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The Gangs of Los Angeles

The Gangs of Los Angeles

I was frustrated when I read your cover story [“Nine Miles and Spreading,” by Peter Landesman, Dec. 14-20]. The story gave an accurate depiction of Watts two years ago. Today, things in Watts are very different.

Following that horribly violent holiday season of 2005, I started holding weekly community meetings in my Watts office with residents, city departments, service providers and nonprofits, and the LAPD. These weekly meetings, which continue to this day, have evolved into the Watts Gang Task Force; and working together, we have cut crime in half in Watts.

There is no doubt that gang crime has been prevalent in Watts for decades. However, today there is a new cooperation between the community and our police department that has resulted in better communication and coordination. We overcame years of mistrust on both sides, and I truly believe that simply improving the relationship between the LAPD and the Watts community has made a huge impact in Watts. The community helps the police department to solve and prevent crimes every day.

The Watts Gang Task Force is committed to changing the gang culture in Watts — and we still have a lot of work to do. But the Watts that was portrayed in your article is not today’s Watts. We have worked too hard to once again have the media give the wrong impression of our community.

Janice Hahn

Councilwoman, City of Los Angeles

Peter Landesman responds: It is terrific news that gang violence in Watts is in an ebb cycle, and that the feud between the Bounty Hunter Bloods and Grape Street Crips has calmed. We have seen these periods before. Shortly after the 1992 riots, for instance, there was something of a fragile gang truce. In fact, the cyclical nature of gang violence was the point of the story, which was less about particular gangs than about the social, economic and cultural conditions that draw kids into them and keep them there, often until imprisonment and/or early death. The focus was what gangs tell us about the plight of minorities — especially minority men — and about ourselves as a nation. These conditions con­tinue to worsen unabated almost everywhere — including in Watts. There will always be some­thing to upset the détente, and the killings and misery will continue. So while the efforts of Councilwoman Hahn and Watts gang interventionists should be commended and built upon, it is a mistake to not address the deeper macro issues that continue to threaten the children of Watts and similar communities. These issues, more than periodic and finite lulls in violence, deserve focused and public attention from federal, state and city government and their officials.

Landesman’s article generated a huge e-mail response at ­laweekly.com. Here is a small sample:

I can’t believe this is happening inside the U.S. Kids in this location have no chance of survival. Wow. Please forward this to Discovery Channel, Ted Koppel or something. Get it out there in the mainstream. This is very well done.

Posted Dec. 12, 2:48 p.m. by Morris1

Everyone who reads this should send a copy of this article to the corporate management at MTV. They are completely responsible for glamorizing gangs and selling this violent, unsustainable crap American dream to young black people. . . . A violent, fearful society is easier for corporations to control. Keep them busy and scared in gangs and they’ll never vote or pull any kind of political movement together. . . . Now that the violence is spreading closer to where your sweet little daughters live, I predict we’ll start seeing MTV doing programming about the gang problem as if they just discovered it.

Posted Dec. 14, 7:29 p.m. by JamallJ

Why does this have to be a race issue? This is a people issue. To those who think that whites don’t display such horrific behavior, please read your history books again. Let’s start with the most recent events in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Europe during the two world wars, massive rapes by the Russian army in WW2. . . .

Posted Dec. 18, 12:53 p.m. by JB

Los Angeles has to become involved in shaping its future and not leave it up to out-of-towners. You need to be in South and East L.A. or problem spots in the Valley running after-school programs and interventions if you really care. . . . I’ve taught in some of L.A.’s most violent gang neighborhoods, and the communities are full of concerned, honest families and great kids doing their best to escape the pressures of gang life and the surrounding violence and chaos. I don’t imagine that any of the readers beating their chests about water-boarding these kids understand what it is to be 12 years old and to take the bus home every night to a group of thugs demanding to know where you live and wanting to beat your ass. I’d probably form a crew or pack a pistol for protection eventually too. The answer lies in connecting these kids to Los Angeles so that they feel part of it. One of the U.S.’s richest cities in its richest state should not be ignoring its future generation.

Posted Dec. 18, 2:42 p.m. by HMan