(Nov. 8, 2003) -- Long Beach received extended national attention on Friday, Nov. 7 when ABC News Nightline focused on gang killings that continue to terrorize and victimize people living in parts of America's urban neighborhoods.
In compelling prose and pictures, veteran reporter Judy Muller [LBReport.com comment: one of their best writers and reporters] described the agonizing ironies surrounding the Oct. 21 murder of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Sok Khak Ung, the Iraq combat veteran shot to death in the 1200 block of E. 7th St. while visiting his family alongside friend Vouthy Tho was also slain while attending the gathering.
The piece contrasted heavy news coverage of American casualties in Iraq with often routine coverage of ongoing deaths occurring daily in gang infested parts of America's cities. As is common for Friday editions of Nightline, the usual in-studio or satellite delivered guests were omitted. The reporter's piece told the story. Ms. Muller's work was devastating.
"The Long Beach neighborhood where Cpl. Ung and his friend were killed is a crowded working class area populated mainly by Latinos and Cambodians. Gangs often terrorize the community," Ms. Muller said, quoting the father of Vouthy Tho: "Like living in war zone. Every night, people when even I go to the market and I can't buy milk for my kid, I'm afraid you know, somebody's shooting for no reason."
Nightline said LBPD Chief Anthony Batts is a strong supporter of community policing who makes regular visits to the neighborhood in an effort to build trust. (Video of Chief Batts in neighborhood telling residents, "In order for us to catch 'em, the community has to be willing to call in and give us information"). Ms. Muller noted, "But people in dangerous neighborhoods are often afraid to speak up out of fear of retribution."
During an on-camera walking interview with Chief Batts, Ms. Muller said, "Some people are calling our cities war zones, that Baghdad's a war zone but so are our inner cities. Would you agree with that?" Chief Batts replied, "No, I think that's an outrage. That's kind of saying, like the people who live in that war zone are animals."
Ms. Muller noted that nationally, homicide rates dropped sharply in the late 90s but police are seeing "hot zones" in communities where gangs still hold sway. And in five stark, potent senses, she conveyed the essence of the story:
"Corporal Ung's death made national news. This was after all a decorated Marine who managed to survive Iraq but could not survive Long Beach. But thousands of people are killed each year in cities across America. In fact, it's become so routine that those cases rarely make national news. Even so, those in the affected neighborhoods still try to get the world to pay attention."
Nightline airs nationwide and is seen locally on ABC7.