The first time L.A. gang culture made the papers was on June 12, 1942, when 18-year-old Oscar Fierro shot 19-year-old Frank Torres in the head while they were exiting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum after a high school track meet. (On that day, the heavily favored Jefferson High School Democrats managed to outlast the Fremont Pathfinders, who gave them a run for their money, thanks in part to high jumper Bob Zaleska.) “Following the shooting,” reported the LA Times, “a riot broke out among thousands of teen-aged boys, who were subdued only by the efforts of 50 armed soldiers called out from a nearby encampment.”
Fierro, 144 S. Hicks St., was a member of the East First Street Gang, while Torres, 727 E. 18th St., belonged to the rival Clanton Street Gang. Fierro was sentenced that August, 1942, in what the Times called “the first conviction arising out of the effort of authorities to combat the problem of youthful gangs in Los Angeles.” Later that same month that effort turned into a full-scale mobilization after two groups of rival pachucos clashed at the Williams ranch in Montebello, leaving 21-year-old Jose Diaz dead in what came to be known as the Sleepy Lagoon murder. The papers exploded with headlines about a “Mexican Crime Wave,” setting the stage for the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, an institutionally sanctioned hate crime so heinous that it alone would have been enough to stoke gangbanging for the next several decades.