By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“This [crime] run that we’re on right now feels a whole lot more threatening than ever before,” he says. Blocks north of Wilshire are heavily tagged by 18th Street gangsters. “I’ve seen these guys tag on shrubs,” Mark says. “It’s unbelievable. On October 3, there were three violent robberies on the same day .?.?. probably a block away from each other. Were the cops just taking reports and driving away? Abandoning the neighborhood?”
THE LAPD’S SUCCESS IN QUELLING rising tag teams and driving out gangs has been spotty at best. But in Koreatown, the problems are exacerbated by language barriers, distrust of authority and nonsensical precinct boundaries that divvy up the vast district, just west of downtown, among the LAPD’s Wilshire, Rampart and Hollywood divisions. Many incidents are thought to go unreported because victims don’t speak English, or they have a cultural aversion to calling out the cavalry. Some are illegals.
Consequently, it’s tricky to identify the worst crime hot spots. After National Public Radio reported on a spike in violence in Koreatown a year ago, the LAPD Web site offered a defensive rebuttal, claiming there had been 533 fewer serious crimes than in 2005 — a 12 percent decline. The purported trend did not apply to murders, however, since a triple slaying at a Koreatown restaurant bumped up the year-to-year death toll from 15 to 21, according to the LAPD’s own data. On April 12, 2006, the Weekly reported on a spate of horrific murder-suicides ("Community in Pain") and other brutal killings ("A Cheap Life,") that rocked Koreatown last year. (The LAPD did not respond to requests from the L.A. Weekly seeking fresh crime data for 2007.)
Tensions between Koreatown residents and the police have been entrenched at least since the 1992 riots, when many buildings were burned to the ground. Residents have pushed for their own police station, with the expected opening of a $30 million facility on Vermont Avenue next summer.
Optimists like Laura Ramirez, who opened the R Bar six months ago with two partners, see an enormous opportunity and say the street thugs have not been an issue.
“There’s construction going on everywhere,” she says. “There’s the renovation of old apartment buildings. There’s the Wilshire/Vermont subway stop. It’s cool to see. It’s cool to be a part of that.”
At Frank N Hank’s, a dive bar on Western Avenue, the weekday crowd voices similar sentiments — albeit cautiously. “It seems iffy,” Dennis Wolfe, a young Westsider, says of the street outside. But he’s here all the same, laughing it up with pals Jeremy Rabb and Alexandra Fulton.
Rabb, from New York, compares Koreatown to parts of Manhattan. Fulton says she loves that it’s funky. “I parked down the street; I didn’t feel nervous,” she says, then adds, “I mean, I didn’t park six blocks away.”
Bicoastal music filmmaker James Salkind spoke of the new vitality spreading from Hollywood, Echo Park, Los Feliz and Silver Lake, converging on Koreatown. He thinks it’s going to get better and better. Overhearing him, a group of women agree.
“But,” says Chris Anderson, a vice president of Frederick’s of Hollywood, holding a cocktail, “we’re mentally prepared to lose a handbag.”
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