By Kate Mather contact the reporter
Fed up with a recent rash of gang violence in South Los Angeles, Naima Smith gathered a group Saturday at a Baptist church on Hoover Street to talk about ways to bring peace to their neighborhood.
Smith, 32, a lifelong resident of South L.A., left the gathering feeling encouraged. Then her phone rang.
It was the pastor. There had just been another shooting, right outside the church. A man was dead.
The killing was part of a violent weekend in the LAPD's 77th Street Division in South Los Angeles. Seven shooting incidents Friday and Saturday left one dead and 11 wounded, prompting police to pull in more officers to help quell the violence.
On Monday morning, police were still searching for suspects as they sent more officers into the area.
A 6 p.m. peace rally was planned at the corner of 120th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard.
At the same time, rumors continued to swell on social media about one gang's supposed promise that the attacks would continue.
"People are scared," Smith said. "Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, uncles, even the O.G. gangsters.... They don't know what to do."
The shootings come as Los Angeles is experiencing a surge in crime this year after years of declines. In the 77th Street Division, which covers some of the city's most violent neighborhoods, shootings are up 20% so far this year compared with 2014, according to police statistics. The number of people shot has jumped nearly 31%, but there have been just two more homicides.
The LAPD is trying to prevent more violence, said Deputy Chief Bill Scott, who oversees the department's South Bureau. Detectives are working to quickly track down the gunmen. Police have reached out to gang intervention workers and clergy in hopes of cooling tempers.
More aggressive enforcement is also part of the plan, Scott said. Officers from the Metropolitan Division, an elite unit that was recently expanded to target crime hot spots across the city, will be sent to the area. Scott emphasized that South L.A. residents would not see a "dragnet over the neighborhood." Rather, he said, police would focus on known, active gang members in an effort to prevent an escalation.
"The last thing you want to do is come into the community and have more people incarcerated. But we know that there are people out there right now with very, very high and hot tempers," Scott said. "I'd rather have someone in jail for a warrant or a traffic violation and have a cooling-off period than have them go out there and shoot somebody."
LAPD brass has pointed to increased gang violence as a contributing factor to the city's rise in violent crime this year. Chief Charlie Beck said that although gang-related killings were down 9% during the first half of the year compared with 2014, shootings were up 26% and overall gang-related crimes were up 18%.
The city responded by allocating more funding for gang-intervention efforts and deploying more officers to trouble spots. Officials said there were signs that those efforts, along with others, were helping lower violent offenses across the city.
Saturday's violence highlights the complexities police face in combating gang-related crime - and stopping further attacks once the first shots are fired.
The first shooting occurred about 4 p.m. near 81st and Hoover streets, police said. Investigators are still looking into the motive, but Scott said the attack came after "verbal sparring" at a gang member's funeral about a mile and a half away.
"The rumor that we have been hearing is that people were upset that incident happened," Scott said.
Police said a gunman drove up to the victim, who was sitting in a car, and opened fire, leaving the man dead. Coroner's officials identified him as Anthony Alonzo Cudger, 47, of Los Angeles.
Less than an hour later, more gunfire broke out seven blocks away. Police said a man in his 40s was shot as he sat in a car near 75th and Figueroa streets, but he was able to drive himself to a hospital. The gunman fled.
Officers responded to a third shooting in Hyde Park shortly after 9 p.m., where they found a man in his 20s shot in the stomach, police said. He was taken to a nearby hospital.
Thirty-five minutes later, a man got out of a car and opened fire on three people walking near 47th Street and Budlong Avenue, police said. The victims were taken to a hospital, where one person remained in critical condition Sunday.
No arrests had been made as of Sunday evening, police said.
The shootings drew particular attention on social media, where rumors swirled that one gang had promised 100 days of violence after a member was killed this month. Hundreds of people on Instagram and Twitter expressed concern. Others flashed gang signs and guns, vowing revenge.
Scott, who said he had seen the postings, said investigators were trying to figure out whether they originated from within the gang and how valid the threat was. Regardless, he said, the speculation was "a huge problem."
"It causes fear in the community. It causes people to get hyped up, and some people who are prone to carry guns and carry out acts of violence now even have more reason to carry guns," he said. "When a rumor and innuendo and speculation starts to run wild, it can be as big a problem as if those things were true."
Scott said it was important to put gang-related violence in perspective, especially given how much less there is today compared with years past.
"One incident can trigger a spike in violence. If you look at that single spike, you'd think the world was coming to an end," he said. "But when you step back and look at time, this city has made tremendous progress."
Smith, the community activist, said her family and friends are avoiding going outside unless they have to. When she got home Saturday, she said, her roommate was getting ready to walk to a nearby store. She stopped him when she saw that he was wearing red shoes.
In May, a 19-year-old man was shot and killed outside a South L.A. car wash after two men approached him and asked about his gang affiliation because he was wearing red shoes, which she feared could be seen as a sign of gang affiliation.
Smith said she told her roommate to change.
"Just take those red shoes off," she told him. "There's too much going on."
Times staff writer Sandy Banks contributed to this report.
Be safe my L.A. folks.