Youth Respond to Officer-Involved Shootings

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

BOYLE HEIGHTS – An officer-involved shooting in Boyle Heights last week that claimed the life of a 14-year-old boy, sparking outrage by many in the eastside neighborhood, has also generated calls for greater investment in program and services for Los Angeles youth.

Dozens of members of the 23 nonprofits that make up the Boyle Heights for Youth Campaign at a press conference last Friday called on city officials to fund a department focused on youth development services citywide.

Standing at the Ross Valencia pocket park across from the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station and Boyle Heights City Hall, the group insisted that investing more city money in programs that keep young people on a productive path and off the streets is the key to reducing crime in the area.

Lou Calanche, executive director at Legacy LA and Boyle Heights for Youth – two groups dedicated to advocating for at-risk youth – told EGP that putting money into after school mentoring, homework help, workforce development, college support and other services targeted at supporting low-income young people is an investment in public safety.

Araceli Rodriguez, 17, talks about the benefits of youth services during a press conference in Boyle Heights last week. (Courtesy of Boyle Heights for Youth)

Araceli Rodriguez, 17, talks about the benefits of youth services during a press conference in Boyle Heights last week. (Courtesy of Boyle Heights for Youth)

Legacy LA, which serves youth in Boyle Heights and the Ramona Gardens Housing Development, strives to give young people an alternative to gangs and violence.

According to police, on Aug. 9, 14-year-old Jesse James Romero shot a handgun in the direction of police who were chasing him on foot in response to a report of vandalism involving “gang writing.”

“According to a witness, who saw the subject running from the officers, the witness saw the subject shoot a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers,” LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos said during a press conference the next day.

Arcos said the pursuing officers heard a gunshot as they approached a corner during the chase.

“As the officers rounded the corner, one of the officers became involved in an officer-involved shooting,” Arcos said, adding he could not say if the officer who shot Romero was under fire at the time the teen was shot.

According to the LA Times, however, another witness told the news outlet that she saw Romero pull a handgun from his waistband, throw it at a fence and when it hit the ground she heard the weapon fire.

A handgun was recovered from the scene. The investigation is “ongoing.”

It’s these types of tragedies Calanche says Legacy LA and Boyle Heights for Youth want to prevent.

After hearing about Romero’s shooting by police, Brown Beret member Robert Cristo, 24, said he felt compelled to attend Friday’s press conference.

“We were shocked and appalled,” Cristo said. “But this shooting is a clear example of the lack of youth development in the area” that too often leads to tragic outcomes for young people living in working class neighborhoods.

Several protests have been held in the wake of this most recent officer-involved shooting. Romero’s family is demanding justice and they dispute claims that he may have been involved with gangs.

At protest rallies and vigils, area activists decried what they call a rash of police-involved shootings of “Mexican-American youth in Boyle Heights.” Four other officer-involved shootings have taken place since February 2016, “and residents are angry and demanding an end to the police violence,” organizers of a protest rally Saturday at the Hollenbeck Police Station said.

For Calanche and others, the conversation should not just be about blame or whether the teen really had a gun.

“We should be talking about helping youth, not waiting for them to commit a crime,” she told EGP.

Cristo says communities like Boyle Heights that have a problem with gang violence need to deal with the “root of the problem,” which he boils down to a lack of opportunities and alternatives to gangs.

According to 2010 census data, an estimated 1 million people under the age of 24 live in Los Angeles. The City of L.A.’s budget allocates $42 million for youth programs and workforce development, nearly the same amount it spends on animal services, organizers of Friday’s press conference complained.

“The city [of Los Angeles] spends more on the zoos than it does on youth,” said a resentful Araceli Rodriguez, 19.

Nancy Flores believes the city’s budget reflects other priorities.

“With almost half of the city budget going to law enforcement, as a youth in the community, that says to me that we are not the priority to our city officials,” Flores said.

“It’s saying incarcerating us is more important than investing in programs to prevent us from cycling through the system.”

Participation in youth programs is the solution, says Rodriguez, who personally takes part in youth-oriented programs offered in Boyle Heights. But she’s quick to point out that many of her Garfield High School peers don’t have the same support.

A group of protestors ralied outside LAPD’s Hollenbeck station in the wake of an officer-involved shooting in Boyle Heights last week.

A group of protestors ralied outside LAPD’s Hollenbeck station in the wake of an officer-involved shooting in Boyle Heights last week. (Photo by Sol Marquez)

“A lot of youth in this area are first generation,” she said, acknowledging that many of “their parents can’t really help them with school or are busy working.”

Tragically, too often it’s the gangs that become mentors, Calanche lamented.

Rodriguez told EGP she hopes city officials come together and step in soon to turn things around.

“Everyone says that youth are the future, but the city of LA doesn’t invest in us, or our future.”

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August 18, 2016  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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