NORWALK – Skateboarding is not a crime but some local skaters feel like it is now that the city has shut the gates to the Norwalk Skatepark in response to the tragic unsolved murder of James “Fire” Medrano.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, Medrano was gunned down at Norwalk Skate Park defending a young skater, reportedly only 7-years-old, from getting his board stolen, according to witnesses and Los Angeles County Sheriff Sgt. Bill Cotter.
The gates have remained locked ever since and the city isn’t giving any information on when or if it will be reopened to the public.
Petitions with thousands of signatures have circulated online and public outcries for the park to be reopened have fallen on deaf ears. City Manager Mike Egan’s office has yet to comment on the matter nor has he responded to calls from Patriot staff.
While the city says the skate park was closed for public safety reasons, local skaters say they are left with no choice but to trespass because for some of them, it is the only sanctuary they have left in the city.
"Cops have been giving out citations," according to Julian Davis, 23, who says that the park is now even more unsafe than before.
“Around 6 p.m., all the tweakers are starting to come to the park and the hood is starting to kick it there. It’s getting dangerous now,” said Davis.
He has been going there for over 10 years, starting when he first began filming for Forever Dedicated, a crew of up-and-coming skaters from Norwalk who now have to find a new place to skate.
“Without the park, we would all be strangers. We want to save the park because it was where it all began for most of us,” said Davis.
Not only did the community lose a bright, young man in Medrano that fateful day in November last year, but they also lost what many youth in the community viewed as a second home. Now some of the skaters are turning to drugs and alcohol as an escape, according to Davis.
Chris Torres, a Norwalk skater and member of Forever Dedicated, recalls having his best memories there.
“It was life,” said Torres. “You could go there and be yourself. To me, it let me get away from all the drama, all the negative things in the city or at home. You could go there, put your headphones in, listen to some music and just get away.”
Bryant Sanchez, 18, said he lost his second home and good friend that day.
“‘Fire’ was the big homie, he was like a mentor to me. He was one of the smartest and coolest people I ever knew,” Sanchez said.
In communities such as Norwalk plagued with gang violence, youth looking to escape the grit and crime of the city often find refuge in sports or art as a vital form of self expression that could manifest itself as a ticket out of the hood.
Skateboarding was unanimously voted into the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo by the International Olympic Committee just last year. It is finally being recognized because it has flourished into one of the most popular sports in the world.
Norwalk has skateboard roots all the way back from the 1970s. Norwalk native and longboard legend Ed Economy used to shred the local riverbeds.
All of the members of Forever Dedicated credit Norwalk Skatepark for giving them a place to hone their craft, make lifelong friendships, stay out of trouble and express themselves in a positive way without damaging private property. -- William Odis Martin, contributor