Late in the evening on Saturday, August 24, a large group of approximately 25 teens gathered at the Bank of America at the corner of Larchmont and First Street. Teens have been gathering at the bank for decades because of its central location in the neighborhood.
“It’s our place to gather, it’s kind of a tradition,” one of the group explained to the Buzz.
Several other parents we spoke to told us their teens, now 20ish, had hung out at the bank too. And, for just as many years there have been complaints about their behavior from business owners and neighbors. But week ago Saturday night tensions reached a flashpoint and – thanks to social media – everything got out of control.
Like many neighbors, we read the comments on a popular neighborhood social media platform. And, like many, we were shocked and surprised to read that a “gang” of teenagers had “attacked” and “nearly killed” an older adult man. So we spent the last week talking to residents, business owners, LAPD and the teens and their parents, to try to understand exactly what happened that night and we what could learn from it as a community. As it turned out, much of information posted on social media was hyperbolic and misleading. Here’s what we heard from the various sources we spoke to, some of whom agreed to be named in this story and some of whom did not.
One teen at the scene told the Buzz that the incident started when the teens confronted an adult man who had been filming them. Apparently, they had encountered the man before; he lives nearby in Windsor Square. They asked him to stop filming them. After a verbal exchange, the man grabbed the hand of one of the teens, knocking the boy off his scooter and then grabbing his other hand. As the man held the teen, another teen jumped in and punched the man in the back of his head. According to a video taken at the scene and shared with the Buzz, the man then released the first teen and turned to address the teen who hit him, and who had now jumped in front of him.
At this point, as captured in a second video shared with the Buzz, the adult turns toward three teens who have spread out around him, and he moves, in turn, toward each of the boys, who are now backing away. As the man approaches one teen, another teen comes from behind the man and punches him in the arm. As the man turns back to this boy, moving sideways, he stumbles and falls in the street. The teens converge on the man, and he quickly gets up, swinging his arms at the teens, who back away. Losing his balance as he rises, the man stumbles toward the three teens, who appear to taunt him from various points in the intersection of First Street and Larchmont Blvd. Now walking, the man again moves towards the teens, but they turn and leave.
A witness, Gregory Gutierrez, told the Buzz that he broke up the altercation by calling the man over to him. Gutierrez said he recognized the man as one of his neighbors, who often walks his dog on Larchmont. Gutierrez said that he called 911 using his speaker phone, and the teens dispersed when they heard the police were called. According to Gutierrez, the man walked home and did not wait for the police to come.
After the police arrived and spoke to Gutierrez, they also visited the older man at his home, and Senior Lead Officer Dave Cordova told the Buzz that the man filed a battery report stating he had exchanged words with two individuals he described as teens. He said in the report that he was knocked down to the ground and scraped his knee. He also said he was punched in the back and felt kicked when he was down. He refused treatment offered by the officers and said he would speak to his own doctor later. [Note: the Buzz also contacted the victim directly, but he declined to speak and asked us not to publish his name.]
A boy we spoke to several days later told us the teens are accustomed to aggressive behavior from some adults, but this incident really surprised the kids.
“We were surprised that it was escalating,” he told the Buzz. “We didn’t want it to escalate and just wanted everyone to just get out of here. We saw an adult slurring his speech and picking on the smallest kid.”
Both the parents and the teens we talked with were horrified that the incident occurred. The teens said they just want peace with the adults in the neighborhood…but they also told us they didn’t like what adults were saying about them on the internet. And they said they want people to know that they want to be part of the community and not sent off to a separate area, like a skate park, to hang out further from home.
“Part of the fun is teasing people who are aggressive with us,” admitted the teen about those adults who give them a stern look or start hassling them. But now, the boys said, they just want to tone down the interaction and have everyone behave respectfully toward each other.
That sentiment was echoed by nearby neighbor and resident Clare Sebenius, who inadvertently started the social media thread by posting on Friday night that parents looking for a teen could likely find them at the Bank of America. Sebenius told the Buzz that she’d like to see parents and other adults provide more supervision so Larchmont is safe for everyone, teens and adults.
“Who are we if don’t care about the safety of our kids?” asked Sebenius.