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All's Not Well in Hel-Mel?

HelMelMtg1About two dozen businessowners, residents and other stakeholders of the Hel-Mel Bicycle District (a.k.a. the corner of Heliotrope Drive and Melrose Avenue) got together on Thursday morning at Scoops to discuss ways to deal with the drive-by shooting that shook up the corner on Monday afternoon.

According to witnesses, sometime after 4:30 p.m. on Monday, January 18, a van drove westbound on Melrose in the #2 lane, then made a sudden right turn onto Heliotrope Drive, where it stopped in front of the smoke shop on 704 N. Heliotrope. A gunman got out and fired about 10 rounds into the shop and the adjoining UTG tattoo parlor, got back in the van, which quickly backed up and continued west on Melrose. Despite what the crime report site read, no one was hurt, thankfully, though witnesses described the gunman as “shooting towards the ceiling” of the shop, where apparently someone was working on fixing a leak in the roof earlier. Another person at he meeting claimed that the van way found a few blocks away and the gunman caught, though there was no confirmation by police.

Over the past year and a half, though things have been largely safe at the corner, there was a random stabbing in front of the Bicycle Kitchen just months ago, and Orange 20 Bikes was broken into twice since moving into the old Han’s Furniture Store space.

The managers of the smoke shop and UTG tatoos told the group that they could find no explanation for being targeted, as they denied any reason for retaliation or gang affiliation.

UTG manager Tattoo Louie, further elaborated to the group, “We’re just like everyone else. None of us have any gang affiliations or criminal records. We just want to work together and make this a better place.” Earlier, he responded to some accusations that his shop was introducing a violent element.

“We do not do any gang tattoos,” said Tattoo Louie, who commutes from Azusa. “From day one, we’ve refused to any gang tattoos here.”

The group debated whether to accept violent crime as a given of urban life vs. doing anything possible to prevent it. Obviously most people wanted the latter, the only question was hot to go about it.  They also discussed and debated ways to make the neighborhood safer, from increased police presence, to pooling together resources to hire a private security guard, to installing more surveillance cameras, to simply organizing more as a community, sharing information and intelligence, and developing trust amongst each other.

I stepped in and shared LAPD Rampart Division Senior Lead Officer Matt Zeigler‘s contact info (phone: 213.793.0771; email: 34208@lapd.lacity.org) and stressed the importance of not just calling him in times of need, but developing a working relationship and rapport with him (I did inform him about the meeting, though I had only known about it the night before).

Orange 20 owner Jim C. recommended more strategically-placed cameras to catch any wrongdoers. He also mentioned that his own store’s cameras, installed after their recent break-ins, caught footage of the van and wanted to submit the video data to the police, which needs to be transferred from the video system’s hard drive before it is automatically erased in a few days.

Despite the incident, it’s a wonderful sight to see a community get together an organize itself. Although many of the businesses know each other and share clienteles, the meeting, organized by Bicycle Kitchen‘s Kelly Martin, was a great first step to becoming a more organized neighborhood.  The formerly desolate corner, once home to Y-Que Trading Post and DMC Records and featured in the ’80s breakdance flick Breakin’,  has only been a “hang-out” since late 2001, when the old Night In Tunisia cafe (now City College Cafe) set up shop, which inspired Bicycle Kitchen to relocate here in 2005.

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