Violence Breaks out in Los Angeles Cyber Cafes

By Gretchen Hyman

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Los Angeles cyber youth are the subject of a recent investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department following a yearlong streak of violence at citywide cyber cafes.

On Monday, Dec. 30, Los Angeles police reported a PC game-related dispute outside a cyber cafe called NetStreet in the Northridge area of the city that involved several teens using chairs and steel pipes as weapons. One teen was shot in the leg and another teen suffered a head wound, police said. Some reports said the brawl involved nearly 100 people.

Earlier this year, a youth was shot and killed outside the same cafe in Northridge.

According to police, Monday's brawl is among 300 similar incidents over the past year that have become commonplace at cyber cafes. The epicenter of cafe-related violence has been in the Garden Grove and South Los Angeles areas of the city where unrestricted PC gaming is a popular pastime for teens.

The catalyst for the violent outbreaks is partly being blamed on the online game Counter-Strike, a multiplayer counter-terrorism game that uses cash prizes to drive competition between players.

Counter-Strike, among many other popular violent combat simulator games, enables players to role-play as either terrorists or counter terrorists and involves the use of guns, grenades, bombs, hostage situations, and assassinations.

Counter-Strike is marketed by the gaming unit of Vivendi Universal and is not intended for players under the age of 17 because of its violent nature.

In reaction to the surge in teen violence, City Councilman Dennis P. Zine, a former police officer, has demanded a citywide investigation by LAPD into Internet cafes.

Zine will introduce a motion at a hearing next week calling for reports on all cyber cafe-related violence throughout the city.

Last December, Garden Grove, Calif., a suburb of Orange Country that is heavily populated by Vietnamese and Korean immigrants, experienced a rash of cyber cafe violence that began with the murder of a Vietnamese American youth with a screwdriver in the parking lot of a cyber cafe. In the following months, other violent incidents occurred outside the same cafe, reports said.

In some of the reported cyber cafe episodes, police are looking into the possibility of Asian gang activity, although no charges have yet been confirmed by police.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles council members passed an ordinance that required the presence of security guards at cyber cafes that stay open to the public at night.

Pending results from the citywide investigation into cyber cafe violence, Zine and fellow city council members are proposing that cyber cafes be more closely regulated and that in addition to the steady presence of security guards, that they carry age restrictions.

Zine does not directly blame cyber games for the violence but rather youth gangs that congregate in such places without proper supervision.

"Since cyber cafes are a growing industry, they require increased safety measures," said Zine. "As far as the game content, I don't want to restrict anything or intrude upon people's freedom of expression. I just want adequate safety for these kids," said Zine. "We have restrictions for many other types of late night businesses. Bars have to close by a certain time, and yet in this industry, there are no restrictions whatsoever."

According to Zine, the ordinances city council is calling for will be swiftly enacted in hopes of avoiding any more violence.