In September a 19-year-old college student was shot to death while sitting on a bench at a park in South Los Angeles. Police said he was an innocent bystander who was shot by a gang member who they think mistook him for a rival gang member. The city had plans to add security cameras to the park, but they hadn’t been installed yet. When we talked to our staff writers, several said that they didn’t always feel safe using the parks in their neighborhoods.
There is a beautiful park a five-minute walk from my school in East L.A. Hollenbeck Park has a lake with a trail that goes around it. Lots of people, including me, run through the park but one thing is sure: you better run during the day. After 7 p.m. it gets dangerous.
A month ago, I was running on the trail around 9:30 p.m. when seven to nine gangbangers yelled at me, “Hey, why you running? Who’s chasing you?”
When I wouldn’t answer they yelled, “Hey kid, get the f*** out of here. Don’t let me catch you here again.” I finished my lap and went home shook up. I had no idea if they were carrying weapons.
Thankfully there’s Belvedere Park, which is about 10 minutes from my home by car. I love going there. It has baseball and soccer fields, basketball courts, a playground, tennis courts, and also a pool and a skate park. My friends and I skate there once a month. Belvedere is so safe that it’s like you’re at home.
The city could make some parks safer by setting up a police station in them or at least have more patrol cars driving around them. People should feel safe at all our parks all the time.
Erik Tovar, 17, Roosevelt HS
Although I live near two parks, I don’t go to either of them. In my neighborhood, Koreatown, the parks are dangerous. There are taggings on walls and at night when I drive by I can see gang members inside. They are also dirty. I’ve seen broken bottles, cigars and used cups on the ground.
The first time I went to one of those parks was with my friends in middle school. We saw homeless people sleeping and a drunk man walking around. I saw a group of men playing cards, but I didn’t see any children. The park smelled like rotten eggs. We left and went to hang out at a café. I never went to the park again.
Instead, on weekends my parents and I drive 15 minutes to Griffith Park. The best thing about Griffith Park is that there are hiking trails. We like challenging ourselves, so we take one of the long trails. We hike with my dog. The park is clean and safe—I haven’t seen any litter or tagging.
I wish the city would have more police at the parks near me. This would keep the gang members away so people in the neighborhood could use them. If the parks were safe, I would go there after school to do homework or hang out with friends. I might sit under a tree and read a book instead of playing on the computer at home.
Ju-Young Kim, 17, UCLA Community School
Outside of my apartment building in downtown, the walls of the nearby buildings are hidden beneath graffiti, and there are drunks curled up on the sidewalks. I also live near the border of two rival gangs. The streets in my neighborhood are dangerous, and sadly they keep me from going to Vista Hermosa Park, which is a few blocks from my home.
One day in March, I went for a run at Vista Hermosa. I wasn’t worried about going out alone at 5 p.m. since the sun shone bright and people were walking home from work.
As I was running up and down a hill next to the park I noticed a car was slowly coming to a stop near me. A middle-aged man stuck his head out the driver’s window and stared at me. I scowled at him, trying to disguise my fear. I jogged up the hill again and turned around. I felt relieved when I saw that he was gone. I was worried that he’d return so I went into the park to lose him.
Once I got inside, I saw other people running or enjoying the view of downtown. It was almost like I was in another world. The park has a clean playground and a soccer field that is always used by leagues. But after only one lap around the park’s nice dirt trail, I was still afraid of being followed so I headed home. On the way I had to pass by six males all covered in gang tattoos.
Having a lovely park doesn’t matter if the neighborhoods around it aren’t safe. The city should provide more police and install more security cameras around the park. Maybe then it’ll be safe enough to enjoy.
Estelita Pascual, 17, Downtown Magnets HS
Living in the hills of Sylmar there are no restaurants or cool stores within walking distance of my house. So if there were no parks in my neighborhood I’d feel like I had nothing to do. But I’m lucky. There are two parks within three blocks of my house, and they both feel safe.
El Cariso Park is big with lots of trees. It has a pool where my sister loves swimming. Every time I’ve been there, there have been more than a dozen people running or walking and some parents playing with their kids. I’ve invited friends to come run or have picnics with me for a few years now.
Sometimes when I feel like hanging out in a more secluded place I go to Veterans Memorial Park, which is smaller. It has short hiking trails that I love. My family goes several times a week to exercise. It’s like stepping out of the city without going far. Other times I’ll go by myself to read. Even though there aren’t a lot of people around I still feel safe because there is always a sheriff’s deputy or two strolling around.
Jazmine Mendoza, 17, Social Justice Humanitas Academy (San Fernando)
I live near two parks. La Fayette Park is a two-minute walk from my apartment building. The other is Shatto Park, which is about a 15-minute walk. Even though La Fayette is almost like my backyard I hardly use it.
What makes La Fayette Park scary is that a gang hangs out there. I’ve seen tagging on the walls of the park buildings and restrooms.
One time I was walking with a friend and while we were waiting to cross a street next to the park a guy maybe a year older than us approached us. “Do you bang?” he asked. Puzzled by his question my friend and I looked at each other.
“No,” I responded. We crosssed the street ignorng the guy as he blurted out his gang name. Later that week I realized that he approached us probably because I was wearing Dickies. People who are affiliated with gangs often wear Dickies. Being confronted by the guy scared me because now I felt like I have to be aware of where I walked on my way home.
The only time I think about using La Fayette Park is to play soccer. But when I go the small, synthetic-grass field after school it’s usually locked because there is either a team practicing in there or because there will be a game later in the evening. When it is locked the only way to play in there is by jumping the fence, which is fun, but dangerous. When it is opened for anyone to use, the field is taken over by a bunch of men in their 30s playing soccer. I feel like being able to access La Fayette without having to worry about the gangs would benefit the community. It would be nice to have a park that I can go to and play soccer without so any fears.
Kevin Cruz, 18, School for the Visual Arts and Humanities