Echo Park, once an area of heavy crime, became a safe, happy space for at least one night on Tuesday, August 3.
It was National Night Out, an event built around raising police awareness and inspiring community action. A Night Out was held in every police precinct in the city.
The police, as well as residents, were excited about the venue.
“We’ve been doing this 24 years and I have a lot of Nights Out under my belt,” said 46th Precinct Community Affairs officer Detective Warren Thompson, “but this is the very first time we’ve held ours in Echo Park, and I think it worked well.”
Thompson said the park worked smoothly because it’s an enclosed space, so police didn’t have to close off any streets. “It’s good to look around and see friendly faces,” he said, surveying the crowd.
Friendly they were. In one corner of the park, kids could get their faces painted, and were able to eat burgers — either fresh off the grill or from a box of White Castle burgers someone brought — while they waited in line.
“We came over here and got our faces painted, ate some cookies, and I’m glad I came,” said Shamiea Thompson, 10, who was hanging out with her friend Ishmael Gakou, also 10. “I was just going to play X-box at home but then some woman told me there was a party in the park!” said Ishmael.
Bernice Williams was especially pleased. As the 46th Precinct Community Council’s treasurer, she pretty much planned the entire evening.
“My thing is to show these kids we can have unity between the youth and the police,” she said.
“That’s what tonight is for, unifying the community and making everyone come out and feel safe.”
The question is whether the kids understood the same goal. Twelve-year-old D’angelo Maull, for one, was pretty sure he knew what was going on. “I know what Night Out is for,” he said. “They do this so they can get a handle on drugs. They want to tell us to play and not do drugs.”
Drugs are part of it. But Night Out was also so that local community groups could get their name out, and so that residents could feel safe from crime.
“We’re supposed to be taking back the night,” said Wes Williams, co-chair of the youth committee of Community Board 5 and founder of the youth media program Each1Teach2.
Williams was a bit disappointed that some people started leaving at sundown.
“It’s called Night Out, but almost everyone has left now that it got dark. They missed the point. But hey, this was still a big success.”
While some adults worried about crime and taking a stand for the community, most of the kids felt happy to just focus on kid stuff, like learning to ditch their fear of crowds.
“Tonight’s been fun for me because my mom talked me into dancing on stage in front of everyone,” said Summer Cortez, 13.
“Now that I danced to Beyonce in front of everyone in the park, I’m eating a really good shishkabob. Good way to end it,” she said.
©2010 Community News Group