February, 23 2009; 3:45 p.m.
City Officials Demolish Former Gang Headquarters
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo leads a demolition of the Avenues gang hideout.
LOS ANGELES-- City officials gathered in front of the former Avenues gang headquarters, nicknamed the Satellite House, Wednesday morning to watch a CAT excavator demolish the gang’s nerve center and symbolically restore the neighborhood to its residents.
|The former Avenues gang headquarters was destroyed Wednesday.
“Today this symbol is not just a symbol of destruction—what we can take down—but what we can build up,” Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti said.
The modest one-story residence in northeast Los Angeles, which earned its nickname because it was the community’s first house with a satellite, served as the Avenues gang’s hub for 20 years.
Although it looked innocent and quiet on Wednesday, the Drew Street house was a place where criminals made drug deals, plotted murders, and hid convicts. The gang and its center of operations gained the media spotlight last February when several members engaged in a shootout with the Los Angeles Police Department.
The panel of speakers, moderated by City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, spoke about the Avenues’ effect on the families in the neighborhood. “Make no mistake, we are committed to restoring the Drew-Estara neighborhood to its law abiding residents,” Delgadillo said. “The law, while it moves slowly, moves deliberately and with greater power than the gangs that control this neighborhood.”
After the speeches, neighbors and police watched as the yellow excavator rolled towards the house, crushing flowerbeds and pulverizing the small yard. Some onlookers cheered as the machine tore shingles from the roof; others watched in silence.
A family with two small children watched house collapse from next door. On the other side of the yard, the neighbors reclined in lawn chairs to witness the destruction. Thirty minutes later the house, which Delgadillo called a “terrifying monument to the power of the Avenues,” was reduced to rubble.
||City Council President Eric Garcetti addresses the crowd.
The demolition was the culmination of four years of legal action against the Satellite House. In 2006, Delgadillo's office used its T.O.U.G.H. program, which appropriately stands for Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters, to go after criminal centers in the Drew-Estara community. Delgadillo won a lawsuit to close the Satellite House in 2007. He said that the Satellite was the 10th house to be closed on Drew Street alone.
In his second term as City Attorney, Delgadillo has been re-envisioning ways to counter gangs, going after the groups any way possible, even through real estate law. “Since I took office in 2001, I have asked the prosecutors in my office to think differently about how we prosecute gangs,” Delgadillo said.
A native of northeast Los Angeles, the attorney joked that the Avenues bullied him at school. “You’ve got to be careful who you pick on when you’re a kid,” Delgadillo said. The destruction of the home was another symbolic act of machismo in the war between city officials and the Avenues gang.
The Avenues have been active since the 1950s, according to the Los Angeles Times online archives. The gang has been linked to the Mexican Mafia and associated with numerous cases of violent crime. In 2006, a series of assaults, aimed at pushing African Americans from the mostly Latino community around Drew Street landed four Avenue gang members in jail.
Over the years, the Los Angeles Police Department conducted 14 narcotics operations that resulted in 13 arrests and the confiscation of drugs and weapons on the property, said Delgadillo. Four homicide suspects were also arrested at the Satellite House.
The image of the Satellite House was so meaningful in gang culture that Avenues members wanted to tattoo its image on their bodies, said Delgadillo. Graffiti decorated the trees and sidewalk around the property. A pole next to the house had “AVES” scrawled across it, an eerie remnant of the gang that lurks, even after its headquarters has disappeared.
|The excavator destroyed the small front yard.
The demolition concluded a “big year” for the Los Angeles Police Department and the fight against the gangs, said Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. New gang initiatives reduced gang violence by 11 percent last year and Bratton hopes to reduce it by a further 15 percent this year, he said.
Bratton warned that the war against gang violence wasn’t about to end. “Every way we can, we’re trying to go after these gangs when their violence and materialism have such an impact as on this neighborhood.”
Several speakers, including Delgadillo, concluded their speeches in Spanish, addressing the neighbors who were watching from behind the police barricade. “Ya basta,” Delgadillo said as the community watched. Enough already.