Peter Landesman has an eye-opening piece in the L.A. Weekly about gang wars in South Central L.A.:
I asked [Grape Street Crip Ronny] Pugh if he’d taken part in the string of drive-by murders in Nickerson Garden[s] that started over Christmas. “I’m a part of everything and anything, put it like that,” he said, almost eagerly. “If I’m out here, you do it.” He stopped, looked around and said, “I love this right here. I love this life. I can’t even see myself abandoning this. I don’t care if I got money, or work Monday through Friday. I just go shoot a motherfucker on the weekends. If that’s what need to be done to keep my hood and my young ones around here safe, then that’s what to get done.”
Under the right circumstances, that could make a nice set of admissions at a trial — that is, if Mr. Landesman didn’t end up recanting it when he got to court, as often happens in gang cases. Does Mr. Landesman have anything to worry about? You tell me:
Two hours after I left Pugh, my cell phone rang. I knew the caller, and he told me my conversation with Pugh had been overheard. He’d been told to tell me I’d been “green lit” in Jordan Downs — if I went back there, I’d be killed.
Life in Watts is dangerous:
Every yard, doorway, shop and parking lot is the fiefdom of one of Watts’ 65 gangs and their roughly 15,000 hardcore gang members. In that area alone, gang members shoot 500 people a year, and kill 90. Nearly every citizen living there is enjoined by membership or affiliation; those who try to stay out of the life incur their local gang’s wrath, sometimes with fatal consequences. The average American has a 1-in-18,000 chance of being murdered. In this area of Los Angeles, the chances are 1 in 250.
On New Year’s Eve so much automatic weapons fire pours into Watts’ airspace that LAX air traffic control must divert the flight path of incoming planes.
Today, 75 percent of Watts’ adult black male population will at some point go to jail or prison.
Innocent people get caught in the crossfire:
Gangbangers call the innocents among them “mushrooms” because they pop up in the way of their bullets.
Landesman tells of visiting the Nickerson Gardens housing project, home of the Bounty Hunter Bloods, with a fire captain. As he nears the projects, he dons a Kevlar vest, on the advice of the captain. He talks about how residents “keep their lights off at night to avoid becoming targets in drive-by shootings,” and says that the captain
was relieved when we got out of there. “I probably shouldn’t have done that,” he said.
You could get the impression from all of this that Watts has no good people in it. That the projects are filled with nothing but criminals. That South Central has nobody that deserves to be protected.
You would be wrong.
I visited Nickerson Gardens a while back in order to take pictures at a crime scene. Bounty Hunter Bloods patrolled the area, clearly annoyed that the police had invaded their space and temporarily disrupted their drug trade. Some stared at us. Some played dice and screamed obscenities.
But when we entered the residence where the crime had occurred, the tenants, who had recently moved in and were unaware of the murder that had occurred there, were as nice as they could possibly be. They apologized for the mess — really, it wasn’t bad at all — and allowed us to take pictures of their home. They asked why we were there, and when we told them, the man of the house started ticking off all his family members who had been murdered: his dad, his cousin . . . the list went on. We needed to crawl out onto a second-story ledge at one point, and the residents next door were similarly hospitable, letting me climb on their bed to hoist myself out the window for the pictures I needed to take.
As we walked across the street, three young Hispanic girls greeted us with a smile and a friendly “hi.” I smiled and said hi back — and silently hoped the Bounty Hunter Bloods hadn’t noticed. Jack Dunphy has written movingly of what can happen to kids who are caught being nice to law enforcement.
I am on my third tour in Compton; my first tours were 1999-2001, before and after my juvenile rotation. I used to go to Rosecrans Elementary School and talk to fifth graders about the justice system and the importance of staying out of trouble. Every year, I would invite a judge to speak to the kids. My favorite was the judge who had gone to school there, who told the kids that if he could study hard and become a judge, so could they. I told this story about the school in November 2003, but it still seems relevant:
I was teaching a weekly class about the criminal justice system, and there was a skit that involved someone being shot. I asked the students to raise their hands if they had ever heard gunfire from their houses.
Every hand in the room went up.
I asked them to raise their hands if a family member or friend had been shot.
Every hand but two went up.
So don’t tell me that these areas are lost. They aren’t. You look out at a classroom of 10-year-olds and tell me that they aren’t worth protecting.
Go click on the link and read about gangs in L.A. It’s a great article.
And when you return, remember: the ACLU says we’re cracking down too hard on the poor gangs.
Why, we might be interfering with Ronny Pugh’s right to “go shoot a motherfucker on the weekends.”