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Outlook: Echo Park's Street Gangs

An Echo Park Loco's tag on Echo Park Avenue.
An Echo Park Loco's tag on Echo Park Avenue.
Andrew Stein

For the better part of the last thirty years, Echo Park – a Los Angeles neighborhood near downtown – has been synonymous with gang violence. While residents had accepted that street gangs were a part of the neighborhood’s fabric since the 1970’s, the mid to late 80’s brought a troubling upsurge in the level of violence that gangs brought to the neighborhood. This culture was made infamous by movies like “Colors” and “Mi Vida Loca.” But over the course of the last 10 - 15 years due to gentrification, progressive law enforcement policy, and the imprisonment or death of many gang members, Echo Park has seen a significant transition.

Gentrification has played a large role in subduing gang violence, but in some cases the effect is only felt from Monday through Friday. Local police have reported that gang members who have been priced out of Echo Park moved to surrounding areas such as El Sereno, Eagle Rock, and the Inland Empire, and return to Echo Park on the weekends. Crime is noticeably down during the week and police have also reported that fresh gang graffiti (“tags”) are now usually noticed on Sundays and Mondays.

More recently, in September of 2013, a Los Angeles County court issued an injunction that would restrict known gang members from congregating within a 3.8 square mile “safety zone” in Echo Park and surrounding areas. The rough outline of the safety zone’s borders are the Los Angeles River to the north, the 110 freeway to the east, 1st street to the south and North Coronado street to the west. This area includes the Elysian Valley, Filipinotown, newly renovated Echo Park Lake, Dodger Stadium and parts of Silver Lake.

The gangs included in the injunction are the Echo Park Locos, Big Top Locos, Crazys, Diamond Street Locos, Frogtown, and Head Hunters. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wrote in the injunction that these gangs have for years been contributing to vandalism, drug dealing, assault and even murder. In response, the injunction mandates that individual gangsters are not permitted to socialize with each other in public, with the exception of schools, places of employment, etc. Similar injunctions have been issued against other gangs in surrounding neighborhoods.

Many believe that a big reason the injunction was able to garner public support was the death of Eric Zamarripa in 2009. Zamarripa was the leader of the Echo Park Locos until he was murdered in his home by a member of his own gang, presumably at the behest of the Mexican Mafia (a prison gang that controls and/or has allegiances to many of Los Angeles’s gangs). His death emboldened many Echo Park residents to report gang activity to police without fear of reprisal. In fact, he was such a prominent figure that police organized a community meeting after his death so residents could talk about what the felt the future of Echo park would be without Eric Zamarripa.