A 29-year-old Oakwood resident was shot to death on Monday in Venice’s first homicide of the year, and local leaders are stepping up to counter the violence

By Gary Walker

Two prominent Venice community leaders plan to hold a press conference and public call to action next week in the wake of the murder of 29-year-old Oakwood resident Lavell Harris, who was gunned down blocks from his home on Monday, May 20, while being chased by two assailants.

Civil rights activist Naomi Nightingale and gang intervention specialist Ansar “Stan” Muhammad want to draw attention to what they describe as a senseless killing and ask the Los Angeles City Council to offer a reward for information that would help police catch the gunmen.

The victim’s mother, Melanie Harris, is expected to attend the press conference, which is planned for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 28, at the site of the murder: Fifth Avenue and Broadway Street, just a few short blocks from trendy shops and restaurants on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

The call to action follows at 2 p.m. at the Oakwood Recreation Center (767 California Ave.), about three tenths of
a mile from Fifth and Broadway.

“The community should be outraged by this. We should not just look at this as another killing where nothing happens,” said Nightingale, a longtime Oakwood resident who as long worked to improve police-community relations and is currently active in the campaign to preserve the former First Baptist Church of Venice.

Muhammad grew up in Oakwood and is co-founder of the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation, a gang intervention and prevention nonprofit formerly known as Venice 2000.

Los Angeles Police Department officers received multiple 911 calls reporting gunshots near Broadway and Fifth at about 3:30 p.m. and arrived to find Harris with multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Paramedics pronounced Harris dead at the scene.

“Witnesses at the scene heard gunshots but did not see the actual shooting,” LAPD Pacific Division Capt. James Setzer said.

An LAPD new release said a witness told police that four black males wearing hoodies had chased Harris onto Fifth Avenue and then fled in a dark sedan.

Setzer confirmed that Harris’ death is Venice’s first homicide of 2019.

Violent crimes in Oakwood have dropped considerably since the historically working-class and largely African-American neighborhood became gentrified over the past decade.

While she agrees that violence has decreased greatly in Oakwood, Nightingale says the press conference and call to action are necessary so that residents will not feel short-changed and to honor Harris’ family.

“We want the police department to pay attention and let them know that the community is enraged about this, and to send a message to whoever did this that we’re not going to stand for this kind of violence in our community. There are still a lot of social justice issues that are not being addressed here in Venice,” she said.

Nightingale said the community will seek donations during the call to action in order to offset the Harris family’s funeral expenses.

Anyone with information on this shooting is asked to contact West Bureau Homicide Detectives at (213) 382-9470 or (877) LAPD-24-7 on evenings or weekends. L.A. Regional Crime Stoppers receives anonymous tips at (800) 222-TIPS or lacrimestoppers.org.