My Thoughts on Straight Outta Compton as a Resident of Compton Today

If you were actually living in Compton today, you would hardly see any trace of the mega-blockbuster that tore up the box office in its opening weekend to the tune of $122 million dollars as of its 2nd weekend in widespread release.

There isn't any big billboard that I see (at least here in the Westside).

There isn't a movie theater to watch it in unless you trek on over at least 15 minutes East along Rosecrans Blvd to the Bianchi Theater in Paramount.

I think our mayor Aja Brown has made it a point that she kinda wants to distance from the past and move on.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  I was entertained.  Full.  Stop.

But I think I set my expectations right where I thought the movie would meet them.  This means that I didn't think the movie would be that enlightening, nor that earth-shattering, nor necessarily completely progressive --- that is free of misogyny;  I was just happy it's in a context now in America where a city that would otherwise be ignored gets some cultural cache and recognition, and forms some kind of shared reference point for consumers of popular American culture.

While you won't really learn a lot about Compton from a 2-hour movie, I think the movie is most relevant to today's culture as a small piece in the conversation on police relations with communities of color. 

This movie is not an afternoon special on PBS about the city, so you'd be sorely disappointed if you were expecting to hear anything about Latinos, or about the development of the city of Compton itself.

Just as I had heard from the Watts prophets a few weeks ago, as the Straight Outta [City Name, Place Here] meme has become popular, Compton is a symbol, the name that is a stand-in and representative of the experience of being black, poor, and in a city in America.





"We wanted to put Compton on the map and now its here to say," MC Ren

There's Not Much "Actual" Compton in "Straight Outta Compton"

It seems like the NWAers are trying to say that they came at a time when their city was invisible, neglected, ignored.  They blasted a path out of that.

25 years later, their city is still kind of invisible, neglected, and ignored, but now people have some images of what they think that is, and it's mostly reliant on whatever NWA said.

What the movie showed was a history I have not experienced at all here.  It all seems tied to an era (1980s-1990s) rather than places.  You go to any urban area in LA or even parts of Orange County, whether in Eastside Long Beach or Compton, and most life-long and former residents will more or less tell you, the 1980s and 1990s were extremely crazy.  Those are the eras with all the mythical-sounding stories of how kids were beat up at bus benches in Long Beach, how to survive on my block, you basically had to run to your house. 

As a representation of the realities of the city and surrounding cities around Compton, the movie took very careful attention to aesthetic details or at least with details with which I had been familiar: from the logo of the old Metro buses, to the old LAPD cars. Growing up in LA seeing those same buses and LAPD cars again, it was enough to make me believe, "oh shit, this did happen, and they were there!"

However, there is no real sense of place in a movie with the name of a city in it.

Some guy from UCLA kinda agreed with me.  The movie's focus on the group meant that other than the opening scenes we did not see how these members interacted with community members, other than occasional run-ins with Torrance and Detroit PD.

The movie does not mention much if any of the physical geography of Compton. 

Over the years, I think we've grown accustomed to the idea in hip-hop and general American pop culture folklore that place shapes character.  A place makes you who you are, kinda points you in a direction of what you become.

We get a general sense of the drug and gang violence that surrounds them, but we don't see how Compton in particular is this place.  In one scene we see Crip gang members from "Crenshaw", which is in Inglewood, probably about 3 or 5 miles away from Compton.

Other than the opening scene where Eazy mentions "Greenleaf Blvd" and one scene at Compton Civic Center, I didn't get any idea that they were in the actual Compton but more so the symbolic Compton.

Greenleaf Blvd would mean nothing to no one other residents and/or than people paying very close attention to little details.  We don't really get any introduction to what the street is or means, it's just a reference point known to the actors in the movie, but not the actual audience, and so Greenleaf Blvd could be Main Street USA or Vermont Ave. or Crenshaw Blvd.

I had to look up Skateland (one of the first venues we see NWA performing at) after watching the movie to locate any sense of place.  The LA Times had a quick write-up of the place.

This is what Skateland looks like now (located on Central Ave. and 135th):



Jump Re-Starting the Conversation on Police Brutality



For a movie and group based on showing police brutality, the brutality and brutalizing by cops doesn't seem to actually take place in Compton aside from one incident.  They rely on their experiences in Torrance, in some incidents at a home, their experience of seeing the Rodney King video.

The main reason I say that I'm glad that the movie exists to be a part of the conversation on police relations is that I don't think that blockbusters showing police doing wrong usually do this well in the box office or on television.

I guess like the movie because the topics it brings up represent an anomaly, packed with references to real-life events of police brutality that I think the American media-consuming public has seen and been seeing for the past five or so years.

When it comes to race relations and public perceptions of the police, doing some kind of police work is always portrayed with a positive upswing.  On network television in particular, there's no shortage of cop shows portraying the complexities, emotional highs and lows of cops on network television. In the cinemas, the same thing.  In fact, the big irony is that before we even saw this movie, they stuck in a promo for Ice Cube's comedy with Kevin Hart, in which he actually portrays a cop. It seems like that was stuck in there to foil the message of the biggest takeaway from the group and group's history.

I think the biggest takeaway from the movie is essentially the conditions of the 1990s with police departments staffed largely by outsiders, coming into a community, and dictating rules on their terms rather than community-defined terms.

I'm not sure to what extent that happens anymore.  For me I haven't witnessed it happening.

As far as the actual experience of police here in Compton, the police (the LA County Sheriff's Department) have been pretty alright to me so far.  What can I say?  They come when our house alarm has gone off.  When I call about a neighbor, they've responded, so far.  They can speak Spanish, they seem like they can talk to people.  I'm not sure what the history has been with them or "Compton Sheriff's Department" (as it would have been known in the 1980-1990ss) had been, but on first glance it just seems the departments are staffed by people actually more predisposed to being from and in the community rather than outside it.

The LAPD, the overarching bureaucratic police department that oversees LA (and does NOT include the city of Compton) seems to have changed a lot from the days of Darryl Gates and his "us-against-them" mentality.  They have work to do, but still just like the Sherriff's Department it seems areas are staffed by people being from the community.

Thinking About Why Gang Tagging Still Exists on My Block

It's been another long summer, which on our block means one thing:  tagging on the walls!
And it's not just some crews interested in tagging or doing artistic murals or anything --- it's gang tags, or kids representing a gang that has existed since the 1950s.

On Stop signs, you will see a "CANT" scribbled on top and below the "STOP", you will see the gang's name scribbled underneath, so that Stop Signs around the area read "Can't Stop [Gang Name here]"


 
This morning, I watched the graffiti team sandblast the gang-tagged walls along the street for probably it's thousandth time.  It's the end of July but it's the first time I've seen them all Summer.

Its the first Summer where I've lived here and seen another gang combat the dominant one here.


The tagging has been a persistent nuisance, but I am told by neighbors who have lived here for 20+ years that there was a time when the sandblasters would be painting a wall and a tagger would be right behind them throwing up a tag just minutes after they had finished sandblasting the ball.

That's not the situation now.

But the Summer is when school is out.  Presumably school kids are keeping the wall plastered with their hastily spray-painted insignias representing their gang.

My most immediate neighbors call the current crop of gang taggers "remnants" or "knuckleheads";  the ones who caused all the trouble in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are either dead or locked up.

I don't know any of the kids currently doing any of the tagging, but I was thinking deeply about why these kids (I presume that they have to be kids) felt such a need to continue tagging.

I think of Bambu's Old Man Raps.



I think about who in our neighborhood says anything if at all, and how we seem to let the tagging persist.  I am glad that this appears to be the only issue that I see nowadays.

I realize that there are deeper issues than just tagging.

From my point of view, as an unconnected resident, but a kind of academic, I think it all comes down to individuals recognizing their place in the larger society as being permanently marginal.

 'Permanently Marginal' in the sense their place in larger society can't actually change.  But within their own place in society, they will try to make the best out of what they have (or perceive themselves to have).

Drinking, partying, threatening violence is what they have been, and where they will be.  It's kind of immutable facts of life (which I wonder how much has changed in this age of media 2.0 and the omnipresence of the phones).

I try to imagine what materials and resources they own.  I don't imagine most as home-owners, and I think they're barely making it, probably living with family members.

They probably don't own much other than their reputation, threats to violence, and their outward expressions on the wall.  Their showing of vitality is reliant on vandalizing the public spaces.

The moment they let up their claim of our walls, stop signs, etc., public utilities, it's as if they have let others "win" while their gang has "lost."

I think that as long as their youth (and whomever their elders are) frame what they see as "their" walls, stop signs, public utilities as spaces to claim to show their gang's vitality, it will be an ongoing fight.

I just wish they'd take listen to a former gangbanger from Watts and re-direct their energies and vitalities to other life-building pursuits.

We Lowered Our Water Bill

Last month, we paid around $35 for our water bill.

This month, we cut down the water bill to around $28. 

This.

For a house about 600 square feet, 2200 square foot lot with a washer, a backyard, and a bed of roses.

Pretty small, not many people.  Mainly 2 adult occupants, and occasionally an extra adult.  One baby, who requires that we wash our hands, our dishes, and his dishes a ton.

Things that might have cut down our bill:

1)  I don't wash the dishes as much anymore
2)  Implementation of the 5-Minute shower.  I try to bathe like an astronaut, who uses only 20 oz. of water to shower.  Essentially, I now shower the way I wash my hands:  turning on only when needed, off when soaping, and then back on for the rinse.
3)  Imposition of a new watering restriction by our local water company:  we can only water on 2 days.

How Random Are All Homicides?

One of the more searched for items on my blog is:  How Dangerous Is Compton? 

I don't think homicides are all that random.

Shankar Vedantam from NPR tweeted some research about how homicides tend to be concentrated within certain networks.

You know, we might be missing the wood for the trees, Steve. So take Chicago, for example, in the example you just gave about the ZIP codes. If you visit the website of a newspaper, like The Chicago Tribune, it will tell you that you have a high risk of becoming a victim of violent crime if you live in a neighborhood such as Washington Park or Fuller Park. But not everyone in these neighborhoods is actually equally at risk for becoming a victim of violent crime. I spoke with Andrew Papachristos. He's a sociologist at Yale, and along with Christopher Wildeman, he found the real risk doesn't lie at the level of neighborhoods, but at the level of a network with in the neighborhood.
Gun violence is much more like a blood-borne pathogen. It tends to be very specific behaviors - risky behaviors - that put you in these networks. And in some ways, it becomes much more like the spread of diseases through needle sharing or unprotected sex, rather than catching a bullet from somebody sneezing.

The LA Times Homicide Blog's mission is not so much to make those connections but is there to put out the names, dates, times, and places.

Reading it is all at once sad, engulfing, enraging. Sad because of what has happened.  Engulfing because of the stories behind what happened.  Enraging because we often don't know why what happened happened, and were left to thinking about the big, basic questions of why.

They report victims, location, age, race, a blurb about the incident, perhaps some background information about a victim.  Occasionally, they'll come up with blog entries about trends in a city.

Recently, they noted the "rising" homicide rate in Santa Clarita from 2 in 2011 to 6 this year.

The headline reads "Quiet Santa Clarita adjusts to recent jump in violence" as if that increase over a 62 square mile area with over 213,000 residents was one place full of carefully manicured soccer fields, acreage for people who choose to live that life, wide streets, was basically devolving into one big biker's bar.

To their credit, the writer did note that most of the cases were based on familial/intimate domestic disputes. 

However, a handful of the commenters, still wrote in search of deeper societal and/or demographic causes as if the homicides were "random" and wanted to identify those root causes to theoretically root out homicide.

I think those commenters represent what seems to be a common way of thinking about how crime happens:  it happens more in certain locations, with certain peoples of a certain age, sex, race, and it is either random or because people are in a gang.  Sometimes people conflate those factors of age, sex, race, or a location with being a cause for being murdered (i.e., you're black and in Compton, of course you're going to get shot!).

I think that if people learned more about the importance of networks in our crime discourse, those factors might matter less.  In the absence of information, people would attempt to look at a person's network rather than their age, sex, race, location before voicing a judgement.

The Map Apps on the iPhone as Applied to LA Traffic from a Traffic Surveyor

My various jobs require lots of driving to various ends of the greater LA/OC/Ventura/Riverside/San Bernardino/Santa Barbara.  We even sometimes make our way towards Bakersfield, Kings County.

I officially stepped into the Smartphone world just last year, and have relied ever since on mapping programs.

Before using smartphones, I would generally mapquest directions and print out a page of all the directions 2003-style.  It worked just fine for my job. 

But at some point, I started using my phone to map places out and eventually completely ceased all printing of any maps.

In my one year of iPhoning as a traffic surveyor, I now rely on 4 mapping apps: 

1)  The default iPhone Map:  What I use if my phone is having connection issues.  It seems to find a route faster than Google Maps at times.

It's also what I use for when I want to find something nearby, like a park or a library.

2)  Google Maps:  Probably my most frequently-used because I find that it's usually spot on with estimated time of arrival.  They seem to know how to manage my expectations for when I can get to a certain place. 

It's mostly good until they take you onto toll roads, which can be a probably in deep Orange County (73,241,133)

3)  Mapquest:  What I use when the first two keep taking me to goddamn toll roads in deep Orange County.  Avoiding toll roads is the one redeeming feature of Mapquest, but that's pretty much it.

I would use this more, and am rooting for it to beat Google, but it has been confused a few times by loops --- yesterday, it made me get off a freeway, go in the opposite direction, and then get back onto the same freeway in the same direction that I had been going.  Major points off for that.

Also, the estimated time of arrival is very deceiving;  it does not appear to use any real-time traffic data as the estimated time of arrival kept adding minutes.

4)  Google Earth:  What I use when I need to pinpoint an exact spot on a map.  I like to thank my lucky stars for that triangle that points northeast --- the directional arrow has helped me do my job showing various locations much better.

So in summary:  mostly Google rules, but it does have plenty of things it can work on.

Bring a Gelsons to Compton to Replace Fresh N' Easy

Pronto.

I'd never really been to Gelson's only because I've never really lived in proximity to one when it became a Gelson's.

That all changed a few days ago, not me suddenly up and living near a Gelson's, but suddenly spending a whole day very near a Gelson's.  I spent a whole day, where I essentially had to rely on Gelson's for my lunch and dinner, the Gelson's on Franklin Ave. in Hollywood.

3 points for why a Gelson's would be an absolute great candidate to replace the Fresh N' Easy in Compton.

Score 1.

Cheap cold drinks.

50 cents for a bottle of water.  55 cents for a can of coke.  My co-worker told me this in the morning which I just kind of forgot till my break came and I needed a drink.  I searched the market for cold drinks;  I was skeptical and after 5 minutes or so could not find these vaunted 55 cent drinks.

Then near the seafood and meats section, I see cans and bottles ready for immediate lunch-time consumption.

What the, was this a re-boot of the 1980s or something?!  Very cheap drinks, essentially at the Costco fountain drink level.

Score 2.

A good mix of good ol', reliable brand names but with blended with "organic" brands you might see at a Trader Joes/Whole Foods.

2 for $5 on Hawaiian Barbecue chips.  Though this is arguably not a score for my weight and health.

But if you wanted, you could also binge on kale chips or the quinoa at the salad bar, your choice.

Score 3.

Good on-the-go healthy options for food.  I took home some quality antioxidant salad for a hungry wife.

From what I remember at Fresh N'Easy, there isn't much there except food in packages.

I do not know the numbers, but my sense is that there is a building demand for food-to-go and healthy options, even in Compton.  If there's any indicator of this, it's the fact that we now have three Starbucks stores in the area.  Starbucks has traditionally been seen as an indicator of incoming middle-classdom.  The area where that Gelson's would be located would be near a Starbucks, incidentally, a Starbucks that like any other Starbucks is full of people on their laptops during the daytime. 

I think a Gelson's would attract people looking for cheap drinks and some trusted also brand names, but also have the potential to hook people on healthier foods.  I think it would be an even better alternative than the Trader Joe's that I've wanted.


California Drought: I Am Honestly Confused about My Water Bill

The drought has become extremely severe, so I've heard from the local news and from social media.

According to a Jet Propulsion Laboratory guy, we have only one year of reserve supply left and will be digging hard at underground water.

I understand the drought at a superficial level.

We've heard about the drought for years.  When there isn't an accident or amber alert, the flashing electronic signs on California highways mention the fact that we are in a "serious drought" and that we must "help save water."

I get that we have a finite amount of resources.

I get that we need lots of rain for several years to get back to "normal."

However, I don't think I completely understand the entire picture of our water supply.

The number one thing I am confused about (and hope not to alert my water company is):  my water bill is still around $30-$40 for a single-family home with three people.

That's awesome for my income and allows me to keep on going as I am.

I get that I am not a heavy commercial water user (like say, a golf course owner) and so my prices might not that be high anyway.

But if we really are in a very dire situation why are the water prices I pay not skyrocketing as well?  Or is that just lurking around the corner?  I know that water restrictions are along the way.  

I do want to keep paying what I am paying, but I also am curious as to how this is happening.  Supply is apparently low, demand is probably high, but prices remain low?  What am I missing here?

I mean, I hope the low prices continue, but can anyone actually explain?