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L.A.'s Fourth St. bridge traverses troubled waters.

LOS ANGELES -- The ornate Fourth Street bridge in this city is a bridge too far: too far into Third World conditions at its Dolores Mission end; too far removed from the wealth of the First World entertainment capital at its other.

The bridge is the only thing that connects the housing projects in the "Flats" and the skyscrapers that loom titanic and ghostly through the pollution and ocean mist, the moneyed monuments a world away in "downtown."

Lean on the bridge rail, its cast-iron-work a memory of another age, and do a few simple sums, first looking in one direction and then the other.

At the east end, in the projects of Aliso Village, Pico Gardens and Pico-Aliso Extension housing, the average annual family income is $8,000 a year -- and falling.

These are large families, immigrant families. That means the likely per capita income in Dolores Mission is maybe a shade above $1,000 a year, like Albania's ($1,200) or Tunisia's ($1,150) or Costa Rica's ($1,584).

Walk west toward downtown and back into the First World, and the per capita income exceeds $21,000 a year, which means that the family income for a California family of four would be better than $85,000.

For Jesuit Father Tom Smolich, at Dolores Mission Parish, 171 S. Gless Street, this tale of two cities is also a tale about gangs.

There is no secret about where gangs come from, said Smolich (see accompanying stories, pages 4, 5). In Los Angeles, when the hotel and restaurant workers were being organized, a frank and forceful video told the L.A. tourism industry: Lay a map of poverty over this city and that's where the gangs are.

Smolich contends that the gang problem will fade when jobs appear -- and he thinks those jobs will have to be created right where the poor people are.

To Smolich, the city's economic divide is no different from the absentee landlordism that affects West Virginia or a developing country.

"The emphasis now has to be on local economic development," said Smolich. "The people who own Los Angeles, who own the businesses, don't live in it; most of the people who work the good jobs don't live in it. They go off to the suburbs at night."

And a high proportion of the people who do live in the city don't work in it -- because they don't have jobs.

East of California

Gangs are not just a California problem. The FBI has organized a task force to target violent youth gangs in Washoe County in the Reno, Nev., area. And in Portland, Ore., an antigang curfew measure requires children 14 and younger to be off the streets by 9:15 p.m. on school nights and children 15 through 18 to be home by 10:15 p.m.

Oregon is also enforcing an uninsured-motorist law that will allow police to take car keys from those who can produce no proof of insurance. The rationale apparently is that "you can't do drive-by shootings if you've nothing to drive."

In rural Tracy, Calif., population 38,000, teen gang membership has more than doubled to at least 200 plus several dozen "hangers-on." Through the city's Gang Intervention Task Force, a new Boys and Girls Club has opened on the city's poorer south side.

In Chicago, the federal prosecutors helped convict 36 gang members of the infamous El Rukn street gang on a variety of charges. But there are investigations under way now questioning the propriety of treatment given to jailed witnesses who turned state's evidence.

Justice for whom?

With nationwide gang-related deaths -- almost invariably they are murders by rival gang members -- totaling in the thousands, bringing the felons to justice is fraught with danger. Fourteen year-old Eduardo Samaniego, not a gang member but a Little Leaguer and active church member, lived in the tough Pomona area of Los Angeles.

He witnessed a gang killing and was prevailed upon by police to testify as a witness in a murder trial. His parents were reluctant, but the police assured them Eduardo was in no danger.

On Aug. 27 he was shot to death after testifying at the preliminary healing. His parents have filed a $15 million suit against the city.

Meanwhile, most action taken to stem the rise of gangs is law-enforcement related -- a reaction to the symptom, not the cause, said Smolich. Community activists say the media perpetuate the problem by focusing on gang activity while mentioning little about the economic malaise that gives rise to gangs.

"For all the relevance that the skyscrapers and financial district have on the city's poor," Smolich said, waving his hand in the general direction of the Fourth Street bridge, "the downtown might as well be Tokyo. That's why there's gangs."

He wants to bridge the Third World-First World gap some other way than that represented by the Fourth Street bridge.
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Title Annotation:Gangs - Los Angeles, California
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 8, 1993
Words:817
Previous Article:Pathfinder James Lyke dies in Atlanta.
Next Article:Dolores Mission's mission among the poor.
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