May 27, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

MS-13’s Stronghold On MacArthur Park And Transphobia

MS-13, a vicious street gang, continues its stronghold on MacArthur Park making it unsafe for many who visit but specifically transgender individuals. 

After a transgender woman was brutally attacked in MacArthur Park on October 2020, which marked the second time in weeks that a transgender woman had been stabbed nearly to death in the Los Angeles park by members of MS-13, a street gang that considers the park the heart of its territory.

Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and 1980s. Originally, the gang was set up to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other gangs in the Los Angeles area.

Over the years several indictments have been made against alleged members of the MS-13 gang including the Fulton clique of MS-13 which is a subset of the gang that claims parts of North Hollywood, Panorama City and Van Nuys as its territory.

Members of MS-13, who have a tight hold on MacArthur Park, have made it clear that they are motivated by a hateful, bigoted desire to rid their turf of transgender people.

What has been unmentioned is the financial agreements that occur between these transgender woman and the gang members which put them in contact in the first place. 

The women had been paying members of MS-13 a weekly fee — “taxes” in the gang’s words — simply for permission to be in the park, according to police reports and interviews with victims and the police. They were among the street vendors, drug dealers, sex workers, shopkeepers and others who every day must pay for a commodity those in more affluent neighborhoods do not even know exists — the right to be left alone by a gang.

It has been made clear that MS-13 has been a bullying force in the MacArthur Park area for quite some time based on search warrant affidavits, police reports and other records filed in court and interviewed police officers and victims of MS-13.

MacArthur Park is not just a territory but a source of revenue to MS-13. The gang tries its best, police say, to collect a percentage of everything sold inside it: drugs, food, gambling, sex. According to one homeless services provider in the area, the gang has even begun demanding rent from people living in the park.

One Saturday evening last April, a young man and a woman approached Daniela Hernandez in MacArthur Park. The man introduced himself as “Golden,” the woman, as “La Inquieta.” The Restless.

As members of MS-13, they “ruled the park,” Hernandez recalled one of them saying.

A native of El Salvador, Hernandez knew MS-13’s reputation for violence and bigotry directed at transgender people like herself. But in Los Angeles, in a city of such “security and opportunity,” she never thought the gang could threaten her.

The members demanded that if she wanted to spend any time in MacArthur Park, she would have to pay an $80 “fee” each week.

She protested, saying she couldn’t pay more than $20. Golden and La Inquieta agreed to the sum, she said, but told her she would have to pay it every week, regardless of whether she went to the park or not.

Hernandez said she believes the pair singled her out for extortion in the belief that all transgender women in the park worked as prostitutes. She said she is not a sex worker and simply wanted to enjoy the park.

This agreement went on for the next six months where Hernandez would pay $20 a week until losing a janitorial job early in the pandemic.

After losing her job Hernandez struggled to make the weekly fee, sometimes asking friends for money to pay it. She thought about going to the police, but living in the country illegally, she feared that contact with law enforcement could lead to her being deported, she said.

Four weeks after another transgender woman was attacked, a white Honda Accord pulled to the curb of Wilshire Boulevard, which cuts through the park. Two men and a woman got out. The driver stayed in the car according to witness reports. 

The men walked up to Hernandez, who was sitting on a bench, a police report says. One of them, Hernandez recalled, announced that they were from MS-13 and said they didn’t want Hernandez at the park, calling her a Spanish homophobic slur.

The woman, meanwhile, crept up behind Hernandez, wrapped an arm around her throat and slashed at it with a knife, Hernandez recounted. The woman held her down as the two men stabbed her in the chest, abdomen and arms, she said.

Police found Hernandez kneeling in the grass, covered in blood, a report says. She had been stabbed 13 times and had a 5-inch slash across her neck, near the carotid, an officer wrote in the report.

Golden, identified by prosecutors in a criminal complaint as Javier Trimin-Rodriguez, 22, has pleaded not guilty to extorting and attempting to murder Hernandez. His attorney declined to comment.

Donoban Fonseca, 24, whose nickname is “El Stinky,” is charged with extorting and attempting to murder Hernandez and the woman attacked weeks earlier. He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Frank Bazadier, said the attacks were “a very unfortunate event to a very marginalized group of individuals.” He declined to discuss the facts of the case.

La Inquieta, identified by prosecutors in a criminal complaint as Margarita Valencia, 23, has pleaded not guilty to extorting the first woman who was attacked. Her attorney didn’t return a call seeking comment.

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