The Gangs of Echo Park Crime in L.A. - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Gangs of Echo Park

Echo Park is a place where stops signs tagged “ExP” (Echo Park Locos) and “CRS” (The Crazys) share blocks with happy hour chalkboards hawking “PBR,” so it’s perhaps unsurprising that locals reacted with mixed feelings late last month when former city attorney Carmen Trutanich applied for an injunction against six neighborhood gangs, prohibiting known members from associating with each other in a 3.8 mile area (with some exceptions).

When a bunch of Frogtown members jump and rob a cyclist on the river path or a Diamond Street Loco misses his target and instead kills a 4-year-old, newcomers and longtime residents share anguish and frustration, but gangs have been in Echo Park for so long that for some residents who grew up in the neighborhood they are part of the fabric of the community.

Here’s what we know about the six gangs named in the injunction: Echo Park Locos, Diamond Street Locos, Frogtown, Crazys, Head Hunters, and Big Top Locos.

DIAMOND STREET LOCOS

The Diamond Street Locos made their first appearance in the Los Angeles Times in 1973—as victims: An unarmed 17-year-old kid, an alleged Diamond Street member, was shot dead by a school security guard at Belmont High School in Westlake. The kid had been suspended from Belmont but returned to the school and an altercation with the guard ensued. The security guard was transferred but kept his job, sparking Chicano activists to organize walkouts.

By 1979 the gang was committing “rat pack” assaults, in which 35 to 40 members would quickly attack, for example, a group of guards outside a Downtown Bank of America. The gang’s leader, a 19-year-old named Juan “Fat Johnny” Contreras, was arrested during one of the assaults and sentenced in the early 1980s.

In 1980 Diamond Street and a few other gangs made an unlikely ally: the neighborhood’s gay community. In the late ‘70s, gay men were victims of hate-fueled attacks by gang members. Gay community activists reached out to gang leaders and Diamond Street responded, ultimately joining forces to help organize the Sunset Junction Street Fair, which was successful for more than 30 years (until 2011 when organizers filed for bankruptcy).

These warm-fuzzy fairs didn’t stop Diamond Street members from driving out to Santa Ana to murder members of a rival gang, F Troop, several times throughout the ‘80s. Or from killing an Echo Park 4-year-old with a stray bullet.

ECHO PARK LOCOS

Echo Park Locos have dominated the neighborhood for decades. They are so embedded in the community that the line between organized criminals and civic leaders often blurs. This was probably most apparent in 2009 when Eric Zamarripa was murdered. 

An Echo Park Loco shot Zamarripa, a leader of the same gang, in front of his home on Baxter Street. Eastsider LA ran an interesting profile and the police held a public meeting to discuss his death. The public response portion of the meeting (also covered by Eastsider) was tense, with racial, anti-gentrification, and anti-gang undertones. Zamarripa was characterized as both a community leader and a creep. He was a family man who hosted big block parties at his home. He was also allegedly leading a gang responsible for violence and drug crimes in the neighborhood.

Incidentally, several of the Echo Park Locos involved in the Zamarripa incident lived outside of Echo Park. Apparently, even the guys who rep Echo Park leave or get pushed out by gentrification to Highland Park and Pasadena.

FROGTOWN

This old school gang takes its name from the antiquated slang for the riverside Elysian Valley section of Echo Park, where thousands of frogs used to croak from the banks of the river. In the early ‘90s Frogtown residents started referring to the neighborhood as Elysian Valley to avoid the damning association with the gang, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Today Frogtown’s gang name is losing its edge; residents are starting to call it Frogtown again and the Frogtown Artwalk gets about as much press as the gang these days.

BIG TOP LOCOS

The Big Top Locos were first mentioned in the Los Angeles Times in the late ‘80s and have been tied to some recent shootings. Little else is known about them. Big Top Locos was also the name of a music festival held in the summers of 1994 and 1995, featuring Rage Against the Machine lead singer Zach De La Rocha. The event was meant to support children affected by political revolution that occurred in the Mexican state of Chiapas. It’s unclear if the gang and the festival are or were related, but the name is pretty unique.

THE HEAD HUNTERS

Of the six gangs named in the injunction, The Head Hunters are best at staying under the radar. However the gang made news in 2008 when one member allegedly fired shots at a man he believed had called the police on the gang.

THE CRAZYS

Unlike the other gangs on this list, The Crazys have a large gang history throughout the city of Los Angeles. Their Echo Park connection includes some initiation assaults on Sunset and Alvarado and a tagging war they waged against the Echo Park Locos in 2010.

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  1. anon posted on 07/25/2013 11:54 AM
    Interesting article, but a few questions...

    The Crazy's moniker is CYS not CRS. CRS was "Crazy Riders"- a different gang that is nearly defunct I believe. While CYS's has rooted in echo park (mayberry st, especially) they actually had a clique in silver lake during the 80's and 90's...

    Are you sure Diamond St was the gang involved with the old Sunset Junction Festivals?
    I though another gang was involved, especially since diamond st. is so far from sunset junction. I thought it was another gang located closer to the silverlake.

    Again, interesting article. Many of theses stories need to be documented. I've lived in the area all my life and heard many different "stories" about these gangs, some seem to take a life of their own!
  2. EP Mama posted on 07/26/2013 07:35 AM
    EP residents who are against the injunction probably live up in the hills and not near Echo Park Ave. and Baxter where the action usually is. As a result of these "community leaders" hanging out, innocent neighbors and bystanders with children get to witness and an occasional drive-by or murder.
  3. SLAnonymous posted on 09/27/2013 05:39 AM
    I call BS on this. Take a look at Google Street Maps at Echo and Baxter. The place is completely gentrified now. I drove down Sunset one Friday night and the place was Whiter than Santa Monica. Where are the Latino gangs? Frogtown, maybe. Near the 101, maybe. But to me it all seems like political posturing by Trutanich. Nice one, too, to get bad publicity for the neighborhood. I guess it's hard to get two injunctions on the essas in Cypress Park.
  4. garagehero posted on 01/03/2014 04:56 PM
    You stated, or more exactly, paraphrased an L.A. Times article, in your blurb about "Frogtown", This old school gang takes its name from the antiquated slang for the riverside Elysian Valley section of Echo Park, where thousands of frogs used to croak from the banks of the river. In the early ‘90s Frogtown residents started referring to the neighborhood as Elysian Valley to avoid the damning association with the gang" . The part about frogs croaking is partially correct. Its also named for the thousands of frogs that migrated out of the river and into the surrounding streets at times during the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Whenever there would be a population spike, thousands would spill out of the river. I remember my dad driving bumpily over hundreds of frogs that had covered Riverside Drive from Figueroa to Los Feliz. And as for residents beginning to refer to their neighborhood as "Elysian Valley in the 90s", that's just pure poppycock. Its been called Elysian Valley since the 20s-30s. Frogtown was a nickname that might even preceed the gang affiliation. Other than that, aside from some glaring historical deficiencies in the Echo Park section, not a bad article.
  5. itiswhatitis posted on 03/21/2014 12:17 PM
    It's not bulls hit come to echo park and donaldson on a Friday night or Saturday you'll see gang members that come out of where ever they might live trow beer bottles in your lawn ..come and hit you up .... If you don't live in the area please don't comment because obviously you don't know what's going on.
  6. JoBanger posted on 07/19/2014 06:12 PM
    I call the area Cockroach Town for all the Mexican gang banger shitheads. My unofficial militia goes in and cleans up the roaches every now and then, to show them they aren't welcome here. And by clean up I mean they're eating carne asada out of their newly ripped brown smelly assholes.
  7. jaygeo posted on 07/21/2014 12:28 AM
    as someone who grew up in the hood, I have to set the record straight, there's still a lot of drug dealing and crime and echo park, it's not safe to walk around even in the daytime, if you walk at night, don't walk alone under any circumstances, there are remnants of old crack addicted homies desperate to score the next hit and will stab you for 10 bucks, don't be fooled by the so-called gentrification. echo park has a long way to go, sure it's getting cleaned up but the old welfare queen cholas who have apartmenst subsidized by the taxpayers and who have cholo kids and deadbeat husbands, all prey on the honest hard working residents. sure the ghetto element is being pushed and price out of the neighborhood, but not fast enough, maybe in another 20 years it will be a livable place but not as of today. I'm a hispanic myself and I hate to admit that wherever my people go, they gives us all a bad name, by acting like thugs and hoodlums.
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