First impressions in neighborhoods can be huge—they can be everything. They can determine whether or not you feel safe to walk alone, or whether you would consider raising a family there.
The impression you get from the quiet Churchill community is a standard, middle-class American neighborhood with schools, parks and a community garden. You see graffiti on some of the fences, but choose to overlook this because everyone’s lawns look so well kept, and there’s a fire station right by the schools.
On the surface, it is the epitome of the ‘American Dream.’ But upon further investigation, namely speaking with the cashier at a convenient store, Churchill is far more than its surface value.
Jason Crane, full-time carpenter and part-time cashier at the DS Market situated across the street from Churchill High School, filled Neighborhood News reporters in on the happenings of Churchill. According to Crane, there are rival southern California gangs who are fighting for territory control of the Churchill area–the Southside Play Boys Surenos Trece (Play Boys for short) and West Side Piru.
Crane says the gangs are violent, but only with each other, and not the residents or bystanders in the community. The DS Market has been broken into on numerous occasions, but Crane says they (the gang members) will hold the door open for the elderly who come in the store, or mop up beer they spilled on the floor.
“They want territory. They want a community that’s theirs,” says Crane.
Rosy Hernandez, 20, and Madian Hernandez, 16, come to the area on Sundays to play soccer with their family, go to the park, and enjoy what they say is a “calm atmosphere.” They said despite some of the “drama” during the week, on Sundays everything in the Churchill area is quiet and enjoyable.
Rosy’s 16-year-old brother attends Churchill High School and the drama they spoke of during the school week is gang-related as well as issues with bullying. The two young girls informed Neighborhood News that the gang activity is centered in the Churchill Village apartments across the street from the high school parking lot. They described some issues with the gang members entering school grounds during breaks, but the majority of the violence happens when Churchill plays their rival, Willamette High School at sporting events.
“There is almost always a fight,” according to Rosy, but she adds that those fights usually take place after the games.
The violence in the schools is not always gang-related. Rosy’s younger brother has complained of a very large bullying problem in the schools, which seems to be a growing trend across the United States.
Even with the gang activity causing some unease and the bullying in the schools, the Churchill community has some positive qualities. Jason Crane appreciates the community policing, where it seems everyone is looking out for the safety of their neighbors, as well as the great sports programs at the high school. Rosy and Madian Hernandez appreciate the generally calm atmosphere which keeps them coming back to enjoy some outdoor recreation on the weekends.
On the surface the Churchill neighborhood could resemble just about any other neighborhood in America, and just like any other community, Churchill has it’s underlying issues. The graffiti on the fences gets painted over from time to time, in an effort to squelch gang activity, but also to preserve that serene first impression of a peaceful suburbia. First impressions can be everything, but they never seem to tell you the full story.