“Violence is the flavor of the month again.” Is death returning to Los Angeles?

 

I was born in Los Angeles, and have lived alternately in the city or in neighboring communities all my life. I remember Los Angeles when…

 

…it was wracked with death and mayhem, and when the red gang and the blue gang murdered each other daily over territorial grudges. I remember when gang culture was popularized and romanticized in the mass media. I took a buddy with me to rent a car in Hollywood in the early 90’s and he nearly melted when he saw Ice Cube and his entourage renting a large cargo van at the same place. My friend was beside himself and I was slightly befuddled because I didn’t care or know about Ice Cube and his crappy rap music. I’ve always hated rap music. I think it makes people stupid. I could believe stupid people choose rap music, but I try to give them the benefit of the doubt despite the fact my forced sense of fairness always comes back to bite me in the ass.

 

The news reported, on a nearly daily basis, the incessant deadly buzz of bullets and murders that streamed across newspapers and television screens. That’s how we spied the news in the early 90’s, the temporal pinnacle of Los Angeles’ gang culture, it seems. In fact, there was a decade-long period of time, from the late 1980’s through the late 1990’s, in which Los Angeles gave birth to its infamous trademark “decade of death” era during which about 1,000 people were killed each year in the city alone. The fulcrum for this decade of death were, of course, the Rodney King riots in 1992. The riots, the burned out guts of this city, fostered a nihilistic, ruthless despair that saw the Los Angeles turn mean and violent.

 

Several landmark incidents alerted us to the burgeoning violent nature of this sprawling metropolis we called home, such as the shooting death of Karen Toshima in 1988, or the horrible murder of Stephanie Kuhen in 1995. Innocent, young people were being murdered and we came to face the fact that human monsters had gained a stranglehold over our city.

 

This was a stretch of time that encompassed my mid-20’s through mid-30’s, and I spent much of my time frolicking the deadly streets, fearlessly rubbing shoulders with vile people. I was drawn into the collapsed culture of the times. This destructive, deadly force of civic nature radiated fiercely like electricity in the air. Shit just fell apart and hit the fan and we lived a life of no holds barred wanton grief, a sinister form of la vida loca, a phrase Ricky Martin turned into a hollow party gesticulation at the turn of the century. Death and reflective violence permeated the city’s tainted atmosphere during this time, and then…

 

…it all ended.

 

With a whimper. Silently. Gradually, until one day we awoke and discovered that Los Angeles was suddenly habitable and calm again.

 

Civilized. It was so gradual, we barely noticed it happening.

 

By 2012, violent crime in many of the cities adjacent to Los Angeles that had heretofore been known for their suburban violence, had plummeted anywhere from 20% to 50%, depending on which city you were speaking about.

 

According to Sam Quinones’ definitive “Los Angeles is great and safe again” piece, The End Of Gangs in Pacific Standard Magazine:

 

In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that gang crime had dropped by nearly half since 2008. In 2012, L.A. had fewer total homicides (299) citywide than it had gang homicides alone in 2002 (350) and in 1992 (430). For the most part, Latino gang members no longer attack blacks in ways reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. Nor are gangs carjacking, assaulting, robbing, or in a dozen other ways blighting their own neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2013, gang-related robberies in the city fell from 3,274 to 1,021; gang assaults from 3,063 to 1,611; and carjackings, a classic L.A. gang crime born during the heyday of crack, from 211 to 33.

 

I can confirm this.

 

The atmosphere in this town, while not “kinder,” is assuredly less edgy, less lunatic, and more keen and sensitive to the materialistic, striving affectations of a vapid conformist culture that is groomed on social media and the real-time judgments and appraisals made possible because of our new cyber society. In this new paradigm, all people are embraced and welcome to the fantasy; if you doubt yourself, your standing, if you’re hesitant to proclaim your place in our plush new culture, just take a well-framed selfie and all will be good. We all belong thanks to the digital highway.

 

Even if…tomorrow it all crumbles to pieces and you find yourself languishing in the pit of despair again.

 

People are too busy living this falsely enabled sense of of belonging and they don’t have time to go capping on all their presumed real world enemies any more. We live in a kinder, gentler Los Angeles.

 

Forget the fact that some of that 1991 flair seems to be finding a strange resurgence in our city.

 

Sigh. I loved the quiet, peaceful L.A. Not again…we’re not doing this again, are we?

 

Firstly, Hollywood has seen proper to issue another ghetto romanticization flick which plays on the title of a 1999 movie with a similar name. Straight Out Of Compton, 1999’s Hood drama about an ex-con who looks to make it in the music industry, has now become Straight Outta Compton, a production that dramatizes the rise of real world Compton gangsta rappers, N.W.A.

 

So we have the pop cultural contribution; more Hollywood idolatry of Los Angeles black ghetto culture.

 

And now, add the new hash-tagged menace to 21st Century society Los Angeles, the looming #100days100nights. Black gang violence makes an encore appearance in the City of Angels!

 

This came into focus over the weekend, as the Los Angeles Police Department dealt with a series of shootings in South L.A. that left 11 wounded and one dead.

 

On social media, rumors swirled that one gang had promised 100 days of violence after a member was killed this month. Scores of people on Instagram and Twitter expressed concern, some using the #100days100nights hashtag. Others flashed gang signs and guns, vowing revenge.

 

Police are monitoring social media, hoping to prevent more violence. Authorities are looking for suspects in the shootings.

Townsend often uses social media to track people down and calm tempers. He said social media makes it easier to trace the origin of threats and rumors of retaliation. He also uses it to take the temperature of volatile communities

 

“It makes my life easier,” he said.

 

In a way, the social media chatter surrounding the violence in South L.A. has helped serve as a warning for people in the area.

 

Townsend also cautioned that the violence is not just about one gang at the center of the 100days100nights threat. Other gangs are feuding, which has “nothing to do” with 100days100nights.

 

“Violence is the flavor of the month again,” he said.

The shootings come as Los Angeles is experiencing a surge in crime this year after years of declines. In the 77th Street Division, which covers some of South L.A.’s most violent neighborhoods, shootings are up 20% so far this year compared with 2014, according to police statistics. The number of people shot has jumped nearly 31%, but there have been just two more homicides.

 

I wonder.

 

Los Angeles seemed to have escaped the national chaos that has torn America apart. In fact, as a way of contrasting this city with Chicago or St. Louis or Baltimore, I’ve told people that Blacks in Los Angeles are relatively sedate and behaved. If Los Angeles succumbs to the national trend, we might be embarking on a journey of national strife we are ill-suited to handle at this moment in time.