Cespedes, in 2008, the program’s first year, crime in the areas where the program was implemented dropped 17 percent. In 2009, crime dropped 11 percent.
“Statistically [it] continues to show that the program is effective,” Cespedes said.
LA Police Chief Charlie Beck on Monday echoed Cespedes’ assessment of the program.
“Three years ago when the Mayor, Guillermo [Cespedes], Jeff Carr and I started talking about Summer Night Lights it was just a dream,” Beck said. “To keep our parks open during our peak crime months staffed with police officers, intervention workers and youth squad working hand-in-hand to keep the parks full with good activities and a positive impact on everybody’s lives, it’s just a dream. And every year that dream has expanded and every year Los Angeles has been safer because of it.”
The program started in 2008 and was modeled after LA Council President Eric Garcetti’s “At the Park After Dark” program in Glassell Park, which began in 2007 and quickly showed a decrease in gang violence in the area. In 2008, the program won national recognition.
The original program was launched after a teenage girl was shot in the back and killed while walking with her boyfriend in their neighborhood at dusk, Garcetti (CD-13) said. Opening the park after-hours, and offering a variety of activities for young people and families offers an alternative to gang involvement, and an opportunity for the most at-risk young people to have a fun, safe summer and make a lasting impression on their neighborhoods, Garcetti said.
“What you all will take from this summer… is not necessarily the specific program you did or even the skills you’ll learn, but the relationships that you will form, relationships that will allow you to stop the violence once and for all, that seize the opportunities and the hope that you have and that transforms this city,” Garcetti told the Youth Squad members on Monday.
“That’s what ‘At the Park After Dark’ was all about and that’s what ‘Summer Night Lights’ has become. So bless you all for being a part of that change, thank you for making sure that you’re the ones saving lives on the front lines, and thank you to this team for supporting all the work that the youth will do,” he said.
In Garcetti’s district, the program has been expanded to Lake Street Park in the Westlake area for the first time, according to the councilman’s spokesperson, Yusef Robb.
The program is credited with helping make last year’s summer the safest summer in 40 years, according to city officials.
The summer program has each year included on-site gang-interventionists. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday that certified interventionists from the “Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy’s” first graduating class will participate in the program to provide crisis management after a gang shooting, negotiate cease-fires, and reconcile rival gangs.
Councilmember Jose Huizar (CD-14) said that while some of the young people who participated last year at Ramon Garcia and Ramona Gardens in his district were gang members, and tensions did rise from time-to-time, the vast majority of participants benefited from the program.
“At any program like this there’s going to be some challenges,” Huizar told EGP, adding that fights were not regular occurrences at the parks. “There may be fights but they’re minimal compared to the overall benefits of the program.”
The nature of the fight determines the response, according to the program’s director.
“What we’re trying to do is to prevent this escalating from a fight to a homicide,” Cespedes said. “So … depending on the severity… we do expel them, or arrest them.”
Youth squad members were reminded Monday that they are role models, and that by giving back to their neighborhoods they are offering their peers, as Reyes said, “an option and an opportunity.”
Similarly, Huizar encouraged young people in general to “take advantage of this opportunity and any second chance you get.”
Summer Night Lights opens officially at all 24 locations on Wednesday, July 7. Park hours will be expanded to midnight every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Sept. 4.
SNL programming will be held at the following parks: Cypress, Glassell, Lemon Grove, Highland Park, Ramon Garcia, Ramona Gardens, Lake Street, Hubert Humphrey, Imperial Courts, Jackie Tatum Harvard, Jim Gilliam, Jordan Downs, Mt. Carmel, Nickerson Gardens, Ross Snyder, Sepulveda, Costello, Delano, Normandale, Van Ness, Martin Luther King, Slauson, South and Valley Plaza.
More than two-dozen corporations and charitable foundations, such as the Wells Fargo Foundation, The California Wellness Foundation, California Endowment, Union Bank and others are financially supporting the program.
For more information, visithttp://mayor.lacity.org/Issues/GangReduction/SummerNightLights.Print This Post
July 1, 2010 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.