About 400 people took part last Saturday in an annual march that has for the last six years attempted to unite people in Northeast Los Angeles in the fight to end violence.
Participants in the 6th Annual Northeast Peace Walk, which made its way down Figueroa Street in Highland Park, chanted and prayed for peace in the community where high rates of gang violence and senseless gang-related murders were at one time the norm.
Despite the sun beating down and near record heat, local church groups, families, students, elected officials and local police, and a contingent of mothers who had lost a child to violence, walked the 10-block route from the Highland Park’s Recreation Center on Avenue 61 to Avenue 51, chanting “Peace in the Northeast.”
They tried along the way to capture the attention of the people standing on the sidewalks and in cars passing by, at times pointing to the messages of peace printed on the signs they carried. Drivers honked their horns as a sign of support.
LAPD Commander William A. Murphy, Sen. Kevin De Leon, Councilman Ed Reyes, LAPD Northeast Division Capt. Jeff Bert and council hopefuls Gil Cedillo and Jose Gardea led the walk down Figueroa Avenue and up Monte Vista street.
Six years ago, when Commander Murphy was captain of the Northeast Division he suggested holding a peace walk to bring the community together, Capt. Bert told EGP.
“When we were in the throws of some of the worst gang violence in the city Murphy tried to do something off everyone’s radar,” Bert told EGP. “He said, ‘lets do a peace march and have the police right in the middle of it.’”
According to Bert, pockets of LAPD’s Northeast division previously led the city of Los Angeles in gang violence. A sheriff’s deputy living in Cypress Park was killed during that time.
During Saturday’s opening ceremony, Councilman Reyes spoke about growing up in the area and experiencing the “mean side,” and how he avoided being swept up in it.
“You are here today to show everyone that we can promote change, we can make a difference and there is hope,” Reyes told the participants. “There are many examples here of folks who overcame many of these challenges and are now living a brighter life,” he said.
Elysian Valley resident Adela Padernal attended the march to support women who like her have had a child taken away by violence.
“I’m here standing strong to help the other women that don’t speak up,” she said. “I want peace to come and for violence to go away.”
The walk, which also included a safety resource fair, music and food, has grown over the years. At the same time, according to Bert, there has been a drop in violent crimes.
The division now has the lowest violent crime rate and the best violent reduction rate in Los Angeles, said Bert. Year to date, the northeast division has seen a 26 percent decrease in violent crimes like rape, murder, aggravated assaults and gang-related crimes. The drop is significantly higher than the city average of 16 percent.
“We’ve arrested a lot of people and we will continue arresting people who commit crimes, but our approach in the last six years has been so much more holistic,” Bert said.
He said the process to reduce violence and crime now includes more prevention, intervention and involvement from the community. Local groups are helping people in the community get jobs, and to help local youth find a path that does not involve joining a gang.
“Yes we arrested a lot of bad guys, a lot of gang members … but we’re here because this is what drives down crime. What drives down crime is people from the community saying that I trust the police and I’m going to lean on them when I need to,” Bert said.
Sen. De Leon told the crowd that the peace march was a way to show the children of the community that they deserve an opportunity to succeed.
“It’s up to us to come together and tell our children you count, you deserve this respect and dignity and you deserve to respect yourself,” he said. “We have to give every child an opportunity to go to Cal State LA or UCLA, instead of Pelican Bay [Prison].”
Eficia Garcia — whose son was murdered in 2009 and profiled last week by EGP — made good on her promise to attend the Peace Walk. She joined other mothers in prayer and the releasing of white doves, a symbol of peace in the community.
“We want peace, we don’t want violence here or anywhere,” she said in Spanish. “Because here we are, still suffering because of these kinds of violent acts.”