by RIP RENSE
CHIEF L.A. PROBLEM
Funny thing is happening in L.A.
these days. Someone in power is treating the place like a city. Someone is treating L.A.'s
problems as if they can be solved. Someone is trying to fix what has long been
broken---the blasé acceptance of gang warfare.
Chief William Bratton is that someone, and he
speaks the way you'd want, well, your mayor to speak. "Hang 'em high," he said
last week, of a fleeing suspect who crashed into a car and severed a baby's arm.
Contrast this with Mayor James
Hahn's developmentally disabled public speaking, and it's Churchillian---or at least
Eastwoodian. Hahn is a well-intentioned bureaucrat with a feathery monotone and terminal
cliché-itis. Consider his "outraged" statement about the death of nice
14-year-old kid shot down by a Crip while trying to buy a donut:
"Let the death of Clive Jackson be a call to
Right. I'm (yawn) moved. Mr. Mayor, the boy was
gunned down in the middle of the day. He was an A-student at Crenshaw High. Where is your
disgust? Where is your. . .temper?
At the moment, it seems to reside with the new
Bratton is the high-profile guy from NYC who
went after big crime there by policing little crime. Get rid of the public urinators, he
reasoned, and you discourage public terminators; the whole thing dominoes into
shoplifting, pickpockets, robberies, murders. Now, he's trying the tactic in the city of
Of course, L.A. is a city the way
Michael Jackson is a parent. There is some wiggle room in the definition. Aside from the
fact that the populace seems largely made of realtors, thus rendering the concept of
neighborhood a little dodgy, people here are as attentive as a traffic school class.
Thinking of visiting? Save your money---just bundle some Monopoly pieces in a blanket,
go outside and shake it out. Chick Hearn was the only thing that united
"Angelenos" across the racial/ethnic board, and he's gone.
But Bratton, the new sheriff in town, is
Is he for real, or for reel? After all, he
likes the camera. He likes his celebrity, and he likes his celebrities. He's been seen
palling around with famous bustlines, but what will he do about infamous busts? Does he
understand that West L.A. has as much in common with south-central L.A. as Queen Elizabeth
has with Queen Latifa? That this is not a two-year photo-op to prime his next "How I
Saved (fill in the city)" book tour?
Chief Bratton's first proclamation is
to clean up graffiti, and prosecute the painters. In L.A., this is almost akin to jailing
artists. A lot of people like graffiti, and I don't blame them. It's often much nicer,
more imaginative and colorful than the pretentious freeway murals that it frequently
obliterates. One man's tagger is another man's Titian.
But I guess the Chief doesn't discriminate
between ten-foot-high multi-colored letters and grim little black spray-paint runics like
"El Spunky." I guess he figures that if he cleans it all up, and pops the perps,
that the dominoes will fall as they did in Times Square. Maybe so.
But what he's up against is that gang crime,
like graffiti, goes back fifty, sixty years or more in L.A.. Look at papers from the '40s
and '50s, and they're full of lurid shots of bloodied "Mexican" or
"negro" corpses resultant of "gangster" warfare. Ethnic gang
subculture, horrible as it is to say, is one of L.A.'s few dependable traditions.
Yet in a pronouncement as
flamboyant---if not yet as controversial---as former Chief Daryl Gates, Bratton rants that
more people (mostly kids) are killed by L.A. gangs than New York mafia. The Sopranos, in
other words, got nothin' on the Sotelo Boys. The Homeland got nothin' on Homey. So now
there is talk of multi-level anti-gang efforts: putting more cops on the street, more gang
investigators in prime gang territory, even---get this---setting up programs to rehabilitate
Bloods, Venice 13, and the rest.
That's an interesting idea. Offer gangbangers
some job training---machinists, carpenters, Beverly Hills publicists--and entice them out
of the 'hood. Well, you might get a trickle, which would be laudable, but consider what
else the Chief is up against: Hollywood. Right now, a homey's most attractive ticket out
is to start rapping, and hope that he gets an agent. Couple of years, and he could be the
Bratton is also up against the
ambulance-chasing---er, that is, freeway chase-chasing---media, which turn
pinheads into prime-time TV stars. To his endless credit, the Chief is demanding an end to
this type of "journalism"---a move that puts leadership in the vicinity of city
hall for the first time since they renamed a street for Cesar Chavez.
What you really wish, of course, is that the
Chief, or Jim Brown, or Edward James Olmos, or someone, could get across to the
Homeboys that killing and dying are very poor models for success.
But this is a city that just built: a $200
million cathedral with all the architectural warmth of the Reichstag; a $200 million high
school that can't open because of oil, natural gas, and earthquake faults; a $200 million
sport complex named after a stationery store; a $200 million music center that looks like
cardboard boxes left out in the rain (give or take $50 mil, in each case)---but doesn't
fix toilets or air conditioning in public schools. . .doesn't pay decent money for
teachers. . .doesn't prioritize a light-rail system that would slash traffic and
socio-economic divisions. This is a city that spends thousands for new bathrooms for the
Board of Education while countless thousands of homeless camp out and shoot heroin two
blocks from city hall.
These grotesque expenditures reflect the true
priorities of the city council, school board, board of supervisors---and the
millionaires behind the scenes (this means you, Dick Riordan) who claim to lead Los
Angeles. They have as much to do with fixing L.A. as cutting federal employee pay raises
has to do with fighting terrorism.
In other words, if L.A. doesn't take its real
problems seriously, why the hell should anyone else? Gangs included.
Perhaps Mayor Hahn realizes this. Perhaps that
is exactly why he hired Bratton. To remind "Angelenos" that there is a common
interest in Los Angeles, and that it begins with civilized behavior. From that realization
can come empathy, and empathy can make for a quick shortcut between between Florence &
Normandie and Wilshire & Westwood.
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