Crackdown

After years of neglect, a Maryvale neighborhood and the Phoenix police evict the West Side City Crips

"I've seen them come and go, either walking out or being carried out. . . . I would tell them, 'Why are you doing this? Why are you shooting and killing each other?' I saw enough of that in Oakland."

For years, Lloyd made her son Jeremiah sleep on the living-room floor.
"They would be shooting out by his window," she says. "I tell you, the Lord's been watching over us, because a bullet doesn't have any name on it."

Two years ago, Lloyd saw a girl shot and killed right outside her condo.
"I was just back from the store, and I walked right by her," she says in a matter-of-fact tone. The girl was leaning up against her house, and Lloyd could see her shadow from a window inside.

"Then I saw the shadow of a man and saw him pull out a gun and shoot her. Just bang-bang, shot her twice," she says.

She never went to the police. She's not sure if the shooter was ever caught.

Patti Hussey was trying to do the right thing. She worked hard to make Woodmar a decent place to live. But her job put her at odds with West Side City, which liked Woodmar just the way it was.

Hussey was brought in as complex manager in 1995. Her company specializes in turning around what she politely refers to as "distressed property." But she'd never seen anything as bad as Woodmar.

On a recent tour of the place, Hussey talks about the gang problems in the manner of an aggrieved schoolmarm. She still sounds shocked at some of what she saw.

There were beer bottles strewn around the common areas every morning. In the winter, the gangs would tear the plywood off boarded-up units and build bonfires. The smell of urine was so strong you couldn't bear to walk through some stairwells, Hussey says. Here and there, piles of human feces littered the sidewalks. The gang members set palm trees on fire, shot guns into the air, "stupid stuff like that," Hussey says.

"I'd ask what was going on, and they said they were having a party for one of their homies," Hussey says in disbelief. "Excuse me, that is just not acceptable."

Hussey couldn't keep the pool open. "They would have urinating contests," she says. "They would just circle around the pool and pee into it and throw beer bottles into it. We couldn't buy enough chemicals to keep it clean."

Near the main courtyard, the gangs claimed a vacant unit for their own. They filled its patio with trash, broke the door in and slept there when the weather turned cold. When Hussey did find a tenant, nothing changed. They would still come in as if they owned the place. "They just intimidated her to the point where she moved out."

Most tenants couldn't live with the problems.
"As it got worse, it just got more and more abandoned," Hussey says--which was the way the gang preferred it.

"All of these places were vacant," she says, indicating condos at key points around the common areas. "No one was here. Who was going to bug them?"

Hussey even tried scolding the gang members and druggies, with predictable results. "I'd tell them to go away, and they'd say, 'Oh sure, Ms. Patti.'"

Last Christmas, Hussey came as close as she wanted to a confrontation with the gangs. She was dropping off a paycheck to one of the complex's maintenance workers, who rented a second-floor apartment in Woodmar. "I usually looked before I went into one of the stairwells, but I just started down the stairs before I realized I was walking right in the middle of a drug deal."

Six men surrounded her and would not let her pass. Hussey kept her eyes fixed straight forward and said, "Excuse me." Still, nobody moved. She reached up and tentatively tapped the man in front of her on the shoulder. "Then he nodded--someone must have nodded to him--and he let me by," she says.

Hussey got in her car and drove away. She stopped down the street and took a moment. "I just kept thinking, I'm a single mom, I have two kids, I need to go home tonight. I just said, 'Thank you, God, I owe you one.' I've looked at people, and if they have even the slight spark of life in their eyes, I'm not afraid to talk to them. But there are people whose eyes are just dead, you know? And these guys were like that. It just shakes you, because there are people like that out there."

To most people at Woodmar, the West Side City Crips were like a rabid beast parked right outside the door; residents shied away, tried to walk around it.

But to David Roland--a.k.a. Wink Dawg, as it reads in his court file and police reports--the Crips were his family.

Roland was a dealer at Woodmar. According to police reports, Roland's been a suspect in assaults, car theft and burglary. Snared for his first felony as an adult in February, he went to jail for the first time for selling crack at Woodmar.

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