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Then Villaraigosa stumbles through a Spanish rant that sounds a little different from what some of these kids are used to hearing at home, but everybody understands his closer: “I love you, and I believe in you.” With that, everyone in the room rises for a big collective cheer. Amazing. I’m guessing it’s the thing that nobody told the mayor when he was a kid. That someone loved him and believed in him ... but here he is.
Mauricio’s already glad-handing his new best friend before I can get over there to take the picture. The mayor tells Mauricio he believes in him, shakes his hand and hugs him.
I hit up the mayor in the parking lot before he gets into his big black SUV, with the shadow people lurking behind tinted glass in the back — his handlers, I guess. He’s suspiciously reachable to discuss police culture, my reason for tracking him down, but Mauricio doesn’t seem to notice, he just wants to take more pictures.
Whatever his damage, the mayor’s from the barrio and you gotta love that. This is L.A., and I hear he’s sleeved-up to the pits, which means that more than any American big-city mayor, he understands all about the collisions of epidermal pigmentation and police culture.
So, Mayor, what about these kids in the hood systematically abused by the police for so long that they don’t even identify the harassment as abusive anymore? Seems like it’s a big part of the problem. But you care about the kids, rite? Every last little thug — because you’re the mayor and you’re, well, you. And if you don’t care, we’re collectively fucked.
I tell Villaraigosa about a little kid I recently saw getting violated by the cops. I was a few blocks from Nickerson Gardens, driving with my 19-year-old criminologist friend D-Black and his associate Marky-D, both smoking Black and Milds in the back seat. As I rounded a corner, three squad cars appeared from the vapors with an eye in the sky, an LAPD ghetto bird, whirling above the streets. In precision-guided maneuvers, the cops descended on their target. Screeching to a halt, they corralled the suspect against a chain-link fence. Nowhere to hide, he surrendered. I watched as the officers performed their search up his shirt, down his pants, in his face, his socks and shoes. They interrogated and then released their suspect: a 12-year-old Mexican kid on his way home from his afterschool job at a market, riding a little blue bicycle, an off-brand, swap-meet faux-motocross affair. He said his name was Juan, but it’s not. He’s about 5 feet 2 inches, maybe 110 pounds. Short hair. Clean-cut, knees shaking. A small stain appeared on the front of his basketball shorts, where he presumably pissed himself a little. After the cops left, the kid, respectful of his elders, answered my questions, but his sneakers were spring-loaded and it took a lot for him to stay put.
“I didn’t do nothing,” he said. “I’m barely coming from work. I gotta go. I gotta go. I gotta go home. My mom is waiting for me.” Then he took off on his bike.
At first, I assumed the kid didn’t want to talk to me, didn’t trust me, because I’m white.
“Nah,” Marky-D said. “He shaken up. He scared. He wanna go home. Cops scared him good.”
“Yeah, he shaken,” D-Black added. “Probably his first time. Shit.”
I was shaken too. D-Black and Marky-D, though, took the incident in stride, which is tragic. Because the message the kid came away with was clear: He’s nothing ... nobody, and he’s not going to be anybody, so he might as well just ... insert tragedy here.
But you care, rite, Mayor? Because I promise you, the kid has no idea.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood,” Villaraigosa says, “I grew up in a home of domestic violence and alcoholism ... I saw really ugly things as a young boy. I saw my mother beaten. I recognize that a lot of what happens in our communities happens because of the breakdown of the families, poverty, drugs, domestic violence and the like. And so ... the way that I try to communicate to all of our kids — but to that young boy you mentioned as well — is through my work, and through what I say to them in that work.”
Apparently the mayor’s got a few things in common with Mauricio. When Mauricio was 9, his dad beat up his mom so bad she was hospitalized for two months. “I would beat a wall till my knuckles were bleeding and shit,” Mauricio remembers. “Like you can’t do nothing.” He says the mayor’s a homey.