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Family’s War with Street Gang Resolved by Hamburgers

May 24, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A family that once traded violence with a street gang is now serving gang members hamburgers at the family’s new restaurant, the clan’s patriarch said.

″That whole bunch, that whole gang that was fighting us, they’re coming here now,″ said 73-year-old James Hawkins Sr. at his recently opened House of Burgers. ″It’s the greatest thing. But you have to take a stand. You don’t run.″

″We get along with all of them,″ said his 25-year-old daughter, Cynthia, who runs the stand in Watts, a poor, predominantly black neighborhood. ″Some of them will tell me their sad stories and I’ll front them the money for a burger. They always pay me back.″

The stand opened April 15 near the Hawkins family grocery store across the street from the Nickerson Gardens housing project, home to the Bounty Hunters gang.

The Hawkins’ store made national headlines two years ago as the scene of a gang vendetta. On Sept. 11, 1983, James Hawkins Jr. - the eldest son of James Sr. - shot to death gang member Anttwon Thomas, 19, while allegedly trying to stop a robbery.

Gang members retaliated, making daily death threats, firing up to 40 bullets at the family store and home, trying to ram the house with a car and trying to firebomb it. The family fought back with guns.

Authorities, including Mayor Tom Bradley, praised the family and vowed to protect it.

″When the liberties of the Hawkinses are attacked, 6,500 Los Angeles police officers will conterattack on behalf of that fine family,″ Police Chief Daryl Gates said at the time.

County sheriff’s deputies later arrested more than a dozen gang members, who were convicted of various offenses in connection with the attacks.

Meanwhile, an eyewitness stepped forward with information indicating that Hawkins may not have accidentally shot Thomas. Hawkins was arrested and awaits trial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter.

He and another man are also charged with two unrelated murder counts in connection with the execution-style slayings of two alleged drug dealers.

Meanwhile, the war has cooled.

Sgt. Ed Wilson of the anti-gang detail attributed that to a permanent task force assigned to prowl the housing project.

For the Hawkins family, the peace is welcome.

″Some of the people we had the firefight with - a life-and-death struggle with - are some of our best customers,″ said Eugene Hawkins, 33. ″The past is gone. Now everybody is in love with each other.″

But one 17-year-old gang member, who declined to be named, said the shooting has not been forgotten.

″The only reason it’s calm around here now is because James (Hawkins Jr.) is in jail,″ he said.

Update hourly