|By Gene Johnson, Jr., Wave Newspapers
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — In an effort to quell more brown-on-black violence — most recently a 16-year-old girl wounded allegedly by a Latino gang member — some area activists have called for an immediate cease-fire and neighborhood unity.
The 16-year-old girl was shot in the leg by an occupant in a passing car last Friday as she was getting out of a vehicle to console the mother of Courtney Whaley, 17, who with William Armistead, 23, was killed by a Latino storeowner at the Super Discount Store, 6728 S. San Pedro St. on Sept. 25.
“To my understanding, [the girl is] doing well,” said activist Najee Ali, during a Tuesday morning news conference in front of the store where Whaley and Armistead were killed.
The store owner, Rovidio “Ruben” Espana, has been charged with murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Whaley and Armistead.
Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division could not be reached for comment on the shooting incident that left the teen-aged girl wounded.
“This neighborhood has seen an increase in gang graffiti,” Ali said, standing with a coalition of black and Latino activists with a backdrop of the newly yellow painted storefront once littered with gang graffiti. “We’re very fearful that racial violence will explode at any moment.”
Ali added that even though Espana allegedly shot the two unarmed victims, the shooting was not racially motivated.
“No matter what happened [on Sept. 25], it was not a black against Latino issue,” Ali said. “It’s a right-and-wrong thing, first and foremost.” He also called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to become more involved in the black/Latino issue. “Certainly, blacks and Latinos have to get along.”
Armistead reportedly made an off-color comment to a female store clerk the day of the shooting. The insults led to an argument with Espana, who was cooking something in the family store. Armistead and Whaley left the store for a time and then returned.
By then, investigators said, Espana had armed himself with a pistol and shot them. Armistead and Whaley died later at California Hospital Medical Center.
Espana has pleaded innocent to the killings and is being held on $4 million bail. He was also charged with being a felon in possession of a handgun.
Espana has sold his business, according to Francisco Cortez, a laborer hired on Saturday by the new owner to paint over the gang graffiti in front and remodel the inside of building. Cortez said another discount store will be housed inside the store, but would not disclose who the new store owner was.
In response to the Sept. 25 shooting, Hector Marroquin, executive director of Networks Organized for Gang Unity and Neighborhood Safety (NOGUNS), a gang intervention group, said “we got our people out in the field daily. What they do is go out and talk to gang members, trying to diffuse the situation.”
“There are some other forces out there that are trying to keep blacks and Latinos at each other’s throats,” he added. “We have to accept each other and learn how to do things together.”
Meanwhile the family of Armistead, who had recently enrolled at Compton College to study criminal justice, have began soliciting funds throughout the community to help pay for his funeral expenses.
So far, according to Charles Tolliver, a family friend, about $200 has been raised. Donations can be made, Ali said, by contacting the Simpson’s Family Mortuary.
An official with the city attorney’s Victim Assistance Program said that it will be providing funds for Whaley’s funeral expenses, but could not do the same for Armistead, who was on probation when he was killed.