A neighborhood recovers from the slaying of an Echo Park four-year-old boy

The shrine of candles, flowers and photos created in memory of four-year- old Roberto Lopez was cleaned up long ago. But, on Wednesday night, residents packed into a warm and stuffy community room in the southern edge of Echo Park for a meeting that in many ways serves as an ongoing tribute to Roberto, who was slain by a gang member’s bullet a year ago last month. These regular neighborhood updates about crime, city services and events were set up by Councilman Ed Reyes’ office in the wake of last January’s killing of Roberto on a nearby street. These kinds of gatherings where residents complain to council deputies and senior lead officers about broken street lights, tagging and trash in the street have long been a staple of neighborhood activism across Los Angeles. But not here in a neighborhood dominated by Spanish-speaking immigrants, isolated from the rest of Echo Park by the 101 Freeway. The idea is to raise awareness of city services and get them involved in taking care of the neighborhood many call Temple-Beaudry. “If you don’t come to the meetings, you are not aware,” said Santiago Sanchez, a 40-year-old who works at a meat processing plant. “Everyone [receives] information to make things right.”

This week’s meeting was held only two days after a jury found 24-year-old Howard Astorga guilty of first-degree murder in the Lopez killing. Last night’s gathering was larger than most as the appearance of Councilman Reyes and LAPD Rampart Division Captain Steve Ruiz brought out more residents. But the usual meetings council field deputy Lynnelle Scaduto (pictured in the top photo) and a Rampart police officers fielding questions and giving out information. Scaduto said residents are given white slips of paper to report problems – such tagging. She follows up at the next meeting with a progress report on specific problems and issues. Scaduto said she hopes the meetings and progress updates will encourage more people to report problems.

“It’s not going to get better overnight,” Scaduto said. But, “they can vent here. They know someone is listening.”

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