Fueled by a growing perception that the Antelope Valley is being overrun by criminal street gangs, two prominent community leaders have started a grass-roots organization whose controversial name appears to be all but an unofficial call to arms. “Antelope Valley War on Gangs and Crime” is headed by attorney R. Rex Parris and Lancaster Baptist Church Pastor Paul Chappell. The group will hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at Chappell’s church, and the pair expects to draw more than 1,000 residents. Parris said the meeting will be attended by a “who’s-who” of civic and community leaders including Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Lancaster City Manager Bob LaSala and Palmdale City Manager Steve Williams, among others. Parris said he and Chappell developed the idea for the group over breakfast about six months ago. He said it’s become apparent to him and others that the Antelope Valley’s gang problem has reached “crisis proportions,” and that an energized citizenry might be the area’s only hope of turning the tide. “I think we’ve reached the point where we can’t rely on public officials to take care of it, because obviously they’re not,” Parris said. Parris said the meeting will be an opportunity to develop ideas that extend beyond traditional crime-fighting plans such as increasing law enforcement and Neighborhood Watch groups. He said the group will seek to draw on the Antelope Valley’s best minds for more imaginative solutions, noting that the Feb. 26 meeting will give local residents an opportunity to brainstorm in a public forum. “We’re not saying we have all the answers,” Parris said. “What we’re saying is that this problem has reached an intolerable level, and that if we don’t do something it will only get worse.” Some local residents who say they share the group’s concern about gangs are worried its name could produce unintended consequences that would only exacerbate the problem, such as provoking a violent response from gangs, and possibly even encouraging vigilantism. “I’m obviously against gangs, but I just feel like this could do more bad than good,” Lancaster resident Kathy Branning said. “If somebody’s hostile to a hostile group, that’s just going to make them more hostile.” Branning said she finds the group’s association with a Christian institution especially troublesome. “It’s like they’re trying to make this thing about revenge, and that’s not really our place, especially in the church,” she said. “It says in the Bible that we’re supposed to leave that to God.” Another Lancaster resident said the group’s name suggests that its leadership is out of touch with kids who ultimately join gangs because they feel neglected by society. “I think the fact that they’re calling it `the war on gangs’ just shows it’s something they can’t really relate to,” Lancaster resident Jimmy Freeman said. Even the group’s most ardent supporters, such as Lancaster Mayor Henry Hearns, are uncomfortable with it’s name. “I wouldn’t have used that language, but I’m going to support them 100 percent,” Hearns said. “I think what they’re doing is absolutely wonderful.” Reactions from several other local residents queried varied. A Lancaster man who wished not to be identified said the Antelope Valley’s crime problem is so bad “I don’t go to sleep without a shotgun under my bed” and that it “makes me want to be a vigilante.” A Palmdale woman said she supports the group’s idealism but said personal experience has led her to doubt it will be effective in engaging the citizenry. She said most of her neighbors are fearful of gangs and mistrustful of law enforcement. The woman, who identified herself as Nancy, said a close friend’s husband was a shooting death victim in a case that remains unsolved. She believes neighbors have information that would be helpful to law enforcement in solving the case but are unwilling to come forward. “I’ll do my part and call the police if I know anything, but if nobody else does, how’s it going to work?” she said. Lancaster resident Josh Blackman said he supports the group, but doubts it will make much of a difference. He said the Antelope Valley’s problem has compelled most of his friends and relatives to leave the state. He said he plans to move to Boise, Idaho, once he sells his home. “It’s done,” Blackman said. “They’ve already lost.” Parris said he’s concerned about the Antelope Valley becoming a “dumping ground” for violent criminals and parolees as the city of Los Angeles seeks to ship its problems elsewhere amid its own gang crackdown. He said his concerns about Antelope Valley crime are shared by those in law enforcement circles, noting that some local sheriff’s deputies have printed T-shirts that say “Compton North.” Parris said there is still hope that the problem can be eradicated. He said that unlike Los Angeles, where gangs have existed for more than 100 years, the culture of acceptance does not yet exist in the Antelope Valley. He acknowledged, however, that it soon could be. “This is something that’s literally a plague that’s killing people, and we’re not going to give up until we’ve exhausted all our resources,” Parris said. “If we have to drive on dirt roads, then we will.” [email protected] (661) 267-7802 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!