Over the decades, Juanita Jenny Olivas has seen Echo Park become a safer place to live and raise a family. “The neighborhood has improved,” said Olivas, who lives in a house that has been owned by her husband’s family for more than 60 years. But, one night last month, Olivas’ impression of neighborhood safety changed dramatically. A late night call from a hospital informed Olivas that her 26-year-old son was being treated for stab wounds after he and a friend were assaulted on Echo Park Avenue by suspects who yelled gay slurs before the May 24 attack. On Tuesday night, Olivas asked residents gathered at a community meeting to help find the suspects and to also stand against hate crimes while learning about “tolerance and acceptance.”
“It’s going to take the whole community to come together,” said Olivas in an interview at the Echo Park United Against Hate Crimes Town Hall. “This was an attack on the community.”
Police, who are still looking for the suspects shown in a surveillance camera video, are investigating the matter as a hate crime. Today, the Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to vote on a motion by Councilman Eric Garcetti to create a $25,000 reward for information leading the conviction of the persons responsible for the attack.
Olivas son, who she declined to identify by name, was not present at the town hall, held outdoors in the recreation yard of the El Centro Del Pueblo in Echo Park. In addition to stab wounds, he suffered three fractured bones. “He’s lucky to be alive,” said Olivas, who works at Cal State L.A.
The attack has taken an emotional as well as physical toll on Olivas’ son, who lives with her in Echo Park, and the family. “He’s back at work,” said Olivas of her son, who works at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “He’s functioning. But he’s got to deal with what’s happened to him.”
Olivas’ son and a friend were headed to his home after spending some time at Sunset Beer on Sunset Boulevard before they came under attack on Echo Park Avenue. Her son has watched a surveillance video, shot from an Echo Park Avenue apartment building near Fairbanks Place, that shows grainy images depicting people running up and down the sidewalk and across the street. “He does not say much” about the images, Olivas said
The assault has shaken Olivas’ impression of neighborhood safety. “I felt really good and safe in the community. Now, I am looking behind me and just being cautious of my surroundings.”
The creation of the reward indicates how difficult it has been for the police to find the suspects despite the video footage. Olivas said it will be a while before anyone is caught. “Some people might consider this snitching,” said Olivas of requests for information about the suspects. “This is not snitching.”
On Tuesday night, Olivas said she was heartened to see so many people turn out at the town hall. “We are starting off with a good turnout today. I my very, very happy to see the support.”
Persons with information about the incident are asked to call the Northeast Division detectives at (323) 344-5751.
- Family of Echo Park hate crime victim pleads for witnesses to come forward. KPCC