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Rising Fears; Racial Tensions; Homicide in Hollenbeck

Aired March 9, 2007 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here in Los Angeles, violent crime overall, except for robbery, has actually dropped over the past two years. But at the same time gang crime is rising. That's up 14 percent in the last year, with gangs responsible for the majority of murders here and nearly 70 percent of all the shootings.
Much of the violence now happens in neighborhoods where the racial mix has been changing over years, creating what are some are calling an explosive mixture of black and brown.

More now from CNN's Ted Rowlands.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Los Angeles street is a deadly symbol of a racial divide between blacks and Latinos.

DARREN BROWN, RESIDENT: We've been over here for 11 years. And I ain't never really crossed to 206th Street.

ROWLANDS: 206th Street is a dividing line. Darren Brown, who lives on 208th, says he and other African-Americans stay on one side, Latinos on the other. And if you cross, there can be trouble.

BROWN: If you do, you've got a death wish. They're going to take you out. They're going to kill you.

ROWLANDS: 14-year-old Cheryl Green was recently murdered along the 206th Street border. The suspects, both Latinos, are facing hate crime charges.

A week before Cheryl Green, it was 34-year-old Arturo Mercotto (ph) who was shot in his front yard. Police haven't made an arrest in that case, but Latinos are blaming blacks who they claim started this war by moving into the neighborhood about 15 years ago.

DEP. CHIEF CHARLES BECK, LAPD SOUTH: The dividing line is this street.

ROWLANDS: L.A. Assistant Police Chief Charles Beck blames much of the tension on a Latino gang called 204. He says the gang is motivated by hatred of blacks to the point that the gang's mission, according to the police, is to get African-Americans to leave the neighborhood.

These police photos show some of the gang's recent hate graffiti. This message says, move, followed by the "N" word.

BECK: This gang, in a very small area, with a very small membership, has managed to put itself at the very top of our enforcement priority because they target people based on race.

ROWLANDS: So why do these Latino gang members hate blacks? We talked to a 43-year-old Hispanic man who was questioned by police about the Cheryl Green murder. We can't show his face, but listen to some of the things he says about African-Americans in his neighborhood.

VOICE OF "MIKE", RESIDENT: I just wish they would leave and go wherever they got to go and just leave us the way we were and everything would be cool... We had a nice little, nice little community here and it's not nice anymore...because of them.

REPORTER QUESTION: What did they bring?

"MIKE": Ghetto-ism... they brought low life, just... they're dirty man..."


"MIKE": You guys know, man.

ROWLANDS: Black/brown tension isn't confined to gangs or this neighborhood. It's a problem in many cities, prisons and even some schools, where fights like this one last year in southern California have broken out between black and Latino students.

In Los Angeles itself, the tension has spilled into places likes Watts (ph) and Compton (ph), where competition for jobs and housing often pit the two ethnic groups against each other.

The 206th Street and its obvious climate of racial hate is the symbolic center of what some believe is a worsening problem. And until there's significant change, blacks and Latinos will most likely continue to stay on their own side of the street.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: Well, now the gangs in a small section of town just east of here. Nearly 7,000 gang members in a 15-square-mile area.

Recently, we spent time there. Our report's called, "Homicide in Hollenbeck." And as you'll see, the setting is deceptive.


COOPER (voice-over): At first glance, Hollenbeck is a vibrant, predominantly Latino community. Mom and pop stores, strong faith, rich traditions. But there is another side to Hollenbeck, often invisible to outsiders. A community cloaked in fear.

KIKI, GANG MEMBER: My name is Kiki. I'm from White Fence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another gang crosses out.

KIKI: A lot of people fear us. A lot of people hate us. Personally, I'd rather be feared, you know.

JAKE DUGGER, GANG ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, HOLLENBECK: My name is Jacob Dugger. I'm a gang enforcement officer for the Hollenbeck Division.

We are the ones that respond when innocent people fall victim to these gang members.

SOLEDAD BROCK, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Take care of my boys for me.

My name is Soledad Brock. My son Ronald Brock got killed February 2002. He was shot seven times.

COOPER: The LAPD's Hollenbeck Division covers fifteen square miles in the shadow of downtown Los Angeles. It's fertile ground for gangs. Nearly a third of the residents live in poverty, unemployment is twice the national rate.

Police say Hollenbeck has the highest concentration of gangs in all of Los Angeles.

(on camera): Police say Hollenbeck has the highest concentration of gangs in all of Los Angeles. They count 34 gangs here, with some 6,800 members and associates. You go to any street, any corner in Hollenbeck, and you'll find it's claimed by a gang.

DUGGER: East Lake Gang is directly below us.

COOPER (voice-over): Officer Jake Dugger has worked gangs for five years. He knows them all.

DUGGER: If I go around County General (ph) it will be State Street. North of us would be where me and my partner are. El Cerino (ph) and there's Lock Street, Lowell (ph), Highlands, Rose Hill and 18th St.

There's kind of off in the distance there between USCMC and the city skyline, you have everything down there -- MC Force, Quattro Flats (ph), Premeda Flats (ph), TMC, Tiny Boys Breed, VNE, that's most of them.

BROCK: And if you hear somebody get shot, that's the point where you're scared because one of those bullets could just fly away and just hit somebody that it wasn't meant for.

COOPER: It's a common story in Hollenbeck, a story told year after year, street after street.

(on camera): In March 2004, police say gang members were driving down this street and shot a man standing right in front of the market. Now the man was only wounded, but a stray bullet killed an innocent bystander a block and a half away.

(voice-over): His name was Jesus Hernandez (ph). He was 19. Shot in the back of his head driving home from his construction job.

In a terrible coincidence, four years earlier, his cousin, 10- year-old Stephanie Rigosa (ph), was shot in the chest as she played outside. Another stray bullet on the same street with the same two gangs.

DUGGER: It infuriates you because that's what we're out here to protect against.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thug life. You spit it. We live it. You sing it. We bring it.

COOPER: For gangs, it's all about territory. Claiming it, keeping it and taking more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The territories, you know, it's the land. It's like saying why do the United States build walls between Mexico and Canada.

COOPER: The gangs want territory not just for status, there are practical reasons as well. Turf can be a buffer zone against rivals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They creeped up on me and started blasting me. They jump out of a car and boom, boom, boom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rock cocaine, rock cocaine.

COOPER: Gangs also take a cut of illegal drug sales from dealers in their territory.

DUGGER: Dude, Sarge, there is so much meth and so much rock cocaine in this car, it is unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money brings power. Power and respect.

COOPER: Power, respect and guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See a rival gang member starts shooting at me and I shoot back. Sometimes you get hit.

So they had to take out like eight inches of my intestines.

I'm still here though, you know. Took a ticking and keep on -- you know, took a licking and keep on ticking.

COOPER: Police say they are not able to solve many of the gang crimes in Hollenbeck because witnesses are afraid to cooperate.

OFFICER AARON SKIVER, LAPD, HOLLENBECK: The gang is their family. If you mess with one of their members, the whole family is going to come after you.

COOPER: The city doubled the reward for information on gang murders. $25,000 wasn't worth the risk.

KIKI, GANG MEMBER: Yes, they're taking a big risk. You know, especially if they live in the hood and they're testifying against one of my homies.

COOPER (on camera): Since the late 1990s, reports of witness intimidation and what police call terroristic threats by L.A. gang members have doubled.

In a recent case, a Hollenbeck gang member was convicted of killing a homeless man who had witnessed a gang shooting and was cooperating with police.

(voice-over): The body of 47-year-old Bobby Singleton (ph) turned up under a bridge near Skid Row. He had been shot in the head and neck five times.

DUGGER: They're sending a message. How dare you. How dare you plan to testify against one of our guys, one of our gang members. That's why it's overkill. It's sending a message.

COOPER: The message is heard loud and clear in Hollenbeck and neighborhoods across the country.

It's domestic terrorism, say police, and it impacts the lives of everyone in the community.

SKIVER: They have a better chance of encountering an act of terrorism from a street gang than they ever will from anything in the Middle East.

COOPER: When we come back, two brothers -- one in a gang, the other in the Marines.

BROCK: I ask you God to give me the strength.

COOPER: Two more homicides in Hollenbeck.


BROCK: Even though I walk through the shadow of the Valley of Death, I will fear no evil. I miss you guys so much.

COOPER: When Soledad Brock visits the cemetery, she grieves for two sons.

BROCK: Angel was like the father figure. He was very protective of Ronnie.

COOPER: In death, Angel and Ronnie are side by side. In life, they looked almost like twins. But they followed different paths. Ronnie joined the Marines. Angel joined a gang. In the end, neither escaped Hollenbeck alive.

BROCK: I ask you God, give me the strength, the courage and the wisdom to keep on going. (BEGIN GRAPHIC)

Where are you from?


COOPER: Angel and Ronnie were raised by their single mom in a Hollenbeck community where drive-by shootings were all too common.

BROCK: You hear of people getting shot, people getting killed, and I didn't want that for my boys.

COOPER: Their mother tried to keep them close to home, involved with sports. Ronnie managed to avoid the gangs.

BROCK: When he would be walking home from school, I would always tell him, you know, be careful. And he was like, you worry too much, Mom. You know, everybody knows me. I know everybody. You know.

And he was a very liked young man.

COOPER: But Angel did join a gang -- State Street. When his mother found out, she was furious.

BROCK: I was like very upset and I used to hit him. I used to hit him all the time.

COOPER: Angel wanted something better for his younger brother. He urged Ronnie to join the Marines.

After boot camp, after September 11th, Ronnie told his priest, a close family friend, that he wanted to help his country in the war on terror.

FATHER GREG BOYLE, PRIEST: In fact, he came here with his mom to get a blessing. He couldn't tell me where he was going.

COOPER: He was supposed to go to Afghanistan, I think.

BOYLE: Yes. But it was this very -- please give me a blessing and I'll tell you after I get back. A terrific kid.

BROCK: I honestly didn't want him to go. He always told me, you know, Mama, when it's your time, it's your time and that's it. I'm like, well, as a mother, I don't think that way.

COOPER: Before being sent overseas, Ronnie came home for a visit. Late one night, he was approached on the sidewalk in front of his house. His mother heard the conversation through an open window.

BROCK: You could hear a lot of mumbling, like, you know, when it's more than one person. And the only thing I heard is, I heard somebody's voice saying, where you from?

DUGGER: Where are you from? Meaning what gang are you from? What neighborhood are you from? And really, what he's wanting to know is why are you here?

BROCK: And they asked him and he told them nowhere, fool. And when he told them that, my heart -- it was like, I thought they were going to beat him up.

COOPER: Instead, there were gun shots.

BROCK: I ran outside and I was calling for him and he didn't answer. And I think, as a mother, your reaction is you're waiting for him to be standing, you know.

COOPER: Soledad didn't see her son at first, but then she looked closer.

BROCK: He was just all full of blood. From everywhere. He had got shot twice in the head, four times in the back and they shot his hand off.

COOPER: Ronnie was buried with military honors. He was 19 years old.

Soledad fell into a deep depression.

BROCK: I just felt my body, everything just totally shut down. I couldn't work. I couldn't do anything.

COOPER (on camera): Soledad's older son, Angel, tried to help her, encouraging her to get up, get out of the house. After seven months of mourning, she was just starting to feel alive again until one terrible night when shots rang out.

(voice-over): Angel was on the front porch and apparently surprised by rival gang members.

BROCK: It sounded like a war zone out there for like 20 minutes.

COOPER: According to the autopsy report, more than 70 rounds were fired, one of them to Angel's head.

BROCK: I didn't know what to do. I was just holding him and telling God, you know, as a mother I was telling God, you know, if he's hurting a lot and he's, you know, I don't want him to hurt and stuff. Then, and I prayed to God to take him.

COOPER: When paramedics arrived, Angel was already dead.

BOYLE: And I remember going to her house and, when I got there, forget Kleenex handkerchiefs, she was sobbing into this bath towel.

COOPER: How could two tragedies befall one family? Soledad believes Ronnie was killed as part of a gang initiation. But the police believe it was a case of mistaken identity, that Angel was the intended target all along.

There have been no arrests in either case. BROCK: Sometimes I wish and I pray that it was just like a dream and somebody will call and say, oh, we were just kidding. Or, you know, something. Because the pain is -- I just feel like I'm just dead inside.

COOPER: Visiting the cemetery on birthdays and the anniversary of their deaths offers Soledad little solace.

The nearby funeral for a gang member is a reminder that the violence is never far away.

DUGGER: You talk to some of these young gang members, 16 and 17 years old, and you're like, what are you going to do with your life? And they're like, well, if I live long enough.

COOPER: Soledad considered moving, a way to escape those two horrible nights, but in the end, she couldn't pick up and run.

BROCK: I feel like as a mother, you always wait for them to come back. And I felt at that time, that if I moved, they weren't going to find me.

COOPER: So she stays in the house where her sons were born, grew up and died. And remembers the hopes she had in Hollenbeck.

After a break.

KIKI: I mean, for me, I like pain. So, you hit me, damn. It's like adrenaline rush for me.

COOPER: Life inside a gang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick up the fully automatic, let them have it, getting rid of static, who's the baddest?


KIKI: This is all my area where I grew up, you know. Where I have my memories at. Right here is like the borderline for us.

We're entering the zone now.

I walk around with a tattoo on my head. I'm a target. I have a (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That should tell you everything, man.


The Gangster


KIKI: I earn my respect because I'm still here. I've stayed sucker-free. I guess this is where God wants me.

COOPER: Kiki is a proud member of White Fence, one of Hollenbeck's 34 gangs. KIKI: I mean, for me, I like pain, so you hit me, damn. I like it. It's like a rush, adrenaline rush for me.

COOPER: Makes you fight harder?

KIKI: No, it just feels good.

COOPER: Over the years, he's found plenty to fight about.

KIKI: Another gang crossed us out flats.

COOPER: Even the smallest slight, White Fence graffiti crossed out can lead to violence.

KIKI: It just means war.

COOPER (on camera): The name White Fence is said to come from the white fences that used to run along the main drags in this neighborhood. The gang can trace its history all the way back to the late 1930's. Believe it or not, White Fence actually started as a church sports team. It's now one of the notorious gangs in Hollenbeck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Jennie's got dreams to keep you happy. Better believe I'm squeezing the trigger 'til my big clip is empty.

COOPER (voice-over): The police say there are now 700 White Fence members and associates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick up the fully automatic, let them have it, getting rid of static, who's the baddest?

COOPER: Gangsters who claim to be guardians of the neighborhood.

KIKI: We don't let nobody come in our neighborhood and be messing with the people's cars, breaking in their houses.

DUGGER: The ultimate sacrifice for that could be death. It could be a beating, but the ultimate sacrifice is it could be death.

KIKI: The little white fence, you see it right there?

I mean, we see somebody trying to do that, yes, we're going to get them.

COOPER: In Hollenbeck, getting them often means guns. Kiki says he's been shot three times.

KIKI: Right there at 10 in the morning, a drive-by.

You know, when you get shot you're like, Damn. People are just screaming. You're going to be all right. I'm like, damn. They look at you. I'm like, damn. I'm in the hospital and I got shot in my arm. I'm like, what the... COOPER (on camera): Kiki was 14 when he joined White Fence. He was jumped in, beaten up by fellow gang members. It's a common initiation, meant to test loyalty and give new members a taste of what gang life is all about.

What do you think it was that drew you to it in the first place?

(voice-over): Joining White Fence was no big deal for Kiki.

KIKI: I don't know, my family are all from gangs.

COOPER: He says his parents, brothers, cousins and uncle all ran with the Maravia (ph) gang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an ex-gang member, an ex-convict.

COOPER: Kiki's uncle, Johnny Gadinas (ph), now a gang intervention worker, says poverty and broken families make it easy for gangs to recruit in Hollenbeck.

JOHNNY GADINAS (ph), GANG INTERVENTION WORKER: If a parent is not there because they're working hard to provide, so the youngster's only learning from the streets. That's all that they have to learn, to teach them.

COOPER: For Kiki, who spent time in foster care, the gang was everything he'd hoped for -- friends, family and fights.

KIKI: When I was in junior high, that's the reason we used to go to school for, to pick a fight. So I was nuts to bust. That was it.

COOPER: His status in the gang grew, along with his juvenile record.

KIKI: Guns, drugs, assault, attempted murder, gang banging, everything.

COOPER (on camera): Some people would say that it's wrong to be in a gang and it's wrong to sell drugs, gang bang, whatever.

KIKI: My sale of drugs is like -- I mean, if we don't do it, someone else is going to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I got my last name on my back.

COOPER (voice-over): Older gang members, the Veteranos (ph) schooled Kiki in the odd logic of gang morality and the rules of engagement.

Drive-by shootings are OK, as long as they don't kill innocent kids.

KIKI: That's a known rule, I mean, damn. They don't know right from wrong. Us, who are holding the gun, do.

COOPER: And if a homeboy is killed, gang members should take the law into their own hands.

KIKI: Yes, we take it upon our own hands and do it, you know, deal with it.

DUGGER: Generally, within -- sometimes within hours, the retaliation is already being planned. One for one, an eye for an eye, basically is how they feel about it.

KIKI: The cops, they got so many murders on their hand, I mean, we'd rather take our own actions.

One of my friends died right here protecting the bridge, so this is one of the places we can't let go.

COOPER: Though he joined a gang for a sense of belonging, Kiki now finds himself alone. Most of his friends are in prison or dead.

KIKI: They all cross my mind, you know. But there's like three or four that just, without them, I feel empty. I'm like one of the last of the Mohicans.

COOPER (on camera): I don't quite get the appeal of being in a gang right now for you.

KIKI: This is all I've got. I don't got nothing else. I don't come home to nothing else.

COOPER (voice-over): Kiki passes time tattooing, a skill he picked up in jail.

The temptations of gang life are all around.

KIKI: I can't change out now because where am I going to go?

COOPER (on camera): So, like, 10 years from now, what do you think you'll be doing?

KIKI: I don't know. I don't think ahead like that. I just go day by day.

COOPER (voice-over): Kiki does think about putting his fighting skills to use.

Inspired by one of his favorite movies, "Full Metal Jacket," he talks about joining the Marines.

KIKI: I think that's the best route for us gang members that are hard core, that would be the best route for a society.

COOPER: But with his criminal record, joining the Marines is just a fantasy. A fantasy he is fighting to hold on to.

KIKI: Yeah, why not? I'd rather die a hero than, you know, die a statistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's running. He's running. He's taking off.

COOPER: When we come back...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hand in his waistband. Hand in his waistband. Hand in his waistband.

COOPER: ... police in hot pursuit of Mr. Green Eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He drives through his neighborhood and while he's delivering his mail, the gangsters tag his mail truck. That's pretty bad. About the only thing worse than that is if they were to tag a black and white, a police car and that's happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) all the way down the whole side of my car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your police car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. Pretty brazen, but they'll do it.

Who are these two knuckleheads?

COOPER: As part of Hollenbeck's gang unit, Jake Dugger and his partner Aaron Skiver (ph) have a specific mission, gang intelligence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're expected to know who's in, who's out, as far as prison...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the only thing you go by. You never go by anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... who's active, who's not active. And it changes daily. You've got youngsters coming up and you've got old guys burning out...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crystal methamphetamine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and you've got to stay sharp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better relax, dude. Right now, dude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to figure out why you guys are so far east over here.

COOPER: The information they want is on the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tall and he wears like nerd glasses. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no, that's Dusty.


COOPER: Any justification to stop a gang member is a chance to learn who's doing what and where. If you're on probation or parole, the police don't need a warrant to search you.

KIKI, GANG MEMBER: Cops are crooked. I hate them. I hate them that they can walk around with a gun and get away with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say you have them in a situation that violates the terms and conditions of their parole and probation, they'll give you information to save themselves.

KIKI: You do that, that's basically you're being dry-snitching, you're eating a piece of cheese, you know, because it gives them more information. And that's what they want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys live around here?

COOPER: The cops compare their jobs of playing cat and mouse while working a jigsaw puzzle in a foreign language. Graffiti, for example.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 187 is the California penal code section for murder. Basically, it's a death threat, basically is what it is.

I'm going to take a couple pictures of your tats. Let me see your stomach.

COOPER: Tattoos tell them who's in which gang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Put it down.

What about Lock Street (ph)? How old is that?

He's got the St. Louis Cardinals symbol on his chin and the St. Louis Cardinals, we know that's an S and an L, and then there's a little T, St. Louis Cardinals, but for them, that means Lock Street (ph). That's the name of his gang, El Sarino Lock Street (ph).

No (ph) Hispanic, shaved head, had a big black goose down jacket.


COOPER: On this day, Dugger and Skiver (ph) spot a young man they don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's running. He's running. He's taking off.

COOPER: He's wearing a down jacket on a hot day. He runs when they drive by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hand in his waistband, hand in his waistband. COOPER: And he grabs his waistband.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch his hand. Watch his hand.

Those three indicators right there tell me he's got a gun.

Get down on the ground! Get down on the ground!

That's the reason weapons are drawn until the situation is under control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands behind your back.

COOPER: The man they stopped says he was running to a friend's house and grabbed his waistband to hold up his sagging pants. The cops don't find a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, I don't know what he had, but he had something in that waistband.

COOPER: But they do find something else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Gangster, Green Eyes.

COOPER: Evidence linking him to a gang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you'll read (ph) it, because I was bored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you wrote Rose Hills Gang, but you're not a gang member?



COOPER (on camera): This is a computer system that has all the gangs in all of California?


COOPER (voice over): What they pick up on the street goes into a database called CalGangs.

(on camera): So if someone robs somebody and all you have is a tattoo...

(voice over): It lists 214,000 gang members and associates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would put in the computer Boulder Street, left forearm, and run a search. And there is the guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know it's a gang location, right? You guys gang members?

COOPER: Relations between the Hollenbeck Police and the public are sometimes strained. Some parents say the police are heavy-handed with their kids, overzealous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the hell is this, a box cutter?

COOPER: Dugger, who's received dozens of departmental commendations, has also been the subject of citizen complaints and disciplined for using vulgar language.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not proud of them, you know, because in some ways they could hinder my career, but I'm not going to put my head in the sand and go hide behind a desk somewhere.

COOPER: Even the most optimistic cops say the best they can do is suppress gang activity, not eliminate it. One recent night, an hour after the gang unit ended its shift, there were two gang shootings, including a man fatally shot in the back of his head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And his life just got pissed away because he was a gang member.

COOPER: It's the kind of senseless death Dugger hoped to prevent when he first came to Hollenbeck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My philosophy was, if I could get a kid just before he gets jumped in and try to keep him out, then I will have done something in my time in the unit and that's where we come to Yogi (ph). I thought Yogi (ph) was going to be my kid.

COOPER: Yogi (ph) didn't live in Hollenbeck, but hung out with one of its gangs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I preached to him all the time about what gang membership did.

COOPER: And Yogi (ph) seemed to listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, he was a smart kid. That's what I saw in him. He was a smart kid.

He wasn't your everyday thug as most -- as a lot of gang members are. It just seemed like the gangster lifestyle didn't fit him very well. And I remember coming up and Yogi (ph) was laying right here on the sidewalk, right here, right near this tree, and he had been shot in the head.

COOPER: In the never-ending tug of war between la vida loca, the crazy life, and a life with a future, the gang won out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I missed. That wasn't my -- that wasn't my kid.

COOPER: Yogi's (ph) murder is still unsolved and Dugger hasn't found another kid he thinks he can save.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But by the time I find out about a kid or know who a kid is, it's almost too late.

COOPER: Still ahead, a priest in Hollenbeck moves heaven and earth for gang members.

(on camera): You want to give gang members a second chance?

FATHER GREG BOYLE: Who gave them their first, you know? And that's the truth.

BOYLE: Hello?

COOPER: The gangsters love him.

BOYLE: How you doing, my Doc (ph)?

COOPER: The police aren't so sure.




COOPER: Homeboy Industries is an employment agency for gang members founded by a Catholic priest, Father Greg Boyle.

BOYLE: How you doing, my Doc (ph)?

COOPER: The agency places about 300 gang members each year in private sector jobs or in one of Homeboy Industries own small businesses, such as its silk screening shop.

BOYLE: It gives them a reason to get up in the morning and a reason not to gang-bang the night before. And it fills them with a sense of dignity.

COOPER: Volunteer doctors also help with free laser treatments to remove gang tattoos.

BOYLE: Kids get pushed into this, into this mess, and don't really realize what they're getting into.

COOPER: When Father Greg came to Hollenbeck as a parish priest he was stunned by the level of violence.

BOYLE: When I started burying young people, my first kid I buried was in 1988. It was a kid who had been stabbed to death. It took the scales off my eyes.

COOPER: What the police saw as a law enforcement issue, Father Greg came to see in terms of mental health.

BOYLE: You don't have to take Psych 101 for credit to know that folks out in a violent way because they're really disturbed, damaged people.

COOPER: "Jobs, not jails" became his motto, Homeboy Industries his ministry.

BOYLE: You know, when Jesus says, if you love those who love you, big wow. You know?

COOPER (on camera): Jesus says "Big wow"?

BOYLE: I believe that's original Greek.


BOYLE: And -- but then he goes on to say, try loving your enemies. You know? You can say, well, we stand with the victims, which is great. Don't stop doing that. But can you also stand with the victimizer?

COOPER: You want to give gang members a second chance?

BOYLE: Who gave them their first, you know? And that's the truth.

COOPER (voice over): He's talking about people like Richard Moya who grew up in a Hollenbeck housing project around a relative who abused drugs. At age four, he saw his father, a gang member, shot to death.

BOYLE: Try to wrap your mind around that. You know, you start to say, well, come on. You know? What do you think that does to a kid?

COOPER: It helped push Moya into a gang at 13 and a life of violence.

RICHARD MOYA, FMR. GANG MEMBER: And I was a walking time bomb, man. You know, I was out there and if somebody said, "Boom," I was on that. That was it. You know what I mean?

COOPER: Eventually, Moya went to prison for drugs and guns. After being paroled, Homeboy Industries tried placing him in several jobs.

MOYA: There was just -- like, I wasn't familiar to taking all these orders or listening to these people telling me this and that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't ever quite work out. Plus, he's tattooed in a way that's -- most employers would be sort of alarmed by.

MOYA: I would just go in there and speak out of my mind and just talk loud or get hostile and make people believe, like, I was going to do something wild or crazy.

COOPER (on camera): Do you write someone off at any point?

BOYLE: Do I think God writes anybody off at any point? Of course not. And who would I be to say, well, I'm going to make a decision, here's the write-off point?

COOPER (voice over): Instead of writing Moya off, Father Greg hired him in the Homeboy Industries office. MOYA: To be honest with you, brother, I cried with joy.

Line four, collect call, please.

BOYLE: What line, Richard?

MOYA: Collect call, line three.

The way he feels and the way his theory is, I mean, if you had him making the rules for baseball, there would be nobody striking out, because that's just what his beliefs are, is throw him the ball until he actually gets it.

BOYLE: All right, Doc (ph). Well, I'm glad you're OK.

COOPER: Many Hollenbeck police officers think Father Greg is too permissive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of these so-called gang members that he's helping get out of the gang continue the same activities they were doing while they were in the gang, but he is offering them some type of shelter and protection under the disguise of Homeboy Industries.

COOPER: Not true, says Father Greg. If an employee stays active in a gang, he's gone.

BOYLE: If I'm aware of something going on, people are fired.

COOPER (on camera): Do you think you get taken advantage of?

BOYLE: I don't know what that means to be taken advantage of. I give my advantage every day, so nobody's ever taken it from me.

COOPER (voice over): The tension with police grew worse after two employees of Homeboy Industries' graffiti removal business were shot to death in June of 2004. Police say both men were still involved with gangs. Father Greg says they were actually trying to rebuild their lives.

BOYLE: It's hard for people to make that change, and it's like recovery. Surprise, surprise, somebody's 20 years sober. At an AA meeting, somebody's 20 minutes sober. Two steps forward and eight steps backward. You know, welcome to the human race.

COOPER: After the murders, Father Greg shut down the graffiti removal business, but his commitment to Homeboy Industries is unshaken.

BOYLE: I'm not called to be successful. I feel called to be faithful.

COOPER (on camera): And you believe redemption is possible?

BOYLE: I think it's the basis of what everybody fundamentally believes, no matter how distant we can grow from each other. Everybody believes in a sense of redemption. Everybody does.

COOPER (voice over): Still ahead, lost innocence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How am I going to bury my son, if they kill my son?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tommy Lasorda, Valenzuela...

COOPER (voice over): Benny's collection of bobblehead dolls is his prize possession.

BENNY: John Green (ph), that's my favorite batter.

COOPER: It's also the last vestige of his childhood innocence.

BENNY: These are supposed to be worth a lot in the future.

COOPER: Benny sees the gangs in Hollenbeck, and he likes what he sees.

BENNY: I've seen a couple of them with guns, and I like the guns. They used to bring their cars through the alley with hydraulics, low riders, and they got the money, the cars. And I look at them.

Give me your paw and I'll be your friend.

I think my life's going to be pretty good if I keep on doing what I have to do.

I think Mona (ph) is lazy.

If I go back to what I was doing before, I think I'll probably end up dead or end up in jail.

COOPER: Benny's life could go either way, which terrifies his mother.

MARIA NUNEZ, BENNY'S MOTHER: Am I going to see him six feet under? Am I going to see him in jail? I never planned a future. You know what I planned? How was I going to bury him?

COOPER: Benny grew up around gang members. His own parents, who separated when he was young.

NUNEZ: I was a gang member. His dad was a gang member. We were tattooed.

I used to always tell my kids -- "What's that ma?" We used to try to say, "Well, we were born with them." Who's going to believe that when they're a little bit older, you know?

COOPER: Through elementary school, Benny was quiet, kept to himself. As he hit adolescence, however, he became known as "Scope," as in telescope, because he wore glasses. That's when the trouble began.

(on camera): Benny began tagging, spray-painting his nickname, "Scope," on walls and buildings around Hollenbeck. Unlike gangs, taggers don't claim specific territory, but they do work in groups, have enemies and sometimes carry guns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some areas of Hollenbeck, the taggers are the minor league, if you will, the farm team for the gangs.

BENNY: I thought, since I'm young right now, I might as well tag and when I'm older, I'll get into a gang.

COOPER: Benny has friends in a gang called El Sarino (ph) he planned to join.

NUNEZ: Oh, I was angry. I was angry. I was hurt. I said, "Don't you know you could get killed from El Sarino (ph)?"

BENNY: I used to ignore my mom. And I used to tell her, "No, don't tell me what to do." You know, "You did it. Why can't I do it?"

COOPER: Adding to the allure, his girlfriend Brittany was in a gang. They met three years ago at Dodger Stadium where their mothers both manage concession stands. At 14, Brittany says, she road along on a drive-by shooting.

BRITTANY, BENNY'S GIRLFRIEND: I was on drugs, you know. Didn't care. I was with the -- with the homeboys, you know.

BENNY: I wanted to try to act big and bad like them and tell everybody where they're from, you know? Where I'm from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's cool. Look at all the flashy clothes and all the money and all the cool stuff gang members get to do. If that's what you're surrounded by, what do you think his chances are? Probably not very good.

COOPER: There are thousands of Bennys in Hollenbeck, kids tempted by gang life because they don't see a better alternative.

BOYLE: I've never met a hopeful kid who joined a gang, never, not once, not close.

COOPER: Police, social scientists and community leaders know what sustains gangs.

BOYLE: Poverty that's intense, families that don't function well under the weight of those stressers, despair, racism.

COOPER: They also know that getting rid of gangs is virtually impossible, especially in the Los Angeles area, with some 90,000 gang members and associates.

KIKI: A lot of gang members get in it because it's something that they love. Like, you know, like, you're bonded with it. It's a bond thing.

COOPER: Experts agree, the largest number of gang crimes and the most violent are committed by a relatively few number of predators, criminals without a conscience.

SOLEDAD BROCK, VICTIM'S MOTHER: They're killing the person, but they don't understand how much hurt and damage they leave on the family.

COOPER: Lock those guys up, says Father Greg, but don't demonize the others.

BOYLE: Ninety-five percent of them are kids who just had a hard time and got stuck and need help to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't force change on them and he can't force change on them. They've got to want to change themselves.

COOPER: Is there hope for Hollenbeck? What would make a difference? More heat on the street, say the cops. More resources pumped into the community, says Father Greg.

Either way, kids like Benny have to make the right choice, often a difficult choice to change. Benny is trying after several close calls, being shot at while tagging.

BENNY: My heart was just pounding. It felt like it was just going out of my chest.

COOPER: Bringing a knife to school and getting arrested.

BENNY: Once I've been in those handcuffs, that's it. You belong to them.

COOPER: And losing a family friend, 20-year-old Francis Duran (ph), shot in the head.

BENNY: I'm thinking, look at him, probably that could be me in a couple of months, a couple of years, you know.

COOPER: When he's angry or frustrated, Benny still thinks about joining a gang, but what blunts the impulse is thinking long term. Benny says he wants to finish school, become a construction worker, and someday have children of his own.

BENNY: I'm thinking, I have to think about my kids and what my kids are going to see when I'm older. Are they going to see their daddy get shot? And I don't want to have my kids saying that, "Well, dad, look, you did it. Why can't I do it?"




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