By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The meeting descends into a minor melee, then crescendoes in a flurry of raised voices all vying for position, when one voice rises above the rest. “Wait a minute. Wait a minute!” Sista Soulja (a.k.a. Cynthia Mendenhall) takes the room hostage for 10 minutes. The community activist and former PJ Crip in a short wig and big, dark sunglasses has earned the right to speak. She’s paid for the privilege in blood. She’s lost two sons in the crossfire. Betty Day has lost one.
“They police, they not the problem,” she says. “The problem is us! The problem is the community. We have a better relationship with the LAPD now than we did in the last 40 years!” Applause all around.
Outside in the parking lot, I hit up Tingirides and cut to the chase. He’s possibly the most reasonable person I’ve met out here. He sees a solution through the schools.
“We’re targeting kids that have significant issues,” he says. “They’re not in big trouble yet, but they’re going to be if there’s not some sort of intervention. That intervention is happening at a much greater scale than it has been.”
Sista Soulja butts in, and he lets her have her say. She puts her hand on his heart.
“Tell [the mayor] to call me,” she says. “Tell him I’m out here suffering, trying to help people. We need more housing and jobs. We need more programs — and stop sending everything over to East L.A. He promised us, and it’s not happening.”
“[Community policing] is extremely expensive for me manpower-wise, but it’s worth it. Four years from now I’m not going to need as many officers taking crime reports. We’re making a big difference in violence.”
That’s fantastic. Really. But are you alienating the population and creating kids as criminals? That’s something you can’t count in numbers.
“I would disagree strongly that we’re creating criminals. Listen, we have a crime, see this kid and he matches the description, we have to check him. If it’s not him ... he goes on his way. Everything is a battle out here. I make it clear to the officers, be patient. That’s one of the things I’m trying really hard to do here, to get the officers to have more dialogue and to understand that the lack of respect from the community toward the officers ... it’s not against you. It’s against something that has been there for a really long time.”
At South Bureau on Broadway, Commander Andrew Smith is a straight shooter. The former Skid Row captain breaks down exactly what they’re up against, starting with the level of weaponry. “Down here, in Division 77 on a Wednesday night — nothing special, just regular Wednesday night — one of our units in the space of just a couple hours came up with 18 guns. Most stolen, all in possession of people who shouldn’t be carrying them. That’s just in one division.”
Still, he gets the community thing: “We’re doing much more than answering radio calls and jamming bad guys. A few bad experiences with LAPD could make a kid say, ‘I’m going to join a gang.’ A lot of these kids think they’re not gonna live to be 21.”
The commander’s cell goes off. It’s a lieutenant calling from a crime scene. Black female. Blunt-force injury. She just died in the hospital. We roll out.
As we drive the streets of blight, three black teenagers fly by through traffic on minibikes: wife beaters, baggy jeans, no helmets. They make Smith, smile and wave. He couldn’t catch them in traffic if he wanted to.
A banner on a streetlight overlooks the crime scene on the 5900 block of West Boulevard: Express kindness. The message doesn’t resonate on this occasion. Two 30-year-old women got into a fight; one bashed the other with a stick, or maybe she O.D.’d and fell. It’s not clear. One thing’s for sure, somebody’s dead.
Small groups gather on the sidewalk, others casually watch from balconies. Two cops in cheap suits and two in uniforms take notes.
A beat-up Cherokee slows to a roll. A 40-year-old woman in the passenger seat asks, “Where did they take her? That’s my niece.” She doesn’t know she’s dead.
Lieutenant Lyle Prideaux looks like he’s been on the job for 20 years but turns out to be 34. Wearing an unfortunate blue-and-gray pinstriped suit, he’s running the scene.
“I think it’s interesting when you get people who talk about the way the police should be treating people is with respect,” he says. “Like we haven’t been.”