An Offering for Gangs that Tag - Journalling Compton, Saturday, Jan 24, 2015

I've tried to do this before, last year.

I tried to talk about news in Compton, but I realized that the effort involved in researching news takes away from time spent doing other things.  If there are news stories, I will link them, but only if I hear about them, usually from news consumed from KPCC or local television.

The most I could commit to is to journal about my own experience here.

Every day I'm here Compton. 

West Compton to be exact.

It's home to the point where even after spending whole days in white affluent neighborhoods such as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, or Agoura Hills, it still feels good to see the Food4Less on Rosecrans and Central and being reminded that I'm almost home.

* * *
About gangs.  

I haven't posted a ton about gangs specifically in my posts about Compton, because I'm not "in the know." But the tagging around the area lets us know that they're around.  Otherwise I've been left alone so far --- I don't know how true that would be if I were a middle school kid at one of the schools or a teenager today. 

I think that all across LA County, statistically, gang violence has not been as crazy since the 1990s.

From my readings of the Homicide Report, I think most violence is not "random" unless in the act of robbery.  However, I live with the fear that we could get caught in crossfire.  My saddest thought is that while our families would be in a world of hurt, the outside world that might happen on an obituary would probably dismiss it as another Compton story.


* * *

One Offering for Gangs that Tag

We've been left alone.  I think that's awesome, and pretty much the most I could ask for at the current moment given the chaotic past. 

From what I can see the only thing that doesn't suffer any outward physical neglect are the walls along the street, which are technically not "public space", but public in the sense that they frame the streets on which we walk.

Either the gangs tag them with their symbolic letters and numbers and/or someone whitewashes them.  It's a back-and-forth that doesn't really have any indication of stopping.

On one hand, whenever I see a fresh tag, usually after a rainy day, I really just get tired.  My thoughts are "what the fuck?  And why?"To me it's like shitting where you eat, unless of course you don't live here.  Why would you want to make the place where you live look shitty with your shitty ass tags?

On the other, my more holistic, Anthropological side tries to understand "what the fuck", and "why" --- probably because this activity defines them and establishes their symbolic if not real clout in the neighborhood.  It's something that they've got to keep up, perhaps from tradition --- I don't know I think some traditions need to transform.

I truly wish there was something I could offer these folks that I'd want to actually give away.

That I'm thinking about is basically becoming a Father Greg Boyle, opening up a Homeboy Industries, somewhere here, hooking people up with jobs here and there.  His modus operandi is "Nothing stops a bullet like a job"

If gangsters ever happen on this blog, I don't have jobs or anything to offer at the moment. I just have this.  Please consider:

The Speech:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone - if possible - Jew, Gentile - black man - white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness - not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost....

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men - cries out for universal brotherhood - for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world - millions of despairing men, women, and little children - victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say - do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed - the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. .....

Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes - men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!
You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!
Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” - not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power - the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then - in the name of democracy - let us use that power - let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world - to do away with national barriers - to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite! - The Great Dictator's Speech

Now, Where Can I Get my Cumbia Fix? La Rockola 96.7 FM Is No More!

La Rockola 96.7 has not been for the past 2 months, but I have not noticed, figuring that the Ranchero music that currently dominates the station was just temporary every time I dialed into it.

But no, the Ranchero music is there to stay, for the time being, especially now that it's renamed "La Ranchera 96.7", to my absolute, utter, complete dismay.

 I'm like, really, we need another Ranchero music station?

I wouldn't have noticed this change because: 1) my dial is heavily tilted towards one of the public radio stations (89.3, 89.9, and 90.7) 2) my Spanish language comprehension still sucks 3) I really thought they were just going to play Cumbia eventually.

What the hell was La Rockola 96.7 FM?

La Rockola actually won OC Weekly's Best Radio station in 2012 and was described in the brief bit as "a heady mix of cumbias, salsa, the occasional quebradita and reams of sonidero."

It was a station that I got perfectly as I got on the 105 West and headed towards Santa Ana. Almost every time that I had work in and around Orange County, it would be time to tune into 96.7.

I thought of the station as loaded with Freshness. At least to me. Fresher than what appears to dominate Spanish language radio, which is slow, yawn-inducing male-dominated ballads usually incorporating an accordion.

What did La Rockola play? From what I think I Shazaamed specifically from them (either them or 90.7's lunch time World Music Cafe):


Here's more from their Twitter page and their La Estrella TV Page.

For about 8 years, I have been listening on/off to Spanish language radio in attempt to learn the language. I started off at KLOVE, not really not knowing any better. I even tried listening to Piolin on 101.9 when he was on, but some of my old co-workers, Mexican women, didn't really like him, so I kinda stopped listening to him and just kept with the the KLOVE. I developed a lot more taste and distaste as I've learned more of the language, and eventually moved on to stuff that the younger crowd might listen to like whatever was on what used to be Latino 96.3 and La Estrella 107.1.

I accidentally ran into La Rockola while attempting to find a radio station after 89.3 KPCC cuts after I reach PCH in Santa Monica. Ironically, I discovered that the music from 96.7 FM was not from Malibu, Thousand Oaks or wherever, but was from Orange County --- Santa Ana to be exact.

The discovery of this radio station was not an insignificant discovery as I Shazammed many a lunch hour away whenever I was within range. I never really really liked a lot of Spanish language music (and by "really really liked" I mean would actually seek out the music), till I discovered that station and Canto Tropical Saturdays on 90.7. However, this wasn't the first time I was really disappointed in a Spanish radio station being cut out. I used to listen to 93.9 Exitos after I noticed that one date I went on had put in on there, until it started having (and still appears to be having) its identity issues.

They played lots of pop Spanish, but it kinda beat the KLOVE and La Estrella 107.1 that I had been listening to for my own Spanish immersion.

I really hope that this is temporary and something else comes out. Hasta el proximo episode de Canta Tropical.

How Dangerous Is Compton - Can a Brotha (and a Motha) Get a Little Peace While Jogging?

Ignorance is bliss. A hackneyed phrase that probably describes my way of getting by here. I really don't know anything, I don't know who the gang members are, I don't know who the families are --- I feel reasonably OK. But again, maybe that's all because I really don't know anyone here. I was even about to take and post videos of Christmas lights adorning the houses here. Some people really take pride in it, and you would think that we were in Torranc---well maybe Azusa. My wife and I have been getting by just fine, except yesterday, Christmas, when the action cut close. The getting fine had been going on for a while now, probably about a good few weeks or months. It was even extending on the walk we took around the neighborhood where we were able to strike up a conversation with a guy and saw a few houses put up for sale during yesterday's Christmas morning. The part where I stopped being fine was after our morning walk. Me having developed an ear distinguishing between fireworks and gunshots and being a vigilant follower of the news, I heard about 5 gun shots. Then a car speeding off. It sounded a bit far away from me. It's not the first time I've heard shots, maybe about the third. Then I find out that the shooting and killing is in an area that covers my running route. It's really a heartening time given my co-worker's recent death, my school classmate's violent death in South LA near a Ralph's, and now the latest story near where I live. Not unexpected because hardy har har har, Compton, but it hits a little bit to know that tensions are still active at the same time that me, a person from a middle-class immigrant family completely unexposed to violence, is around as well. I'm not scared because I think I would be an intended target but more so, because I would not want myself nor my wife nor anyone around me to be the victim of a stray bullet. It makes me think of how my next door neighbors, who speak no differently than other college-educated friends, have endured their entire 30+ years of life living here. Previously, I know that I've blogged about being able to develop a jogging routine. I have been able to do roughly 2-3 times a week, though I've allowed work and schoolwork to interrupt any regularity in it. My jogging/running habits are nowhere near the level I would like because of not only my work but the limited amount of daylight in a day, especially during Winter. My wife generally does not want me running at night. I've seen people jogging around Greenleaf and other streets at night so jogging isn't a completely alien activity here. I occasionally see people at nearby Tragniew Park getting their jog on at twilight, but I honestly haven't been paying too much attention the past 6 months since Summer ended. In my younger days living with my folks, I could run miles and miles. I had a routine of getting at least a mile or two in the morning. This was in Silver Lake and Panorama City. I've been wanting to re-hash that routine, which included lots of early morning and late night runs. The most I've run in Compton at the 7 PM twilight is about 2 miles --- for reference, I used to run along Sunset Blvd from Silver Lake to West Hollywood for a distance of around 10 miles total. Most importantly I really want my wife to be able to be active. But her biggest concern is safety. Safety. Safety. It sucks enough to be a woman in public space, but being in a city which is still considered a symbol of urban violence isn't helpful either. It's one thing for me to not care as much, but it's an entirely different thing. I want her to be able to go out by herself, but she would never do that here. Hoping for that day when she could unconsciously start being active outside not because her personality changes but because the environment does. I'm not calling for gentrification or something to rip at demographics, but you do wonder why famous people from here and got famous out of talking about survival here probably don't want to actually live here whether it's Dr. Dre, the Williams Sisters, or even the "non-materialistic" Kendrick Lamar.

The Life of a Words with Friends/LA Public Transportation Master

Life is rather short, and I'd like to take a acknowledge one of my co-workers who passed away. He was a great user of the public spaces in LA, heavily relying on Metro buses and Metrolink to get to the many places required in our line of work from all the way in Orange County to places in Santa Barbara. According to updates on his Facebook profile, Jim died on December 19th, 2014 at the Greyhound Station in LA. He attended Hollywood High and apparently graduated Hollywood High in 1980. I believe that he stayed somewhere around Boyle Heights or Atwater Village. At work, he was kind of known by other co-workers for his "rough" external appearance. He looked like a homeless guy. He appeared to wear the same brown hoodie most of the time with dark pants. Quite frankly, the smell he gave off was not pleasant. First time I saw him we were at the office and he was talking about public transportation. He could be loud and expressive, but not in an excessive or boorish manner. First time I was formally introduced to him was at a job in Boyle Heights with 3 other veteran employees, himself, and me. Our job was to survey a large parking structure. During one of our breaks when we were parked outside on a sidewalk outside a big parking structure; one was smoking a cigar in the car, one had pulled back his seat and was passed out, one was in the backseat with the door pulled out. Jim and I were on the Sidewalk; I was reading the book Traffic, incidentally, he was laying out. LA County Sheriff getting a glace at the spectacle of the five of us lounging around this busy parking structure gave us a thorough questioning, which forced us to call our boss, and ended up in a 2-hour delay. Definitely a hassle at the time, but hilarious to look back on. One of the employees, the guy who had pulled back his seat, blamed Jim in part for the grief the cops gave us that day for "looking as crazy as he did." We worked near schools --- people would come up to me and ask me if that "homeless-looking" man was part of our operations. We worked in residential neighborhoods --- people would get angry and usually call some type of law enforcement, and I'd hear about how the company got yet another call about Jim. It was almost part of the deal for every project for him to be harassed, though he wasn't really the type to be incensed to the point of rage. We all wondered behind Jim's back about his living situation; he carried a duffel bag with him at all times --- he had a laptop, which got stolen at one point, a Samsung phone, which he lost, and another replacement phone. His eating habits apparently consisted of constant stops to Jack in the Box. Maybe his appearance was all a ruse to filter out unnecessary people in his life. Many times while out in the field, people would question him and his presence --- most of us veteran employees had come to expect that someone would mention him in a police call. I could see that he tried to groom and take some care of his appearance occasionally getting haircuts, but his smell was still there. For as much as most co-workers nor I wanted to be near his physical presence, he was someone who could be quite entertaining to converse with. I've known him for about 3 years now --- sarcastic, rather sharp wit. He would often joke about other employees, in another character who liked to puff. He knew a bit about places in LA; he definitely wasn't a fan of the LA Central Public Library because he's lost stuff there, he teased me about living in Compton. I would occasionally see him on the Blue Line or Red Line. He was one of the longest tenured workers at the job. While on the job, he would launch into dialogues about all kinds of hypothetical surrealistic fantasies about our job. Occasionally our job requires counting cars. For a while our conversations centered around hypothetical fictitious stupidities like "the Counting championships" or "Making the front cover of Counter Magazine". It was all in good fun, and definitely kept us occupied for our more mundane tasks. I worked with him on numerous projects, whether it was counting cars, walkie talkie-ing with him, surveying parking lots. When he really opened up was when I challenged him on the game Words With Friends. I challenged him and he eventually started calling me by my user name. He was always my toughest opponent, but I wondered why his average was always so low. I went 1-4 against him. The one win I got I was so proud, I interrupted his 46-game winning streak. In fact my second to last text to him was talking about that time I beat him; we both scored 400 points, which to us was a lot. He was a good sport about it. In the meanwhile, we would always be talking about opponents he was beating. Last I heard he had 96 wins and 6 losses, a record I could not even come close to equaling percentage wise. He was an absolute master at that game. I think his mastering of the game spoke to the hidden genius he had inside which betrayed his outside, external appearance, which always led people to discredit, disrespect, or become suspicious of him. Last time I saw him in the flesh was around November during a project at Boeing. It was almost expected that he would be harassed while at site. I walked with him to give him an extra vest that I had. Sure enough, I heard security guards describe a man who fit his description. There's a lot about him I don't know and won't ever know. I know that he had a daughter, currently in her 20s, and he was hopeful that he could be a grandfather some day. I just hope that he can play Words with Friends from wherever he is.

Getting Scared of Biking in Long Beach Now

I have not been biking much these days;  I do it when I can.  Back when I began blogging on this here platform, I was on the bike and Metro almost everyday from the Valley to Long Beach.

I live in Compton now, and my biking range goes all the way to downtown LA, though it's been a while since I've done a ride.  I do not bike as much in Long Beach.

The days of biking are gone for the time being, mostly because of a job.

But even when I get on a bike, I'm not as freewheeling as I used to be.

Maybe I'm getting socialized into fear. 

Maybe I'm getting older.

Maybe I've gotten too sensitive to the stories I occasionally read on BikinginLA.  Stories of
fallen bicyclists and pedestrians, whose names occasionally whir in and out of local news with little fanfare or visible outrage.

Maybe I've lost too much trust in drivers and the social fabrics.   I've read too many stories about bikers in LA on sites like LA Weekly and KPCC, and people not on bikes largely remain brazen and entitled to their cars and retain a largely accusatory attitude towards bicyclists as if there are no bicyclists who drive.

Maybe I've gotten too sensitive to the numbers.  Recently, the Governors Highway Association found that California leads the nation in bicycle deaths.

I know that there is a small chance, a 1 in 4919 chance of getting hit and being killed on a bicycle, which is actually a much smaller chance than dying from a motor vehicle accident.  Death on a bicycle is the 17th most common way to die according to Medline.  Motor vehicle accidents are 8th.  Not that I would rather die by car in car, but at least there are some safety features that might be able to protect me, whereas if I am hit by a car, it's my body exposed and hopefully the damage is minimal.

All this worrying has gotten to me.

I'm ALWAYS looking over my shoulder nowadays, sometimes even when there is a bike lane.

For the first time in my adult biking career last week, I biked a route more on the sidewalk than on the actual street.  Even in the vaunted "most bike-friendly city" in the nation.

The streets that got me shook?  A couple east-west streets.  It would be no big deal for most veteran bicyclists, but if I'm riding it, there are probably lots of people who are also not, and are probably sidewalking it.
  • 7th Street on the way to CSULB, which is bad as a morphs into a 3-lane speedway on the way to the 22 East freeway.
  •  Willow on Signal Hill, which has 3 lanes, an uphill, and a 40 MPH speed limit

How News Media Fosters De-Humanization: A Case Study

First, I genuinely wish the families of Lexi and Lexandra Perez and Andrea Gonzalez prayers, good vibes, and karmic good.  

Rest in peace Lexi, Lexandra, and Andrea. 

I also wish for the same for the man who ran them over and his family.  Most would be understandably mad at him not only for killing, but for also fleeing. 

When these things happen, everyone loses.

Here's to hoping for an evolution into safer streets for everyone.

* * *
It was only a matter of time before they located a driver suspected of killed these three trick-or-treating teenagers in Santa Ana.

While it's good news, I was pretty irked by OC Weekly's coverage of this finding.

I wouldn't doubt any of the claims that OC Weekly is making, but it's their emphases that bother me.  Which emphases?  The ones that do more than identify but also further brand this individual as nothing more than guilty criminal before any investigation or trial has been set. 

As someone interested in Linguistic Anthropology, I always wonder how reporters use words to describe their understanding of a situation.  I definitely believe that their own background influences how they see and ultimately represent the background of a victim or an accused criminal.

I tend to think that media, most of whom are white, would be quicker to label a lower-class black guy with a more crystallized "criminal" branding than they are a lower-class white guy.  Possibly out of intent, more likely out of habit.

The basis of the article is the accused and his "long rap sheet." I must admit that I was a little curious as to who he was.  The OC Weekly dug that up, but they only trotted out his criminal record;  who really was he outside of this criminal record?  We don't know anything about his mom, or the two people he was with.  Why would they let him drive?  We don't get that idea whatsoever, and are not really exposed to any other complexity of his life other than the part of his history that notes his criminality.  

The OC Weekly's emphasis on his "rap sheet" only serves to crystallize and make it seem like what he did was ultimately of a permanent, intentional mindset.  I'm not sure why they decided to make his criminal record a "thing of interest," and focus of an article, rather than as simple background and part of a tragic story.  Though I am referencing a different article in a different city with a different writer, when Nathan Louis Campbell apparently rampaged and ran over those pedestrians with his Dodge Avenger at the Venice boardwalk last August and killed the honeymooning Alice Gruppioni from Italy, even he was not saddled with the broad brush of a menacing "rap sheet", he was simply "once locked up for shoplifting" though the article makes mention of another incident.

I am also bothered by OC Weekly's use of the word "homicide" as one of the labels/tags for this story. It's an accident, a distinction that would be of no consolation to anyone, but quite different than "homicide", which is worth noting for a news source purporting to be objective.  He is being charged for manslaughter and fleeing the scene, not homicide or murder.

OC Weekly's emphasis on the rap sheet, combined with this mug shot of yet another black guy in our faces, and the lack of focus on the victims has definitely stirred reaction.  As of this writing, the OC Weekly has reaped the benefits of this reporting with over 144 comments.

OC Weekly's coverage of this case is what I consider the low, dim end of the spectrum.

In my anecdotal scan of the coverage of other vehicular manslaughters in LA and OC, no one has really cared to splay an accused driver's criminal history or "rap sheet."  It didn't come up for Vanessa Yanez, nor for Gary S. Hunt.

Incidentally, while the OC Weekly has drummed up much comments about Jaquinne Bell, they are also silent about Gary Hunt, a man recently charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and driving his pick-up truck under the influence on October 21st, rear-ending a car at a stoplight, killing a 10-year old boy named Rafael Israel Ramirez, and injuring three others.  I can't find anything about Mr. Hunt.

OC Weekly is the low, dim contrast to KPCC's coverage, which is also tied into such stories such as how unsafe Santa Ana's streets are in general.

One of KPCC's stories also features a picture of the accused, but it's the second picture after 2 of the 3 girls.

In the story in which they break the news of the accused capture, it's merely a report with only a sentence about prior convictions.  Their initial story got 2 comments.  The latest report has 4, which includes an insightful comment from a veteran LA urban planning commenter about the man's punishment:  taking public transit and biking for the rest of his life.

Live-Tweeting Halloween from West Compton, 2014

Last year, I wrote a little blurb about Halloween in Compton. I saw one comment trolling Compton on the KPCC Facebook page about neighborhoods (here is the article, not the Facebook page though); I decided that I wanted to live-tweet the actual experience of being here in Compton during Halloween. There are a few houses here and there around the Larger Compton area that decked themselves out, but it's definitely not everyone, and was pretty absent. We ourselves didn't look very festive other than a Jack-O-Lantern in front of our house. When it was all said and done by about 9:00 PM, I was able to almost-empty out one Target brand box of 60 fruit snacks that we'd bought from Target. We would give out not one, but two pouches of snacks. We have one full box of Target brand fruit snacks remaining, which we kind of anticipated. That said, here is Halloween in Compton, 2014. Our first trick-or-treaters were kind of from Compton, though they were picked up and driven in by one of my wife's long-time friends from Wilmington. There was a lot of down time. I carved a simple jack-o-lantern to signal that yes, indeed, come on in kids, take our candy! At one point in the night, we heard a bunch of kids, and my wife got mad that I didn't step outside of the house to welcome them in (and ratch up our trick-or-treat totals.) I told her something to the effect of "they'll come if they want to", which caused a micro-argument to ensue A few weeks prior to Halloween, a couple of contractors installed new city lights on our block. Stories from neighbors said that gangsta kids used to shoot out these lights; as it is we still lack a proper street sign on the street facing Central Avenue. We got one batch of trick-or-treaters, I suspect that they were the same kids from last year. I wouldn't have known if they were our neighbors. In the back of my I head I was still thinking about KPCC's article and my conversations with teachers about how trick-or-treating was a chance to get to know your neighbors. I blew it. I was more embarrassed at the thought of deploying my deplorable Spanish skills. Within 1 minute or 2, they were gone and I was eavesdropping on their other interactions. They didn't seem to have many after us. I was tweeting from my phone; I was trying to say that I was disappointed "that I couldn't *say more* than the cliche..." Autocorrect *sigh* The drought kinda ended, but it was really just ushering in the cold. Finished the night at around 8:45 AM as I was falling in and out of sleep. Throughout the night, I kept wondering what would happen if we made Compton an actual destination, and not just a place for people to pass through. What if we had a couple houses devoted to being really scary (and not you're going to be killed scary, but safe-fun scary)? What if we built the stuff that people wanted to see? What if.