Citizens of the Oakwood section of Venice are irate over a recent raid in which LAPD swat officers busted down residential doors in an attempt to arrest gang members in the area.
Nearly 300 LAPD officers, armed in bulletproof vests and riot helmets, joined federal agents and state investigators on Feb. 19 to crack down on the Venice Shoreline Crips.
Known as the most dominant gang in the area, the Crips had gained a reputation for holding court in the Oakwood recreation center, a site they used as an outpost for drug sales.
The sweep, called Operation Oakwood, was the culmination of a four-month investigation into the gangs activities, the first part of a new campaign to rid the neighborhood of the gang. Nineteen alleged Shoreline Crips were arrested and jailed. The police reported that they are seeking 33 other suspects.
LAPD Chief Deputy Kenneth Garner said the arrests were the first part of a new campaign to target the Shoreline Crips, whose activities were impacting neighboring Culver City and Santa Monica.
Nearly 75 residents attended a town hall meeting Thursday night at the Oakwood Recreation Center to talk to law enforcement, 11th District Councilman Bill Rosendahl, attorney Connie Rice of the Advanceent Group, Rabbi Abraham Freehling of the Human Relations Commission and members of the Neighborhood Council.
Councilman Rosendahl said that the community was outraged by the raid. Doors were knocked down and the police went into the wrong places. The police entered in a very dramatic way and frightened a lot of people.
Pausing, Rosendahl said, If I had known about the planning of this thing, I would have made clear that you have to reach out to the community, not scare it to death.
The residents at the town hall were concerned how the police went about serving the search warrants, said Stan Muhammad, executive director of Venice 2000, a gang intervention group who said about 25 houses were raided during the pre-dawn sweep. They kicked in the doors at 5 a.m. with no warning. About seven of those homes were occupied by senior citizens, said Muhammad. Their tactics were inappropriate, said Muhammad. Once they were in the homes, some of the residents were handed search warrants and some werent. Basically, the police justified the break-ins, said Muhammad.
Muhammad said that a number of seniors complained about their doors being kicked in, including Muhammads mother, 75 year old Mae Phillips, who Muhammad said is a recovering cancer victim. She was in her pajamas, and the LAPD vandalized her home. The only thing they said to her is that they apologized for the break in.
Phillips, who has lived in Venice for 50 years, said she was sleeping when she heard loud noises in her living room. I heard someone yelling out my address, said Phillips, who said the police were searching for her grandson, Ansar Stan Muhammad, who had moved out a year ago. By the time I got into the middle of the living room, I heard a crash. When I turned, police were standing in my living room with their guns drawn. Three of them were standing there breast to breast. They said, Maam, come on out. They said they were looking for my grandson. I told them he didnt live here anymore and they told me to sit down on my steps. But it was cold and I said if I sit down I wont be able to get up.
Phillips said that during the raid, the officers had broken down her door. I told them that I couldnt fasten my door. One of the officers said, Why dont you pull your couch across the door to close it?
But Phillips said that one of the officers grabbed a hammer and nailed the door shut. But the door wasnt secure, said Phillips. They damaged the door on one side. They have been very apologetic, but Im traumatized, said Phillips. Theres a proper way to do everything. I dont have anything to hide.
Muhammad said he is irate over the break-ins. My mother has no felony record and I dont even think she has a parking ticket. The way they went about the raid was wrong.
Muhammad said one outcome of the town hall is that the Venice Neighborhood Council is forming a safety committee. I will be co-chair of the committee, said Muhammad. We will be dealing with changing policy as it pertains to community policing. We will also be concerned with gang injunctions. We want to create a collaborative task force that will be dealing with the overall community.
Pausing, Muhammad added, If only we had had this safety committee in place, this (raid) wouldnt have happened.
Muhammad said that the LAPD will be repairing Phillips doors. My door is a special order door, said Phillips. They said they will replace my broken door with a new one.
Phillips said that Venice has changed during the half century she has lived there. In the early part of the 50s you didnt have to lock your doors. But in the last several years, you see drug dealing on the streets.
Phillips was especially concerned about the gang presence at the Oakwood Recreation Center. Thats where we have our senior citizens lunch everyday. I dont understand why the police dont arrest these gang members. I see them going in and out of the restroom and I know they dont have to go to the restroom that often.