Archive for the ‘Gangs’ Category

Sep. 28 Film Screening of “Fruits of War”

Monday, September 17th, 2012

 The journey of the criminalized immigrants

“Fruits of War” will take you into the personal lives of four young men who lived the the trauma of war in El Salvador, the discrimination in the streets of Los Angeles, the violence of gangs, the deportation to their country they did not longer remember and the continued criminalization that will forever keep them from living normal lives. Join Us September 28, 2012 at Pico Youth and Family Center 715 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405 from 6:00-9:00PM to hear that amidst all the violence and desperation a new hope for peace has risen. The panel discussion after the film will report back on the delegation that went to El Salvador to observe the 5 month long peace truce between the gangs that has reduce violence significantly.

Moderator: Oscar DeLaTorre (PYFC Executive Director)
Panelist include:
Paule Cruz-Katash (L.A. Humane Relations Comission)
Aquil Basher (Maximum Force Enterprices)
Henrique Hurtado (Aztecs Rising)
Alex Sanchez(Homies Unidos)

Food and drinks will be available for a donation.

Homies Unidos continues their commitment to help our youth in the Central American Communities of Pico Union, Westlake and Koreatown. We believe that all youth have the right to live in their communities free of violence. Be part of the empowerment of our inner city youth to brake through the chains of violence into productive advocates of peace. Make your donation: homiesunidos.org/donate

After 14 years working in these communities we now need your help. Current economic struggles have forced us to cut down on services. We are asking for your economic help to continue our mission to end violence and promote peace in our communities through gang prevention; the promotion of human rights in immigrant communities and the empowerment of youth and families in El Salvador and Los Angeles to achieve their full potential in a just, safe and healthy society.

Facebook Invite: Fruits of War

  Pico Unouth and Family Center Screening

 Clip of “Fruits of War”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKq0wGLoQGo&feature=player_embedded

****Please keep in mind that Homies Unidos needs your monetary support to keep doing this important work****, Please donate!!!!!

Vigil: Commemorating 100 Days of the Gang Truce In

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Vigil: Commemorating 100 Days of the Gang Truce In 

El Salvador

mobilizeSunday, 17th 2012

CARECEN form 6PM to 8PM

Contact: Rodrigo Vasquez at 323-667-8297 

2845 West 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90005

Press Release

                                                        Press Kit

The Transnational Advisory Group In Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador invites all of you The commemoration of 100 days the gang truce has brought peace in our neighborhoods of El Salvador. Under skepticism and criticism, The gang members continue forward into a long term peace process.#

The gangs have made good will gestures to the community by declaring that the schools are now “Safe Zones” and no force recruitment will take place, to gain community support. Although this is not the answer that we would expect from our men and women who have been killing themselves over letters and numbers, this is a positive step forward as supporters of the peace process we ask for a total stop to all illicit activity. We cannot say that the zero tolerance initiatives pushed by the former president and continued by our current president in El Salvador has reduced violence because repression tactics have made this problem bigger. As such we need to understand that the gang members have been part of the problem, in so, they should be part of the solution.

The time is now to invest in our youth and bring economic development programs to El Salvador. Programs that will hire our youth who are living in poverty and stop our youth from joining gangs.

There have been over 700 deaths prevented since the truce started. So let’s give this historic gang truce a chance.

*Bring several candles*

  100 Days of Peace

Recent articles read here:

Peace Is Breaking Out Among Salvadoran Gang Members:

http://www.thenation.com/article/167875/peace-breaking-out-among-salvadoran-gang-members

Support Mounts for Salvadoran Gang Truce:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-hayden/salvadoran-gang-truce_b_1551638.html

SUPPORT MOUNTS FOR SALVADORAN GANG TRUCE

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

mobilizeSUPPORT MOUNTS FOR SALVADORAN GANG TRUCE
BY TOM HAYDEN

Longtime gang peace process advocates in Los Angeles announced new support on Memorial Day for the 11-week truce called by incarcerated Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gang leaders which has sharply reduced homicides in El Salvador

An estimated 700 lives have been saved since March as homicide rates have fallen from 14-15 to 4-5 per day, or a 65 percent reduction. For the first time in decades, polling shows Salvadoran public opinion defining poverty reduction as their first priority, ahead of sweeps and mass detention. The truce, which is supported by Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, began Mar. 9 when 30 truce leaders were transferred from a super-max prison to high-security facilities where they were permitted contacts with family and friends. The transfer was approved by the Salvadoran Minister of Justice and Security David Munguia. On March 20, it was confirmed that mediation efforts were being led Raul Mijango, a former guerrilla commandante and legislator, and the head chaplain of the armed forces and police, Bishop Fabio Colindres.

As LA-based peace advocates gathered Monday at La Placita church on Olvera Street, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States [OAS] was set to travel on a supportive visit to El Salvador, to be followed by United Nations and European Union representatives.

A new “Transitional Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador” was announced at the LA press conference. The twenty-member committee includes a new official presence  in gang peace efforts, Paula Cruz Takash, president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, and a cross-section of leaders with deep roots in past gang peace efforts, including the author Luis Rodriguez and his wife Trini of the Tia Chucha Cultural Center, Aquil Basheer and “Niko” of Maximum Force Enterprise, Aqeela Sherrells of the original Watts truce, Enrique Hurtado of Aztecs Rising, Angela Sambrano of CARACEN, Fr. Michael Kennedy of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative, Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries, Hector Verdugo, also of Homeboy, and Javier Stauring of the LA Archdiocese.  Chairing the press conference was Silvia Beltran, former director of Homies Unidos and currently on the staff of the LA City Council. Also speaking were a Salvadoran student at Cal State Northridge, Elvira Padilla, and a sister of one of the incarcerated men, Mayra Rivas.

The new transnational committee is represented in Washington DC by Luis Cardona and Carmen Perez of the Gathering for Justice [founded by Harry Belafonte] and Juan Pacheco, director of Barrios Unidos.

The purposes of the transnational committee are to work for the safety of those involved in the Salvadoran truce, doing an inventory of the gang members specific needs, and building support and resources for the community-led process. Needs identified so far include: new mattresses for family visits, mental and medical health services, sentence reductions for good conduct, and vocational training in prison with job placement upon release. The MS and 18th Street representatives also call on the army and police to control and prevent ongoing human rights violations, and protect the safety of the peace process  Female gang members are demanding the involvement of women’s and family service organizations to address their specific needs.

Besides initiating the truce, the gang leaders so far have defined schools as “safe zones”, ordered the end of  forced recruitment of young people, and suspend criminal activities and  attacks on each other.

Luis Rodriguez and Aqeela Sherrells spoke passionately and at length about the history of past peace process efforts in Watts, East Los Angeles, and among deported gang members in El Salvador. “Peace comes from the heart of people, from a rejection of violence by the people, and when it comes from the ground up we must stand with them”, Rodriguez began. “This has happened before, has been sabotaged before, and failed before for lack of resources and respect, but out of every failure there rise new peace warriors.” Rodriguez said he sees “peace surging again, and we have to learn the lesson that peace doesn’t come from institutions, peace doesn’t come from peaceful people, peace can come in the end from the people who began the violence, the best sometimes can come from the worst.”

Sherrells recalled that 20,000 died in LA’s gang wars between Crips and Bloods before the 1992 truce. “It was a war zone, but we created a culture of peace on the streets”, he said,  attributing ten percent of the violence reduction to policing. “Gangs are not inherently negative, do not come like outside aliens, but arise among our sons and daughters, and they need healing, a public health approach, a community-based approach.” He pointed out that gang homicides have continued to fall in Los Angeles even while poverty rates have been climbing. “We love you”, he declared to the largely-immigrant gathering. Bashir, an ex-Panther, added that “we have to unify or die.”

In the most dramatic moment of the day, Homies Unidos leader Alex Sanchez spoke for the first time in public since his June 2009 federal indictment on gang conspiracy charges. Los Angeles police anti-gang officers and prosecutors have charged Sanchez, a former MS member, with continuing to secretly participate in the gang as a so-called “shot caller.” Sanchez and his many supporters argue that a key role in violence reduction can be played by respected former gang members when they mediate conflicts and create alternatives to the violent gang life. But any such “association” is suspect to law enforcement and often prohibited by anti-gang laws and regulations.

Sanchez was arrested by the LAPD and faced deportation over a decade ago, but all charges were dropped and a federal immigration judge granted Sanchez political asylum. He was arrested again in 2009, charged with multiple conspiracies,. He was granted bail in 2010 after representatives of the LAPD and FBI were unable to prove in federal court that he would be a social danger if released. His trial now is set for next June.

Imprisoned Salvadoran gang members and their families,  as well as Salvadoran officials have made phone requests for Sanchez to intervene as a mediator and coalition-builder on behalf of the fragile process. The irony is that Sanchez is prohibited from communicating with any MS members except in the office of his Los Angeles public defender, Amy Jacks. Despite the technical difficulties, Sanchez seemed energized on Sunday by the opportunity to act positively in a context painfully familiar to him, after two years of defending himself in numerous court appearances. On this Memorial Day, he called out the names of Homies Unidos members killed in El Salvador – Hector, Ringo, Bullet, and Smoky, among others – saying, “this is a baton thrown out to us, and it is our duty to pick it up. ”

Twenty years of organizing in Los Angeles have yielded  two models which can be useful for El Salvador, Sanchez said. The first, peace work in the streets and prisons by former gang members like Sanchez, is already adopted and funded in LA as an official “gang prevention and intervention model”, endorsed as well by the LAPD after years of debate. Since the intervention model was developed in part from the experience of Salvadoran gang members it already is “indigenous”, not a foreign model run by government bureaucrats, Peace Corps-style.

Second and equally important, Sanchez and others stressed, is the urgent need for rehabilitation, training and jobs modeled at Homeboy Industries under the inspiration of Fr. Boyle, who has been involved in the Salvadoran community for years. At Homeboy, where the motto is “nothing stops a bullet like a job”, young homeboys and homegirls are counseled, trained and directly employed by the agency, the largest of its kind in the US.

Homeboy staff are expected to confer directly with Salvadoran parties, private investors and government agencies interested in the model of such direct employment. They will stress that gang violence reduction is the key to attracting foreign investment to the besieged country, and jobs the key to violence reduction – a virtuous circle in place of a vicious one.

Gang rappers and poets in El Salvador have long described themselves as the fruits of the war – “las fruitas de la guerra.” There now is the possibility of a great reversal, with gang members, their families and all of El Salvador realizing the fruits of peace. #

Hip Hop For Peace

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Happy Holidays

During these holidays we wish you all to enjoy every minute you spend with your families. It has been our experience in our oprganization that our youth need to maintain and improve the relationship with their families to start the healing process of change. We also take a minute to remember the bothers and sisters that are no longer with us or have been separated from their families by deportation or the criminal justice systems.

So on behalf of our staff and board of directors we wish you Happy and Safe Holidays !!!!!!

Please join us in a fundraiser event on

December 10th from 7:30PM to 1:00AM @ LA Founderie

1755  Glendale Blvd  Angeles CA 90026

To RSVP  or for sponsorship opportunities Call:

Claudia Arevalo 213-210-4784

Homies Unidos Destroying Guns to Create Angels

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Homies Unidos Screening of “Fruits of War”

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Come and join Homies Unidos Saturday, April 23  6:00PM-11:00PM, as we speak about current struggles of our youth in Los Angeles and El Salvador. “Fruits of War” documents the life of four members of Homies Unidos as they embark on a journey of redemption and social justice and the struggles they face through deportation and criminalization.

Film screening starts at 7:PM sharp. Bring some food and drinks to share.
at Basswerks
5411 W. Adams (West of La Brea)
Los Angeles, CA 90016

If you cant make and would like to donate go to:
www.homiesunidos.org/donate

RSVP @ homiesunidos@homiesunidos.org or call 213-383-7484

Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Dear Friends,

As the New Year approaches I have reflected on the past 12 years since Homies Unidos first opened its office in Los Angeles with the dream of helping youth affected by war and gang violence.  We developed programs specifically for these youth hoping that they may find empowerment in positive action, the support to transition out of gangs and a platform to address and change the inhumane treatment of the immigrant community.

We have maintained our doors open to serve over 6,500 youth and their families from the Los Angeles Pico Union’s Central American community.  What, began as a dream has become a reality and today Homies Unidos stands as a nationally recognized organization at the forefront of gang violence prevention and intervention.

As we witnessed through this last election cycle, our immigrant communities have once again become the scapegoat and trigger point for political fear tactics and gangs have been framed as the scary poster child of this debate.  Over the past two years there has been a 23% increase in suppression in our immigrant community by ICE, FBI and local law enforcement agencies, leaving countless families separated from each other and children parentless.

With the assistance of your generosity, Homies Unidos has successfully developed exceptional programs to challenge the effects of this violence. The Epiphany Project, Libertad Con Dignidad and Family Wellness programs brings together youth and their parents, affected by gang violence or deportation, to advocate for their rights. Together we helped strengthen their ability communicate and improve their family relationship to over 130 family members this year.

“Homies Unidos has helped me change my life around and has giving me the opportunity to give back to other youth, I now volunteer in organizing the Art activities and outreaching to over 15 artist so far”, Said Juan Canizales, a former graduate of our Epiphany Project program.

We are convinced that through Epiphany Project classes we our helping to create a new generation of peacemakers committed to a building a better world. The process of those transitioning into a better life is not simple; after completing our 12 week program, graduates endure a minimum of 6-10 laser tattoo removal treatments to shed the last of their former lifestyles off their bodies.

In the past year, our ongoing programs have expanded and include a youth leadership and art program as an alternative to gang activity. We have developed these programs for inner-city youth and young adults as we also embark on a campaign to bring awareness of immigration and criminal justice issues affecting our community. Th e “Hip Hop for Peace” was launched on December 7, 2010 and will continue throughout 2011 with a series of events, bringing together local artist in music and art.

In these critical times, your support will greatly help in the success of our youth. Your ongoing support allows us to continue to provide our youth and their families with the skills and tools needed to overcome the obstacles they face in our community. As a non-profit organization, we rely on the generosity and compassion of our donors, like yourself, without whom we would not have the capacity to create peace in the schools, and keep families united in the community we serve. Please join us as a partner in making 2011 a better and more successful year for Homies Unidos.

Homies Unidos wishes you have a joyful holiday season,

Sincerely,                                                                                                                   Sincerely,

Alex Sanchez                                                                                                            Troy Garity                                                                              Executive Director                                                                                                Board Chair

Feds Have Been Hiding Evidence From Wiretap Courts

Friday, September 24th, 2010

By Tom Hayden for the NATION

Federal prosecutors have used top leaders of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), known as the most violent gang in the US and Central America, as secret informants over a decade of murders, drug-trafficking and car-jackings across a dozen US states and several Central American countries. During that time, prosecutors obtained more than twenty-one wiretap approvals, plus extensions, to investigate MS-13, failing to tell judges that the gang leaders were already in custody as informants—a possible violation of federal law. READ MORE…

Key Prosecution Witness Missing in Alex Sanchez Case

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Federal prosecutors soon will be forced to admit that their star witness in the gang conspiracy case against Alex Sanchez is a fugitive still on a crime spree somewhere in Central America.

July 14, 2010
According to prosecutors, the government’s cooperating witness, Juan Bonilla, a k a Zombie, gave statements to FBI and LAPD investigators in El Salvador implicating Alex Sanchez in the May 2006 shooting of Walter Lacinos, a k a

Cameron, in that gang-ridden country. The prosecution claims that Bonilla/Zombie participated in an incriminating wiretapped phone call with Sanchez and others one week before the shooting. The Sanchez defense has strongly argued that the government has the “wrong Zombie,” that it was another Juan Bonilla who took part in the phone call.

The case of the mistaken Zombie aside, now the Salvadoran papers El Mundo and El Diario de Hoy are reporting that the real Zombie is not only a fugitive but has lied to Salvadoran prosecutors about the killings in 2006.

” ‘Zombie’ is on the loose,” El Mundo reported on May 11. The detailed article describes how Zombie offered himself as a witness to the police in the murder of Cameron and others, including a well-known gang intervention worker known as Smoky, who was written up sympathetically by National Public Radio reporter Mandolit del Barco. Smoky, a former MS leader turned peacemaker, law student and father, was killed May 13, 2006. Cameron himself may have been implicated in the killing of Smoky, which would make Cameron’s own death two days later an act of retaliation.

According to the El Mundo account, Zombie told prosecutors that Cameron traveled from Los Angeles to El Salvador to assassinate Smoky. “The latter had come out of anonymity and had achieved fame after appearing in a documentary about gangs, and he belong to an organization to rehabilitate mara [gang] members.”

Zombie was finally arrested in 2006 after committing some twenty home robberies. In June 2008, he received special privileges for cooperating with Salvadoran and US authorities. After testifying against MS in exchange for leniency, Zombie escaped in April 2009 when prosecutors became suspicious of his tales. He disguised himself as a priest, a postal worker and even a prosecutor, the better to gain entry to the homes of the wealthy and later rob them. He also is blamed for several kidnappings, rapes and sexual batteries.

If the Salvadoran media accounts are accurate, Zombie has been a fugitive since before the June 2009 indictment of Alex Sanchez. Government prosecutors have never provided the court with the fact that their witness is missing.

Now, with Zombie’s credibility shattered, it is not clear if the prosecution wants to find him.

Where does this leave the prosecution? They could recognize their mistake and drop the case against Sanchez. But with so much invested in their claim that Sanchez is a “shot caller” leading a “double life,” a responsible retreat from their flawed case is unlikely.

But going forward with the prosecution contains seeds of embarrassment for the government as well. First, they will have to prosecute Sanchez with their central witness a discredited fugitive, and with strong evidence that the Zombie on the wiretaps is not the Zombie the government claims. Second, the other accusation against Sanchez is strikingly similar in its emptiness. He is charged in a gang racketeering conspiracy that took place over a fourteen-year period beginning when he left the gang in the ’90s and concluding in May of last year. Though the government indictment alleges over 150 specific overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy against twenty-four defendants, the majority for selling drugs to government informants, there are no overt acts attributed to Sanchez beyond the disputed wiretaps.

This conspiracy case, then, is about RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970 law that makes prosecution possible on the basis of guilt-by-association. The acronym RICO derives from Edward G. Robinson’s gangster hero, Little Caesar, in the 1930 movie of the same name. In the most famous scene, Robinson goes down after shouting, “Caesar Enrico Bandello, this is Rico speaking. Rico! R-I-C-O! Little Caesar, that’s who! Listen, you crummy flat-footed copper, I’ll show you whether I’ve lost my nerve and my brains!” Released during the 1950s McCarthy period after decades of suppression, the film became a favorite of prosecutors and gang-bangers alike.

The RICO law makes it a crime to “associate” with any “enterprise” through a “pattern” of racketeering activity. The assumption is that street gangs like MS are identical to vertically organized crime structures. There is a presumed board of directors, known as “shot callers,” who are an organized conspiracy responsible for every specific crime committed anywhere by any of the gang’s individual members.

Alex Sanchez left the gang life behind at approximately the time that the present investigation began fifteen years ago. Subsequently, he founded Homies Unidos in Los Angeles, a gang intervention agency that works with young people, including gang members, to prevent violence and open up alternative opportunities. As an intervention worker, his task involves numerous conversations and phone calls with members of street gangs. In 1999, he helped expose the LAPD’s Rampart scandal in which hundreds of young people were subjected to false charges, beaten, jailed and deported, violations that led to federal intervention. Since becoming an intervention worker, Sanchez also has testified as an expert witness in at least eleven federal and state gang conspiracy cases, in which six defendants were found not guilty. One of the government experts he has testified against is LAPD officer Frank Flores, a former Rampart beat detective who, nearly fifteen years later, is the prosecutor’s expert witness against Sanchez in court today. It is fair to say that Sanchez poses a challenge to the prosecution mentality driving the war on gangs.

It is helpful to Sanchez that the prosecution lacks any specific evidence against him, a fact which led to his release on bail six months ago. But under RICO law, often referred to as an Alice in Wonderland statue by defense attorneys, that is beside the point. Prosecutors will try to prove that Sanchez, against all present evidence, is a secret shot caller leading a double life. As their case crumbles, they can be expected to compile a new one.

About the Author

Tom Hayden
Senator Tom Hayden, the Nation Institute’s Carey McWilliams Fellow, has played an active role in American politics and…

One Year Anniversary since the Infamous Arrest of Alex Sanchez

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

June 24, 2010

I was reminded last night of the psychological trauma that children go through when they witness their parents torn apart from them either through violence or incarceration. I spoke with a 15 year old young man who had been a witness to both parents getting arrested by the FBI two and a half years ago. He was mad at the world at how his life had suddenly come to a halt and was flipped over that morning when he saw both of them being dragged away in handcuffs. This young man was trying to deal with his trauma and no one was there to help him through his ordeal, he elected seek help from what was in his neighborhood for a quick fix of his problems.
He joined a gang, got a tattoo and now that his parents were released from prison it has become so hard for him and his family to be what they once were. I looked at him and asked him why was he angry. His answered that he felt his father was disappointed with what he has turn out to be. His eyes started to get watery and said that he wants to change, that he doesn’t want to be in gangs anymore. All he wants is to be understood and so do his parents who are going through the stigma of now being called ex-felons.
It is important for all of us to take extra consideration of those children who have been affected with the trauma when Immigration comes braking the doors of their homes and tear apart parents from U.S. citizen children and housing them in detention centers until they are deported, when law enforcement comes charging into communities arresting individuals putting people in prisons under the three strikes law and many other inhumane laws that continue funneling the parents of U.S. citizen children into warehouses they call rehabilitation centers. They can call them Department of rehabilitation, detention centers it is still a prison. They tear up families. What happens to the children, not only those who are citizens but those who did not have a choice and are now called an immigrant?
This young man reminded me of what my children went through this day one year ago. I was awakened by LAPD, Sheriffs, and FBI officers at six in the morning at my home in Bellflower as part of an FBI Gang Taskforce sweep throughout Los Angeles. In front of my six year old daughter Melissa, my 14 year old son Alex and 13 year old Marlon, while my wife Delia was taking a shower getting ready to head to work. I was taken in shackles after I walk out from my apartment and turn myself over to over 20 armed officers with M16 that they were pointing at me while my children watched, after they had awaken all my neighbors with their screaming ordering for me to turn myself over to them. It was a day I will never forget, neither will my children who I have spoken with them about it, but they don’t really want to have to remind themselves of it and live through it again in their minds. They, unlike this young man that I spoke to last night had a support system, a community that came to heal them through this ordeal, my family, my extended family, all my friends that have stood next to me in the work I do for Homies Unidos, youth whom I helped leave the gang life, they all came together for my children. Forever I will be indebted to all of you and today I invite you to recommit yourselves to do the same for other young men and women who everyday turn to negativity because we are not there for them.
Peace,
Alex Sanchez