Tag Archives: Glassell Park

Is This How Gangs End?

I’m very proud of my cover story in the January’s edition of Pacific Standard Magazine about the decline of gang violence and gang presence in Southern California.gangs-illo

I’ve been watching this phenomenon quietly unfold for several years. It amounts to a revolution in criminal behavior in the region that essentially invented the modern street gang, then exported it to much of America.

It’s not necessarily to say that, literally, all gangs have stopped existing, though some have. Rather, it’s to say that their behavior is so much more underground, low-profile, so quiet, that it amounts to about the same thing for many working-class neighborhoods that were besieged by these guys for so long. Some are still active but none is as active as gangs were a decade or two ago.

These were truly street gangs, meaning they took their power, identity and reputation from their streets and how well they “defended” them.

Areas like Drew Street, mentioned in the piece, are now seeing a resurgence that was denied them for many years due to the stifling presence of their local gangs.

Anyway, I hope you like the piece. Daily Beast selected it as one of the Best Longreads of the Week – so that was nice….Let me know what you think, please.



Filed under California, Gangs, Los Angeles, Southern California

GANGS: Drew Street acting up?

Drew Street, the once-scary two blocks into which the city of LA has poured enormous resources to reverse a serious gang and drug problem, shows a few signs of reverting to old ways.

A shooting on the street, followed by two others in a rival gang neighborhood, yesterday. A month ago, a Drew Streeter chased a black family down the street with a shotgun; the family left the area immediately. In December, a murder of a Drew Street gang member.

Of course, that would have been a couple days mayhem a few years back. That all of this is noteworthy is a sign of how far the street in Glassell Park, abutting the Forest Lawn cemetery, has come.  Over the last three years, there were major sweeps, prosecutions, the razing of a notorious house, with a community garden in its place. Now, no drug bazaar, no kids in hoodies lurking by cars, very little graffiti.

(Most of the folks on the street are from the town of Tlalchapa, Guerrero, a part of the notoriously violent Tierra Caliente region. Here’s my story in the LA Times about the street’s fascinating history.)

Still, talking with some folks on the street, they seem to see a more brazen attitude among the little gangbangers who remain. Could be a good story, but first I want to talk to the cops about it all, which I wasn’t able to do today. Hoping to do so on Monday.


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Filed under Gangs

GANGS: Where’d all the gangs go? pt. II


I spent some time today on Drew Street in the Glassell Park neighborhood in northeast LA.

This three three-block stretch was once one of the most dangerous spots in the city. It was essentially a closed society, and had as much to do with a Mexican village as with LA itself. It was inhabited by dozens of families from the town of Tlalchapa, Guerrero in the Tierra Caliente, a particularly violent part of southern Mexico.

Drew was the landing strip for immigrants from Tlalchapa, but even back in the town, Drew came to be known as the “Barrio Bajo” (the Low Neighborhood), as all those with aspirations came and left, leaving behind those with other intentions.

A few in particular grew up to run the drug trade on the street and their children grew into gang members. By the middle of the last decade, Drew Street was like a garrison state in some ways, where the folks on the street ran things, dense apartments provided places to hide and watch for police, and no one could move in who didn’t have some connection to the gang families in the area. (I know one person who had his rent money refunded by the gang to get him to move.) One family in particular was the shot-caller: the Leon-Reals, and especially the matriarch, Maria “La Chata” Leon.

I wrote about the family and the street after one of the family members, Danny Leon, was killed in a shootout with cops in 2008.

In the following years, the gang on Drew Street was the focus of a RICO indictment and a gang injunction. Many went to prison, including La Chata. One of the Leon Reals, Francisco, turned state’s evidence. The city seized several properties and, in an attempt at a kind of exorcism, destroyed La Chata’s house, which had a large satellite dish and was thus known as the Satellite House. It’s now a community garden.

Things are very different now on Drew. The gang still has some presence – it writes on trees and sidewalks, but by and large things are quiet, even sweet, on Drew.

Adan, an ice cream vendor, says he hasn’t had any trouble in the three years he’s been driving the street. The community garden seems full. There are no kids in hoodies lurking by the cars. The major apartment buildings are without graffiti.

I spoke with Ignacio Ramirez, who bought in 1968 and watched as the street descended into hell. He woke up to a body one morning, and a bullet hole in his door another.

He now owns four properties on Drew, even buying one of the houses the city seized due to drug activity.

“It’s getting there,” he said.

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Filed under Drugs, Gangs, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants