This week I have been working on Part 3 of the Follow the Gang Money series, dealing with how the City of Los Angeles uses its gang prevention and intervention money. (Matt Fleischer, as you might remember, wrote Part 1 and Part 2.)
This last segment of the series is titled “Where Do We Go From Here?“ and it will be out on Monday morning, Dec. 20, and will contain a list of suggestions about how the city might strengthen, improve and expand its existing gang violence reduction programs—GRYD. All this will be largely based on the suggestions from community members, experts, academics, city officials, and others, as to what an ideal gang plan might look like..
Anyway, as I was gathering information on Wednesday, I was once again forcibly and tragically reminded why LA needs the most effective possible gang violence reduction program—and it needs it now.
I’d just finished a lunch meeting on the topic with Connie Rice, where we talked about, among other things, the Stanford study showing that nearly a third of LAUSD middle schoolers in high crime areas were suffering from PTSD. Now I was racing to my home office for a phone meeting with a northern California researcher.
Before I called the No Cal guy, I checked my email and noticed I had a bunch of messages that all had the same subject head: “Moreno.”
I also had more phone messages than is usual.
After I read the first of the emails, I no longer had the heart to check the blinking phone. I knew what the calls would be about.
There had been another death.
The victim was a 27-year-old man named Luis Diaz, nicknamed “Moreno.” He is…was….someone whom I have known for many years, a former gang member who had not been active in a very long time. He worked at Homeboy Industries and was enormously well liked. Right now his most urgent concern was figuring out how to be a good father for his two children.
On Wednesday, he was supposed to go on a group hike with another senior staff member, (another young man whom I’ve known for a thousand years), plus a bunch of youngsters, I think it was.
At the last minute, Moreno decided he’d better stay home instead of hiking. He was feeling sick, and thought the hike would be a mistake.
As it turned out, home was the mistake.
Sometime around 11:30 am, Moreno had presumably begun to feel better and ventured outside his house where he got lured into a game a street football on the 2600 block of 3rd Street in Boyle Heights, between Mott and Fickett. At approximately 12:13 a car rolled into view and someone inside the car “lit him up,” as his former homeboys would later put it.
According to Sergeant Haggerty of the Hollenbeck division of the LAPD, Moreno was transported to County USC Hospital where he died shortly after arriving. The LAPD is not yet certain whether or not Moreno was the intended victim.
The staff at the Homeboy office got the news around 12:30. At first the message contained bad news but still had room for frail optimism, “Moreno’s been shot.” But within minutes it changed. “He didn’t make it.” The staff gathered in the lobby for a meeting, a vigil of sorts. Somebody put a white feather in the center of the gathered group. Another somebody burned some sage. A staffer mentioned that Moreno had lost his only brother to gang violence several years ago. Mostly there was silence and sobbing.
Everyone in the room appeared to be dizzy with grief.
At 4 p.m. Father Greg Boyle was scheduled to be on CBS’s Dr. Phil show, which had been taped a few days before. The staff had planned to congregate and watch the show together. Everyone hoped it would produce donations. The joint viewing took place but there was no longer any joy in it. The talk about the “lethal absence of hope” that produced gang violence had once again been illustrated too painfully.
I was not at Homeboy at the time, I was at home where, as afternoon turned to evening, I got more calls. The first was from a community mother named Pamela McDuffie who told me how Moreno had often taken her own son under his wing, when the son was threatening to go off the rails. “We’ve buried so many of our boys,” she said, then she reeled off a list of dead young men whom we know in common. “And now Moreno,” she said, her voice gray with sorrow and fatigue,. “I just can’t stand it. I sometimes dream about them. Did I ever tell you that?”
A later call was from an edgy 21-year-old homeboy, who is still skating the edge of gang life. He too told me of the times when Moreno had provided a calming influence when he desperately needed calming.
Those much closer than I am to Moreno said that some of his own demons were not yet vanquished and, of late, he had been struggling painfully with old emotional wounds. But he had showed none of that to my homeboy caller.
“I can’t believe he’s the one who got killed,” said the homeboy. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
And not just killed, I thought. Shot to death while playing street football at noon, for god’s sake, in a residential neighborhood in Boyle Heights with a bunch of other people around.
“Nobody can believe it,” I said.
Yet there it was.
Father Greg was in Seattle on some book-related event or other when Moreno was shot. He cut his trip short and flew back to LA Thursday morning.
In between we exchanged texts and emails, as he did with others who felt the strong need to touch base with him.
I got Greg’s last email around 8:30 a.m., sent as he waited to board his flight.
“Crying as I write this…” it began.