Residents join forces to reclaim Wrigley neighborhood

taking-back-locust.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

For the second time in three months, community activists, private organizations local residents and the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) banded together to put an end to gang activity and littering in one of Long Beach’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. The event, called Wrigley Taking Back Locust, took place last Saturday and was based on the north intersection of Locust Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. The South Wrigley Neighborhood Advisory Group, the Wrigley Neighborhood Association, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) Community Relations Division and the LBPD West Patrol Division sponsored it.
The 1800 and 1900 blocks of Locust were closed to traffic for most of the day. At 9 a.m., 90 volunteers showed up and fanned out to the north, east and west of the intersection with brooms, buckets and other implements in hand to clean up the streets, sidewalks and alleys in the area. At noon, a block party began during which LBPD officers barbecued hot dogs and distributed soft drinks, chips and popcorn to the people of all ages who came to dance and play in the street while meeting neighbors for the first time. Crowds of people also lined up for the Sno-Biz Shave Ice, co-donated by owner Rich Clyde and the “Weed and Seed Strategy.” About 500 more people came for the block party.
“Because of the gangs, people are afraid to come out of their houses,” said Maria White, who lives in the area. “But today is different. People are happy. Nobody is afraid.”
The obvious police presence and the fact that hundreds of people were on the street produced a strong sense of safety during the block party. The LBPD West Division’s Directed Enforcement Team (DET) had also continually swept through the area for several weeks before the event, arresting several gang members for various offenses and getting the word out that troublemakers were not welcome on Locust Avenue.
“The event went very well; a lot of adults and kids came out to enjoy the day,” said Sergeant Richard Conant of the West Division DET. “That’s always a good thing to see over here.” Conant noted that one of the goals of the LBPD is to encourage people to trust the police and report crimes. “We are definitely making progress in that direction, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “Events like this really help us build bridges and establish relationships with members of the community.”
West Division Commander Robert Luman agreed with Conant, and he added that the Taking Back Locust event was a collaborative effort that included the community, the LBPD and several city departments. “When we all work together, good things like this happen,” he said. “What we are working toward ultimately is getting the community back to where they feel empowered, where they don’t feel stifled by the domestic terrorists we call gangsters.”
“Some of the people who live on this street told us that until today, the only time they ever saw their neighbor was when they were peeking through the curtain,” said Andrew Scammon, Wrigley Association board member and one of the event’s clean-up coordinators. “Now they are meeting and enjoying one another and this is exactly what we came to accomplish. We hope some of them will come together (and form a neighborhood association or watch group) to continue this legacy.”
“In our extensive outreach prior to the event, I discovered that residents in this neighborhood have the same desires as we all do-a safe and clean environment for their children to play. It’s really a quality of life issue,” said P.G Herman, the event’s main planner, who worked with LBPD Lieutenant Josef Levy to coordinate the participation of the police and other city departments. Herman added that she was pleased to see how participation in efforts to reclaim neighborhoods is growing. “Our last event in February (Taking Back Pine Avenue) consisted of 23 entities, including city departments, private organizations and businesses,” she said. “This time we had 52 entities.”
“P.G was able to get many diverse groups and the people on the block to participate,” added Dan Pressburg, volunteer coordinator for the event. “I found that pretty amazing.”
“It was very exciting to see what happened here today. We had a huge crowd, the mayor and his wife and a lot of police officers who gave up their day off to be here,” added Wrigley Association President David Carlton. He noted that one of the most heart-warming things for him was to talk to a man who recently purchased a house on Locust Avenue after renting a home for about 30 years. “Sadly his father was killed senselessly by gang members last August, but he is now starting a neighborhood watch group,” he said. “He wants to make something good come out of his father’s death and he told us that this event has brought hope to this community for the first time in many years.”
“One of the greatest benefits derived from these events is that they have brought city-wide attention to the severe problems in this area,” Herman said. She explained that the increased attention will lead to a stronger police presence and the development of other projects and programs to improve the lives of the people in that neighborhood.
“I know today was a successful day. I see people happy and getting to know their neighbors,” Luman said. “When neighbors know each other, they are more likely to look out for each other and report criminal activity to the police.”
Peter Lares, who has lived on Locust Avenue for several years, said because of the block party he met some of his neighbors for the very first time. “There are a lot of nice people on this street,” he said. “I wish we could do this once a month. It’s good to meet your neighbors, and we all appreciate how everyone worked hard to clean up the whole area.”
“We are grateful for our allies at the West Division who are dedicated to keeping us safe and work as our partners,” Herman said. “They are the true heroes.”
“The next take-back-the-street event will take place on Earl Avenue in about four months,” said Annie Greenfield-Wisner, volunteer coordinator for the events.

Community, News

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