Six years later, on a sunny afternoon, I went back and found that Simon Tejada never sold his house. I met him this time outside the home, and we walked the street freely. Gone were the thugs in hoodies. Gone was the graffiti. As we strolled, Tejada waved to neighbors, some of whom had just bought houses. “Now I don’t want to leave,” he told me.
The transformation of Drew Street is not unique. In the past few years, street gangs have been retreating from public view all over Southern California. Several years ago, I spent a couple of days in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, interviewing some Florencia 13 gang members. One nearby garage was never free of graffiti for more than a few minutes a week. (This was the amount of time it took after the graffiti clean-up truck left for the 76th Street clique of Florencia 13 to re-deface the thing.) That garage wall has now been without graffiti for more than four years. I go by it every time I’m in the neighborhood.
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