Amid Downtown L.A. Crime Surge, a Vigilante's Aggression Backfires
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck says that after a few years of relatively small but embarrassing spikes, citywide crime is starting to level off. But in downtown L.A., violent crime is up nearly 14 percent compared with the same time last year. Homicide is up a whopping 180 percent, according to LAPD data.
The situation is exacerbated by loft-dwelling newcomers attracted to redeveloped buildings, bustling restaurants and bars and a re-energized arts scene, critics say. It was only a matter of time before street life clashed with newly arrived scenesters, they say, and that time was last month when a local neighborhood council member confronted men he claimed were dealing drugs at Broadway and Fifth Street.
The video has emerged as a rallying point for both sides: those who believe the city should be tougher on crime, especially as more and more middle-class people move downtown, and those who say working-class and homeless folks are being displaced and harassed by newcomers.
The video shows Jacob Douglas Van Horn, who taped the confrontation, telling an apparent transient man on the corner, "Yes, you are going to go get on a train and get the fuck out of this neighborhood." He also repeatedly tells the men he's a "councilman." "I"m the councilman for the Historic Core of downtown Los Angeles," Van Horn says.
The result was a beating. The 35-year-old, who moved into the area five years ago, says he suffered facial contusions, a black eye and some swelling after he confronted the men, at least one of whom he claims was following the behavior of drug dealers along Fifth who allegedly set up a boom box and play music to attract customers.
"We have people who moved in believing in the vision of downtown," he says via phone. "In the last couple years, they've seen the Historic Core overtaken by dealers and property crime. I went to go make a point. The intention was to get attacked. It was on a live video broadcast. I didn't intend to get hurt as I did."
Longtime downtown leader Brady Westwater says he stands with Van Horn. "People shove you off the sidewalk, and there's nothing you can do about it," he says. "All this stuff you have to put up with that didn't exist two years ago. Nobody gets arrested anymore."
But critics say Van Horn went too far. In the video, he tells the men, "Of course I'm harassing you. Yes, I am." Journalist and LAPD critic Jasmyne Cannick posted the video to her Twitter feed. "He made it seem like he was going to address some drug dealing," she says. "But he just started harassing old men. He definitely should be kicked off the neighborhood council for that."
Complaints against Van Horn — who's indeed the Historic Core representative on the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, one of L.A.'s network of locally elected advisory boards that have no binding power at City Hall — have been filed with the council's parent organization, EmpowerLA.
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Katherine McNenny of the downtown nonprofit Industrial District Green says she filed a formal complaint after seeing the video. She says she knows three other people who also filed complaints against Van Horn.
"He was speaking as a neighborhood council person," she says. "That's my particular concern — he was representing himself as a neighborhood council member and acting as judge and jury. He doesn't have the authority to tell people where they can and can't be in public. Those folks are his stakeholders."
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