A Different, Insider Perspective on the Recent Fullerton Gang Attack on a Church
How Not To Kill a Mockingbird in Fullerton: Black Against Brown in the Richman 'Hood
By Sandy Stiassni
Orange Countians were shocked, dismayed and puzzled by a recent tragic assault upon the person and property of Fullerton storefront preacher and longtime spiritual leader Willie Holmes, in this dignified, community-oriented North Orange County city.
As attached LA Times article details, late in the evening of Friday February 13, a group teenage boys broke Majesty Christian Fellowship's doors and windows, smashed Holmes' car, and pelted him, his two sons and a friend with rocks. Terrified onlookers, including Holmes' wife, helplessly watched this violent rampage, said to be perpetrated by Fullerton Tokers Town, a local Latino gang.
Over the weekend, Fullerton Police arrested three 16 and 17 year-old Fullerton boys on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, felony vandalism and gang activity. Others thought to have participated in this terror attack remain unidentified and at large.
So much for the facts. With no disrespect to Times reporters Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Bob Pool, or veteran Fullerton-beat Register newspaperwoman Barbara Giasone, everyone's a journalist these days. With eyes, ears, intuition, cell phone and computer keyboard, we Everyone Journalists report our version of the news; we dig for seemingly unimportant, yet convicting details, sometimes conveniently overlooked or ignored by our professional colleagues in mainstream printed media.
First a brief resume: for the past 18 years, I've managed an apartment complex in Fullerton's West-of-Harbor-South-of-Commonwealth 'Hood. I once worked in journalism; as Feature Editor of my college weekly newspaper, my highest accolade was honorable mention by a Collegiate Newspaper Guild for a food review I did on the infamous Squat and Gobble Restaurant in Rome, New York.
These days, I'm more skilled at cajoling rent out of my mostly happy residents with my right hand, cleaning out clogged toilets with my left. One thing I've learnt is that all problems--water leaks, pesky bureaucrats, deadbeat tenants--have a cause; by learning the root of a problem, one may frequently prevent it from happening again.
In newspapers, media, official City reports, informal discussion with victims, one piece of this troubling gang assault sadly missing was the "Why". What caused such a violent outrage, on what was an otherwise normal, humdrum night on Fullerton FTT's turf?
To answer this question, I went directly to the source; my homies in the 'Hood.
We've a chequered past, FTT and I; as all four graffitied perimeters of my property bear stark witness, I know the pain of wanton vandalism. I, too, know how it feels to be violated and terrified. In the famous "Dominoes Pizza" episode, I almost lost my building and livelihood.
Back in the early 1990s, FTT gained notoriety when they placed pizza orders, lured unsuspecting deliverymen to a location, collected their loot, then threateningly sent drivers away with no payment. Rather than simply red-line this neighborhood as a No Delivery Zone, Dominoes operators worked closely with Fullerton PD to plan an undercover Sting-On-A-Sting.
One day, a call came into Gang Enforcement Detectives; "We've a pizza order at Highland and Valencia. Request Operation Undercover Dominoes, NOW!"
Eager to prosecute these juvenile pizza criminals, and also to meet a "We Deliver in Fifteen Minutes, Or It's Free" guarantee, undercover cops rushed to pick up a pizza, then raced a beat-up Corolla--Dominoes emblem affixed to its roof--to said street corner. In their haste, these hard-working detectives forgot to call for police backup.
After drop-off and non-payment, a Fullerton Detective, dressed in Dominoes uniform, showed his badge and attempted to arrest this gang of youthful offenders. Shots rang out; 20 FTT Boyz scattered in all directions, and a four block-wide police cordon was erected, with my apartments unhappily in the epicenter. After a long night of door-to-door searches, German Shepherd dogs snarling and barking, loud megaphones, lighted helicopter searches, and general mayhem, few suspects were apprehended. The next day, one-third of my tenant base packed up, never to return.
So yes, Rev. Willie Holmes; I, too, know how it feels to be violated and terrified.
We gradually returned to an uneasy but peaceful coexistence. I've talked to, pleaded with, ignored, legally prosecuted many members of this tribe. But I've never dissed my homies. I came to understand my initial burning hatred for these boys was simply excess baggage. The best way to go along was to get along. Carefully pick one's battles; put the past in the past. And always look ahead to better days.
The epic Dominoes Operation is now largely forgotten. Though, from time to time, a few senior Gang Boyz and I--those who've survived jail time, chronic unemployment, disease, loneliness--we play-act the event. "Freeze, Pizza Gang Boy!" I call out. "No F**king Way, Pizza Man!" We learned to accept one another for who we were, and for our respective shortcomings and foibles.
Yesterday, I separately interviewed two FTT Boyz, sons of the then youthful Dominoes Pizza buccaneers. Details of their stories varied a bit, but the gist of what happened was consistent. They were disrespected.
Coming to an intersection, a gray 1981 Mazda 626 driven by Rev. Willie Holmes, came upon a large FTT Gang Boyz gathering. Rolling down a car window--one report claimed he actually stepped outside the vehicle--17 year old Willie Holmes Jr., student body president at Fullerton High, was said to have uttered a few well-chosen, muttered oaths under his breath, against the boys of Valencia and Highland. The rest is history.
"A group of about 20 youths.darted in front of Holmes' car, shouting "FTT".They surrounded the car about a block and a half from the church.Holmes drove around them and headed for the church. Willie Jr. called 911. Once they reached church, Holmes and his passengers ran from the car and hid inside the church office. The attackers ran to the church lot and began throwing rocks and bottles at the office."
As for Gang Boy disrespect, to pillage a House of God; they weren't aware, from the small industrial park location, they were attacking a church. Both Boyz said they'd never been invited, so never went there before.
I thanked each FTT boy for his informed assistance; we parted with Gang Boy Salutes, knuckle-to-knuckle. We agreed this was a first-hand, second-hand report, but somehow I suspected I was getting the real story, right from the Horse's Mouth. Chew on that, LA Times!
My recitation of events, as retold by these unnamed FTT participants--or close friends of participants--is similar to the so-called Willie Holmes story, with one important distinction. I've presented a plausible causal explanation for the problem; a cynical disrespect conveyed by--or at least perceived to have been conveyed by--one Willie Holmes Jr., upon a large group Fullerton High School classmates.
Assuming, for the moment, it actually was Holmes Jr.'s. disrespect which provoked FTT into action; what was it in this handsome, likeable, African American young man's background to come by such disrespect?
Fast forward to Tuesday evening February 17. As attached Register article summarized, a second "March for Peace" was staged, down Valencia Drive, the heartland of FTT-land. As participant in this event, I was treated to some of the most crude, ill-advised protest techniques I've ever witnessed. Dr. King would not only have completely disavowed the raucous crowd invited by Willie Holmes, but would have immediately gotten down upon his knees, and prayed for their divine forgiveness and redemption!
I arrived at Majesty Christian Fellowship industrial corral, to be greeted by none other than pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Wiley Drake. Yep, the same legendary hate-monger, whose concealed-weapons permit was recently unceremoniously revoked by new OC Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens. Say Drake: "In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God, I ask the children of God to go into action with Imprecatory Prayer," In other words, Wiley Drake urged his faithful TO PRAY FOR EVIL TO BEFALL THINE ENEMIES! I knew it was going to be a memorable evening.
Next cast entrée, Harley Bikers for Jesus, scheduled to lead this noisy rag-tag of a Passion Parade.
Members of Majesty Christian Fellowship abounded, some carrying long stakes, banners and ram's horns which were explained to me to be "Weapons of Spiritual Warfare".
Finally addressing his assembled flock, which resembled more a casting call for Day Of The Locust from Nathaniel West's scabrous portrait of Hollywood than a nonviolent, nondenominational peace rally, the Rev. Willie Holmes stirred up his crowd with a venom of hateful invective: "Brothers and Sisters, as we gather round our shattered sanctuary, we come together for Restitution.Ooops, I meant Restoration!" C'mon Willie, get your speeches straight! He continued, "We need to drive that Racism Crap outa here!" Yes, Willie, but Hitler tried that approach, too; the driving-out part, that is!
Whipping his followers into a frenzy of Restitution.Ooops, I meant Restoration, Rev. Willie Holmes next led the march, astride three blaringly loud Harley bikers-this, in a normally pristine Working Class residential neighborhood! As we walked by Latino families, disturbed from an otherwise nice evening, I was reminded of Minuteman Jim Gilchrist's marches through Latino barrios, joined by OC Sheriff's Deputy and Costa Mesa Mayor, Allan R. Mansoor. Boy, Fullerton's really turning into another authentic town of hate!
As we rounded the home stretch, turning north onto Richman from Valencia, I breathed a sigh, and thought to myself, "Maybe this hateful, boot-stepping charade will come to a peaceful end!" Not so. A huge African American woman, true Willie believer, next to me, limped along with a cane, and started screaming at the top of her lungs, "PRAISE J-E-S-U-S, Praise the BLOOD, the BLOOD OF J-E-S-U-S!!" I casually remarked to her, "Maybe they (befuddled, frightened, glaring Latinos) might not understand the blood part?" At which point, her volume increased four-fold; and summoning every last ounce of emotion and fury, she rained down a torrent of abuse upon my faithless, carnal nature. "JESUS AIN'T GONNA NEVER ACCEPT YOU, YOU SINNER!" I smiled charitably, adding "A-Men, Sista!" every chance I got.
But our Nuremberg-style rally wasn't yet complete. Upon our return to Dachau Holmes, The Right Rev. thanked his followers, inviting his chosen to address the crowd. Despite having gone out of my way to introduce and ingratiate myself into his good graces, I wasn't called to testify. Instead, a man they called Rot Wyler, the meanest, hairiest Harley Biker I'd ever seen, gave a quick hate pep talk. "Yeah man, I used to live 'round here," his implication and insinuation dripping--around all these f***ing Latinos--"And you know, it's just not cool what's going on here."
I couldn't have said it better myself. "It's just not cool what's going on here."
In spite of it all, on a one-to-one basis, I genuinely liked Willie Holmes. I told him, "Brother, I can feel your pain"; he reached out, hugged me, and I hugged him back.
He embraced me. Just as, a long time ago, I embraced my enemies, the Fullerton Tokers Town Gang Boyz. I sure hope Willie Holmes teaches his son, Willie Jr., how to embrace his enemies, I thought. I sure hope he does.