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The following story was written as part of the Ramona Gardens Storytelling Project, organized by Boyle Heights Beat and Legacy LA.
By Amairani Pineda
I remember a really cold and gloomy night, when I was nine years old. My mom, my little brother and I were coming back home from my aunt’s house, around 8 p.m. As we entered Ramona Gardens, we could hear a helicopter coming towards the housing development and then towards my mom’s car. As we reached the parking lot, and my mom parked, we could hear the helicopter hovering over the car.
As we looked out, we saw three men with huge guns running away from the police. For a moment, I thought one of them was going to shoot at us. I was scared, and so was my mother. We got out of the car, got my little brother and his car seat, and ran home. Five minutes later we heard: “Apartment 354: Everyone come out with your hands up!” My mom said to us, “What’s going on?”
We came out with our hands up to see a SWAT team pointing at us. All I could think was, “What if one of them just shoots?” Once we were out, the SWAT team entered our apartment, believing that one of the suspects had gone inside or that we were trying to cover him.
My name is Amairani Pineda. I am 17 years old, and I’ve been a resident of Ramona Gardens since I was eight years old. In my community everyone knows each other, and people are very friendly and look after each other. One issue that concerns me is growing up in a community where the police are around 24/7. There is no need for that. We should feel free to move around without feeling persecuted.
Ramona Gardens doesn’t have as many resources as other communities around us. We only have one store in the neighborhood, but the prices are high, and the quality is low.
Ramona Gardens is one of many communities in Los Angeles under a gang injunction. In a gang injunction, the court issues a restraining order against a group and sets special rules to deal with that group, in this case a gang.
I have seen the tragic consequences of excessive police presence. One day, my friends and I were sitting outside playing with our Nintendos– a calm sunny day in Ramona Gardens back in 2009– having fun and sharing laughs. Out of nowhere, we saw a young man running past us, being chased by cops pointing a gun at him. We saw him get shot multiple times. It was so loud it almost sounded like fireworks. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do until I heard my mom yelling, “Métanse para adentro.” We were so scared that we forgot my little brother outside. My friend went out and grabbed him.
Later, when the ambulance came, we saw the paramedics carry his bloody body. I felt a knot in my stomach. The police thought the young man had a weapon on him, but it turned out he didn’t. Later I found out that it was my friend’s brother who was shot to death by the police right in front of my eyes.
I have three younger brothers and live in a two-bedroom apartment with six people. I am a junior at Abraham Lincoln High School. I have dreams and goals, and I’m determined to make them happen. I come from a low-income community, facing challenges at times. I grew up with an absent father, and I was raised by a single mother. My parents did not achieve a higher education, but my mother’s sacrifices and hard work give me the fuel to keep on going and never give up. I plan to go to college and one day have a better life for my family and myself. I’m driven to become successful so I can also help my community.