The monthly meetings of the Echo Park Improvement Association normally devote much time to complaints about cracked sidewalks, reports on car burglaries and what’s new at the library. But Thursday night’s meeting turned into a community counseling session that brought the grieving family and friends of Eric Zamarripa, one of the leaders of the Echo Park gang who was gunned down at his home by a fellow ExP member, face-to-face with residents fearful of more shootings and gangs.
Zamarripa’s mother showed up as did William Vargas, who was shot and injured in the Sunday afternoon shooting spree that police blame on an internal ExP dispute. Also making a brief appearance was former LAPD officer Joe Writer, who considered Zamarripa a major threat to the safety and security of Echo Park. The people who spoke included a woman who burst into tears describing police harassment of her son, and one resident who suggested people should say “hi” to each other more often to diffuse tension. There were also the typical tangents and random synapse moments you have to endure at any Echo Park meeting. At one point, the more than 75 residents and cops packed into the cabin-like interior of Williams Hall fell quiet as they offered a few moments of silence in memory of Zamarripa.
The emotions and tensions displayed last night over everything from gang violence to neighborhood gentrification reflected the torrent of comments to The Eastsider’s post on Zamarripa’s death. But, unlike most of those online comments, no one was anonymous last night. There was no place to hide.
Here are some of the comments from last night’s meeting in the order they were given (or you can listen in four-parts) :
don’t really know how it really is.”
“I’m serious. Who ever does not want to respect each other and does not want to work with each other, there’s the door. Simple as that. We are here for solutions … So gentrification or no gentrification – forget about that. We are all equal. We are all living here and this is our community.”
“I don’t know why you people feel scared to walk in our neighborhood. I don’t know why you feel scared to be among us. I want the people to quit hiding behind the fact that they are so good and so great and we are not. Hey, I care about this this neighborhood more than you do because we’ve lived here our whole life.”
“There is no stone throwing here. We are sitting here to resolve it, to have everybody be able to walk down the street without gunfire. It’s not about White, Hispanic, Black, anything. It’s about just living in the neighborhood.”
“Some people have been here for 50 years, some people have been here for 15 minutes. If you want to have a strong neighborhood, you all better come together.”
“I hope that we are all saying ‘hi’ to all of our neighbors regardless of the color of their skin. There is a lot of great people in this neighborhood. Just get to know everyone … I’m half Mexican, half White. I’m so proud to live in this neighborhood.”
“But my son is gone. It’s too late … These kids I’ve known all my life. I’ve changed diapers. You can call them gang members. You can call them whatever you like. But in the Echo Park area we got no help when these kids were growing up. We got no help.”
“It’s easy for all us to get stuck on race and who was here longer and who wasn’t. But my kids, I have teenage children, and they play in this community… It does frighten me that my children could be hanging out somewhere at the wrong place at the wrong time.”