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Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Feb. 18, 1960

February 18, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Feb. 18, 1960, Mirror Cover

Juveniles Are Not All So Delinquent

Paul Coates    It's the code of kid gangland that one bad turn deserves another.

    If a member of one gang is caught out of his territory and worked over, the guys who did it know that one of them will get it next.  Retaliation is an automatic reflex.
    Two carloads of kids invade an enemy neighborhood, spraying bullets, throwing knives. They know their enemy will return the compliment.
    That's the code.
    But there are some neighborhoods, fortunately, where the code doesn't apply. One of those is the neighborhood where Lennie Moore lived.
    At the age of 17, Lennie Moore died three weeks ago. Headlines told the story of how two 19-year-olds, scavenging for money to buy narcotics, senselessly shot him to death while holding up a dairy where he worked.
    Moore was an honor student, from a nice family, from a nice neighborhood. He had a lot of friends -- teen-agers. Some 300 of them attended his funeral.
Feb. 18, 1960, Chessman      They were incensed, shook, disgusted that a couple of punks who admitted they were on dope should snuff out the life of their friend.
    They talked about it a lot after Lennie was killed. And they decided to do something about it.
    Yesterday, they let me in on their plans.
    Eleven of them showed up at my office. Bob Murdock, a 17-year-old Lakewood High School senior, did most of the talking.
    "We're going to Sacramento," he told me. "It seems nobody's doing anything about the dope problem except talking. We're going to see if we can make somebody do something."
    Murdock was working with Lennie the night he was killed.
    "People aren't going to forget Lennie Moore," he continued. "We're going to make them remember."
    I asked him how he intended to do it and he outlined a plan that was staggering.
Feb. 18, 1960, Finch Trial     "We don't have the exact date yet, but tentatively, we've set it for sometime during the week of March 7," he said. "We're going to Sacramento and demand to see Gov. Brown. We'll camp out on his front lawn if we have to. We're going to see as many assemblymen and senators as we can."
    "How many of you are going?" I asked.
    "There'll be hundreds. Maybe thousands. In my school, the students are all for it. Now we're starting to contact other schools. We're going to try to contact the student body of every high school in the state.
    "If five or 10,000 teen-agers show up in Sacramento demanding tougher laws on narcotics, I think somebody will be around to listen," Bob added.
    My visitors were a little bit vague on just what laws should be enacted, but there was nothing vague about their plan of action. Already they had talked with high school principals, ministers, parents, even some lawyers. They had started raising money. They were contacting adults --mostly their own parents --who'd be willing to go along as chaperons.
    Sharen Westerhaug, 17, who had attended the same church as Lennie, pointed out that all of those in the group were aware that they'd have to act like responsible individuals, to get their point across.
    "We'll do it," she said. "I think Gov. Brown will listen to us. I think he'll respect us as teen-agers.
    "It seems to me that he doesn't know what's going on -- how the dope problem can affect anybody," she added. "He's like we were before it happened."
    The group credited Ray Davis, an 18-year-old Jordan High graduate, with the original idea.
    "At first," Davis said, "we talked about ending letters or petitions to the governor -- but that way we couldn't be sure he'd even open them. I discussed the idea with Lennie's parents. About going up there personally. All of us. They were all for it. So were the kids. The idea's just been growing. Every day it gets bigger."
Far Out of Hand
    The kids seated around my desk made it very, very clear that they couldn't understand how the dope problem in California had got out of hand so badly.
    I became uncomfortably aware that they felt they could have done a much better job of controlling the problem than we have done.
    There was something else I sensed, too.
    If those kids behave themselves in Sacramento like they did in my office, they could be the most powerful lobby group that's hit our capital in many, many years.