Eight years ago a group of people got together to organize and mobilize around issues that were impacting Oakwood. Today, Venice 2000 is at the forefront of keeping peace in Los Angeles.
In the beginning, two people served as mentors: Tony Massengale and Bill Martinez, co-directors of the Unity Collaborative, a community-based gang intervention network made up of five agencies, now including Venice 2000, operating in various parts of the city.
The main objective of Unity Collaborative is to teach intervention and provide coaching.
Intervention, or the process of developing and implementing changes to improve knowledge, attitude, behavior and awareness, is now considered every bit as important as prevention and suppression when dealing with violence.
Unity Collaborative sponsored a community intervention forum to create a partnership and bridge the gap between Venice 2000, the community and surrounding agencies.
“We need to communicate, educate and inform the public about the work so we’ve got an informed constituency, so when resources become available we can put more intervention workers on the street,” says Tony. “Let’s not just fund law enforcement, let’s not just fund reentry programs at the jails and the prisons, let’s not just fund prevention for the younger kids, but let’s fund intervention that does some of all of that, except law enforcement.”
Law enforcement is becoming part of the program too. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) South Bureau is the first to do training with probationary officers.
“We are breaking new ground in the field of community intervention,” Tony adds.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl mentioned the budgeted $168 million to fund essential services as part of the new Anti-Gang and Youth Development Strategy.
“This should do three things — prevention, intervention and I really don’t like the third one, called repression or suppression, which is the police authority’s strategy,” Rosendahl says. “It has been the only strategy until the most recent time, but we all know that it’s prevention and that it’s intervention […] where the energy needs to be.”
You may remember the tragic shooting that happened at Venice High School in 2006. Agustin Contreras, a 17-year-old junior at the school who was not involved with gangs, was gunned down as he attempted to protect his younger brothers.
Venice High School principal Jan Davis, who has spent her entire 23-year career as an educator at the school, with the last seven years as its head, acknowledges that “the school has calmed down.” She gives credit to the Safe Passages program, whose goal is to provide optimum safety while students arrive at and leave school. It is part of L.A. Bridges, the Community Development Department’s Gang Prevention and Intervention program.
“The Safe Passages program has been really helpful because we have almost 3,000 students at the school and at dismissal and before school we have kids coming from all over the community,” she says. “I have two school police officers on campus, four assistant principals, a couple of deans, a couple of supervision people, and that’s not enough to watch everybody coming and going. So, Safe Passages has given us more eyes and ears.”
Safe Passages is also provided at Mark Twain Middle School through the Venice Community Housing Corp. in collaboration with Venice 2000 because of its expertise in gang intervention. Clinton Noble, a co-founder of Venice 2000, and Paul Jamar provide the extra-level security.
“I was there every day because my son was causing problems,” says Paul. Parents, students and staff got used to his presence and he stayed.
At Venice High School, in addition to the Safe Passages program, George Avalos specializes in hard-core gang intervention. George knows what he’s dealing with from experience, as do several other staff members of Venice 2000. He started out as a gang member, went to prison, was turned around and then attended college to get his degree in gang intervention.
“Instead of doing time and throwing my life away — because of what I learned through life skills at Cal State L.A. and the positive things that I started doing, I taught a program inside the County Sheriff’s Department working with hard-core gang members,” he says. “We guided them the right way.”
A new staff title is Hood Ambassador. This position is held by Timothy Atkins, of Anti-Gang and Youth Development Strategy, whose mission is to get five members from each gang in a room to find solutions to their problems.
“I believe that in California all streets should be safe passages,” he says.
Venice 2000 doesn’t focus only on gangs.
“Our goal is to deal with the community. Period,” says executive director Stan Muhammad. “Our staff is concerned about what we can do to intervene with an issue that is impacting our neighborhood.” This includes situations affecting people ranging from young children to seniors.
While Venice 2000 is looking to the future, it has already made noted accomplishments. Tony Massengale gives it credit for maintaining the enforced gang truce in Venice. The organization is made up of an inter-ethnic staff, Afro American and Latino, which Tony says is a model for “the greater Westside and, you might say, all of the City of Los Angeles.”
He also gives credit to the “visionary” organization that launched H.E.L.P.E.R. (Help Establish Learning, Peace, Economics and Righteousness) Alliance Cease Fire Committee, started shortly after the execution of former gang member Tookie Williams. It is a network of gang intervention agencies and involves 14 rival gangs.
“It is now a countywide network of volunteers who go into neighborhoods and give out their cell phone numbers and say, ‘Call us first if there is going to be anything that might lead to violence,'” says Tony. “Those volunteers make a difference countywide and that’s a credit to Stan Muhammad and Melvyn Hayward, Jr. With the relatively small staff that they have and a few dedicated volunteers, they have augmented to a great degree what the LAPD has been able to do.”
Information, (310) 823-6100.