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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Homicide in Hollenbeck
Aired September 30, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Fifteen square miles east of Downtown Los Angeles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are entering the zone now.
COOPER: Where every block is claimed by a gang.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't play around. We ain't no baseball team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The name of the game is, "You squeal, you get killed. You quiet, you're going to be all right."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get down on the ground.
AARON SKIVER, OFFICER, LAPD HOLLENBECK DIVISION: You have a better chance of encountering of acts of terrorism from a street gang than they ever will from anything in the Middle East.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember my arms were just too short to wrap around this unspeakable pain and grief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take care of my boys for me?
COOPER: This is Hollenbeck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can imagine now why when the sun goes down people go in their houses, close their blinds, lock their doors and they don't come out until the sun comes up.
COOPER (on camera): Gunfire, intimidation, murder and fear. No, it's not Iraq. Sadly, it is any number of gang-ravaged neighborhoods right here in the United States. Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm Anderson Cooper.
Think of it as domestic terrorism, armed gangs traumatizing entire communities and it is spreading in cities both large and small.
For nearly two months we trained our cameras on one of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation's gang capital, Los Angeles. There, through the eyes of cops and criminals and crusaders, we witnessed a daily drama and the corrosive effects of gang violence. Our report includes some graphic images that may not be suitable for young viewers. With that, CNN PRESENTS "Homicide in Hollenbeck." 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Kiki (ph) I'm from waccidents (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another gang crosses out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take care of my boys for me. My name is Soledad Brock (ph). My son Ronald Brock (ph) 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. In 2003, there were more than 700 violent gang-related crimes reported here. In 2004, overall, gang crime was down, but gang homicides were up.
(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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 - 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 and 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 intenstines.
I'm still here though, you know. Take a ticking and - Take 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.
SKIVER: 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 recently doubled the reward for information on gang murders. $25,000 wasn't worth the risk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're taking a big risk. 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 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.
SKIVER: They were sending a message. 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 active 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ask you God to give me the strength.
COOPER: Two more homicides in Hollenbeck.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even though I walk through the shadow of the Valley of Death, I will fear no evil.
COOPER: When Solladad Brock visits the cemetery, she grieves for two sons.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ask you God, give me the strength, the courage and the wisdom to keep on going.
COOPER: Angel and Ronnie were raised by their single mom in a Hollenbeck community where drive-by shootings were all too common.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You hear 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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, 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.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they asked him and he told them nowhere. And when he told them that, my heart -- it was like, I though they were going to beat him up.
COOPER: Instead there were gun shots.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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: Solladad didn't see her son at first, but then she looked closer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was just all full of blood. From everywhere. He 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. Solledad fell into a deep depression.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just though my body, everything just totally shut down. I couldn't work. I couldn't do anything.
COOPER: Solledad'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.
Angel was on the front porch and apparently surprised by rival gang members.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounded like a war was going off there for like 20 minutes.
COOPER: According to the autopsy report, more than 70 rounds were fired, one of them to Angel's head.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't know what to do. I was just holding him and tell God, you know, as a mother I was telling God, you know, he's hurting a lot and he's, you know, I don't want him to hurt and stuff. Then, 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? Solledad 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.
After two years, police say they have some leads, but there have been no arrests in either case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 anniversaries of their deaths offers Solladad 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: Solladad considered moving, a way to escape those two horrible nights, but in the end, she couldn't pick up and run.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still, 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 he sons were born, grew up and died. And remembers the hopes she had in Hollenbeck.
After a break.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, for me, I like pain so, you hit me, damn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a gigantic rush, man.
COOPER: Like inside a gang, as CNN PRESENTS: Homicide in Hollenbeck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick up the fully automatic, let them have it, getting rid of static, who's the baddest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 no (inaudible). That should tell you everything, man.
I earn my respect because I'm still here. I've stayed sucker- free. I guess this is where God wants me.
COOPER: Keeki is 26. A proud member of White Fence, one of Hollenbeck's 34 gangs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it just feels good.
COOPER: Over the years, he's found plenty to fight about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another gang crossed us out flat.
COOPER: Even the smallest slight, White Fence graffiti crossed out can lead to violence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just means war.
COOPER: 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: (inaudible) and Jennie's got dreams to keep you happy. Better believe I'll pull the trigger tomorrow. This clip is empty.
COOPER: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The little white fence, you see that 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. Keeki says he's been shot three times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: Keeki 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 encouraged you in the first place?
Joining White Fence was no big deal for Keeki.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family are all from gangs.
COOPER: He says his parents, brothers, cousins and uncle all ran with the Maravia (ph) gang.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mama's an ex-gang member and ex-convict.
COOPER: Keeki'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, GANG INTERVENTION WORKER: The 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 Keeki, who spent time in foster care, the gang was everything he'd hoped for, friends, family and fights.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guns, drugs, assault, attempted murder, gang banging, everything.
COOPER: Some people would say that it's wrong to be in a gang and it's wrong to sell drugs, gang bang, whatever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My sell of drugs is like -- I mean, if we do it, someone else is going to do it.
Yes, I got my last name on my back.
COOPER: Old gang members, the Marano's, schooled Keeki 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we take it upon our own hands and do it, you know, deal with them.
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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cops, they got so many murders on their hands, 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, 12 years later, Keeki now finds himself alone. Most of his friends are in prison or dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: I don't quite get the appeal of being in a gang right now for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all I've got. I don't got nothing else. I don't come home to nothing else.
COOPER: Keeki passes time tattooing. A skill he picked up in jail. He has no full time job but takes classes at a community college.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm going to fix this one up right now so.
UNIDENTIFIED GANG MEMBER: It says White Fence.
COOPER: He's on probation for selling Crack. The temptations of gang life are all around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't change out now because where am I going to go?
COOPER: So, like, 10 years from now, what do you think you'll be doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't think ahead like that. I just go day by day.
COOPER: Keeki 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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's fighting to hold on to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, why not? I'd rather die a hero than, you know, die a statistic.
DUGGER: He's running. He's running. He's taking off.
COOPER: When we come back...
DUGGER: And his waistband, and his waistband, and his waistband.
COOPER: ... police in hot pursuit of Mr. Green Eyes.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Get down on the ground. Get down on the ground.
COOPER: As CNN PRESENTS: Homicide in Hollenbeck.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Put your hands behind your back.
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.
COOPER: As part of Hollenbeck's gang unit, Jake Dugger and his partner Aaron Skiver have a specific mission, gang intelligence.
You're expected to know who's in, who's out, as far as prison, who's active, who's not active. It changes daily. You've got youngsters coming up and you've got old guys burning out and you got to stay sharp.
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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dusty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cops are crooked. 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do that, that's basically you're being dry snitching, you're eating the piece of cheese 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: What about the lock street? 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. That's the name of his gang, El Sereno, Lock Street, no (ph) Hispanic, shaved head, black goose down jacket.
COOPER: On this day, Dugger and Skiver spot a young man they don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's running. He's running. Let's take him out.
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: ... because I was bored.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you wrote Rose Hill's gang, but you're not a gang member.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are now.
COOPER: This is the computer system that has all the gangs in all of California?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
COOPER: What they pick up on the street goes into a database called CalGangs. So if someone robs somebody and all you have is a tattoo. 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.
DUGGER: I'm not proud of them, 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.
DUGGER: 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 was going to be my kid.
COOPER: Yogi didn't live in Hollenbeck, but hung out with one of its gangs.
DUGGER: I preached to him all the time about what gang membership did.
COOPER: And Yogi seemed to listen.
DUGGER: 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 a lot of gang members are. He just seemed like the gangster lifestyle didn't fit him very well. And I remember coming up and Yogi was laying right here on the sidewalk, right here, right near this tree and he'd 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.
DUGGER: So I missed. That wasn't my kid. COOPER: Three and a half years later, Yogi's murder is still unsolved and Dugger hasn't found another kid he thinks he can save.
DUGGER: 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. You want to give gang members a second chance.
BOYLE: Who gave them their first and that's the truth.
COOPER: The gangsters love him. The police aren't so sure.
COOPER: Getting out of a gang is harder than getting in, especially if you're a walking billboard. But there is help in Hollenbeck. Home Boy Industries is an employment agency for gang members, founded by a Catholic priest, Father Greg Boyle. The agency places about 300 gang members each year in private sector jobs or in one of Home Boy 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 nearly 20 years ago, 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, Home Boy Industries his ministry.
BOYLE: You know, when Jesus says if you love those who love you, big wow. I believe that's original Greek and, but then he goes on to say, try loving your enemies. 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: 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 start to say, well come on. 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, FORMER GANG MEMBER: And I was a walking time bomb, man. I was out there and then 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 three years ago, Home Boy Industries tried placing him in several jobs.
MOYA: There was, 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: 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: Instead of writing Moya off, Father Greg hired him in the Home Boy Industries office.
MOYA: To be honest with you brother, I cried with joy. 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. Throw him the ball until he actually gets it.
COOPER: Many Hollenbeck police officers think Father Greg is too permissive.
SKIVER: 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 Home Boy 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: 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: The tension with police grew worse after two employees of Home Boy 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. Welcome to the human race.
COOPER: After the murders. Father Greg shut down the graffiti removal business. His commitment to Home Boy Industries is unshaken.
BOYLE: I'm not called to be successful. I feel called to be faithful.
COOPER: 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: Still ahead, lost innocence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How am I going to bury my son, if they kill my son?
COOPER: A teenager's life and death decision, a CNN PRESENTS "Homicide in Hollenbeck."
COOPER: Benny is 16. His collection of bobble head dolls is his prize possession.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Green, that's my favorite batter.
COOPER: It's also the last vestige of his childhood innocence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are supposed to be worth a lot in the future.
COOPER: Bennie sees the gangs in Hollenbeck and he likes what he sees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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. 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. And if I go back to what I was doing before, I don't think, I'll probably end up dead or end up in jail.
COOPER: Bennie'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 plan, 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 our kid, what's that ma? We used to try to say 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. 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.
DUGGER: Some areas of Hollenbeck the taggers are the minor league, if you will, the farm team for the gangs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 Sereno 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 Sereno?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to ignore my mom. I used to tell her, don't tell me what to do. You did it. Why can't I do it?
COOPER: Adding to the allure, his girlfriend Brandy (ph) was in a gang. They met three years ago at Dodger Stadium where their mothers both manage concession stands. At 14, Brandy says, she road along on a drive by shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was on drugs, didn't care. I was with the home boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to try to act big and bad like them and tell everybody where they're from. Where I'm from.
DUGGER: 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 Benny's 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 festers (ph), 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of gang members get in it because it's something that they love like you're bonded with it. It's a bond thing.
COOPER: Experts agree, the largest number of gang crimes and the most violence are committed by a relatively few number of predators, criminals without a conscience.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.
DUGGER: I can't force change on them and he can't force change on them. They 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like it was just going out of my chest.
COOPER: Bringing a knife to school and getting arrested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once I've been in those handcuffs, that's it. You belong to them.
COOPER: And losing a family friend. Twenty year old Francis Gogeran (ph) shot in the head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking, look at him, probably that could be me in a couple of months, couple of years, you know.
COOPER: When he's angry or frustrated, Benny still thinks about joining a gang. 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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, you did it. Why can't I do it?
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