Police: Predators or Peacekeepers?

Right now in America, I think there are essentially two different views of police.

I don't mean to say that all people think either this way or that way, but they represent two polarized sides in a spectrum of thoughts.

There's the side of the spectrum that sees the police as predators.

There's the side of the spectrum that sees the police as peacekeepers.

So the battling views are:  police as predators vs. police as peacekeepers.

I understand views on the spectrum, but usually because on the internet, I tend to find myself around people who unquestionably believe in the police as peacekeepers, I like to challenge what I think is the lack of a critical eye.

Some of my more radical friends like to think we could do without the police. I'm not quite there, but I understand that they do not like the history of law enforcement in this country, nor how normalized bad behavior has seemingly become. 

Another reason I'm not with my more radical friends is because I'd like to think the culture of the institution of policing/law enforcement in America could become something better, divorcing from its history. 

I think that "becoming better" would be possible if there were more of a focus on prioritizing education and mediation in all the local law enforcement agencies, especially those with majority white police officers presiding over largely populations of color. 

That means, police approach you with the idea that you're a human being, and not as someone who's guilty simply for existing.  And to be fair, for the most part as far as LAPD and LA County Sherriff's Departments go, they have.  I'm not sure about other agencies in LA County.

Story #1:  The Redondo Beach Cop Who Made Me Nervous

I just wanted to go straight and go home.  I didn't feel like taking small streets around or whatever.  I wanted the straight shot along Artesia Blvd that becomes Redondo Beach and eventually Compton Boulevard that would take me home. 

It was a Friday night, around 9:30 PM in Redondo Beach.  I had just come from doing a job at Hermosa Beach for my company and was heading Eastward, home in Compton. 

Traffic was backed up for a good mile and a half.  There was a large sign in construction orange colors with cones warning drivers that there was a DUI checkpoint being conducted by Redondo Beach Police.   A bunch of white cops.

A little past that sign was a smaller street that a sizable amount of drivers turned into.  I think you could actually avoid this DUI checkpoint.  That means, you could choose not to go through it, by turning off into a little street, or so it appeared.

Majority stayed the course. 

I decided that I had like the majority had no desire to do any turning, and just wanted to go straight. 

I had done nothing wrong, and had nothing to worry about right?

I'd waited about 20 minutes before I'd finally reached the point where the first cop would wave us through.

One cop took a look and waved me through.  Or so I thought.

I guess I was supposed to stop for the next cop?  [sarcasm]Duh!!!!! How was that not obvious, especially when one of them waved you forward and at the end of all these cones there is no stop sign.  The only people who stopped or made sure were probably people who did do something wrong, and were aching to admit their guilt.[/sarcasm]

I stopped but not before the cop said, "Stop stop stop stop!!!!!  What are you doing?," said the middle-aged white cop.

"I thought I could go through."

"Don't you see the Stop sign?"

(Looking intently for Stop sign;  none in sight)  "They were waving me through."

He asked for my license, which I struggled to produced.  Having just seen Straight Outta Compton, I was wondering what he would think once he saw my address.

I felt nervous now giving this cop a reason to question me. 

"Where'd you come from?"

I tried with all my mind might to remember --- all I could remember was that it was 10th Street.

"Have you had anything to drink tonight?"

"Nope."  As soon as this left my mouth and I stared right at the questioning officer, I knew this wasn't enough.  Even I thought I sounded suspicious.  Either that, or the way the cop questioned me and or his distrust of me was so dense that I felt that anything I could say was not going to get anywhere.

All I know is that I was just nervous even though I had not done anything.

He told me to follow his pen with my eyes. 

I did this for a good 10 seconds.  

I stared with the might of my life as he moved his pen around.  I couldn't tell what he was trying to do.  It just seemed like he was just trying to get me on something.

The whole time I was just wondering, why the hell would a drunk person wait 20 minutes in line for a gangload of cops, when they could just turn into a little street?

Story #2:  On-Job Harrassment

For basically most of my jobs with my company, I am outside and in the public eye for several hours at time, anywhere from 1-4 hours at once.

Again I do various things as a traffic surveyor.  Sometimes its counting cars at an intersection.  Sometimes its taking GPS points of a sign.  Sometimes its tracking the movement of cars in a parking lot.

I am always having to explain myself, half the time to the public, half the time to some representative of law enforcement.  I've become used to explaining myself. 

I'd say that 95-99% of cops have been standard, non-assholes to me, some even cool.  I've been able to talk to LA County Sherriffs at 2 AM about the GPS work I was doing.  I've been able to calm LBPD down about what I've been doing.

But the few times where cops have given me a hard time, they've given me a hard time.

Nowhere was it worse than during a job counting the traffic going through and from the LA County Jail AKA (Twin Towers Correctional Facility) right on Bauchet Street.  It's a small four lane street with lots of pedestrian as well as car traffic.  Lots of ordinary people, nurses, chefs, maintenance workers.  Lots and lots of cops, plain clothes, dressed up, passing me by.

I have my beach chair, my ID badge (which at the time consisted of the company card), my backpack (which had snacks and my laptop, just in case things got slow) and my counting board, which to the uninitiated looks like a 1980s handheld gaming console. 

On this day, I was observing the activity of an intersection along with 2 driveways.  I decided that the best observation spot of traffic coming in and out would be across the street from these driveways.  My counting started at 5:30 AM and I was to keep counting until 10AM.

Things were going smoothly until a big rig decided that they would pull up right in front of me and park.  The asshole obstructed my view, leaving me looking under, walking around to make sure I've counted cars correctly.  It looks like I'm dodging, bobbing, and weaving like Money Mayweather himself.

At around 7:10 with the sunlight peaking out, a Sherriff's department car rolls up behind the stupid ass truck. 

I know where this is going.

Traffic is also constant.  And so I just keep Money Mayweathering and counting, until the cops approach me.  A black and an Asian-American cop.  I think for a split second, "oh, my people!"

But then I think of Ice Cube's line, "black police showing out for the white cop," and...this is what happened.

"What are you doing?"

"Counting cars, bitch," I say.  Though, I leave out the "bitch" part.

"What for?"

"To survey traffic.  Sometimes it's for the city."

"Who are you working for?"

"I don't know, I don't know who our client is"

"What is your company?"

I give out the name.

"Can I speak to your boss?

I'm still Money Mayweathering and counting.  I'm walking around, bobbing and weaving a lot.  Traffic is a lot more dense now that these assholes are bothering me.  Of course.

"Can we search your backpack?"

No, I'll get my phone myself.  Money Mayweathering and counting.

I'm fumbling for my phone, as its not in my pocket and located somewhere in my backpack.  The two assholes keep their eyes planted on me as I go towards my backpack.  I rifle through the backpack in frantic search for my phone while I'm Mayweathering and counting.  Incidentally I'm surprised they even let me go to my backpack myself.

Perhaps noticing that I'm frantically doing work while trying to accommodate their requests, one of them remarks "It's OK if you miss a few," said one of the oinksters who do not play any role in my employment status or my paycheck.

I take my chair and backpack and place in front of the cop car and the cops so I have all my stuff with me.  Still Money Mayweathering and counting.

Still Money Mayweathering and counting, I locate the phone number not of my immediate manager but of a manager who is away.  I hand it off to the black cop and he chops it up with that manager for about 10 minutes.  I hear demands for names and companies as he blurts them out.

Still Money Mayweathering and counting.  The black cop hangs up.

Slowly realizing that there's actually nothing going on here, the Asian-American cop preps his parting shots telling me where to stand and not stand.  "You shouldn't be here hiding behind this truck" and "stop pointing that thing [counting board] at people."

And this is why sometimes when people say FTP, I don't think immediately of Filezilla.

I don't have any examples of police playing "peacekeepers" other than the times I've seen them at community meetings or various events whether its a youth meet up in Long Beach or community meeting in MacArthur Park.

If I were to be intellectually honest, I know that it's not all cops acting like assholes.  They are not a separate species.  In the end they are people doing their jobs, dealing with a lot of uncertainty.  I think the way we have designed our justice system rife with quotas, they are prone to making false hits, casting wider nets which ends up punishing everyone, especially those either the wrong color and/or not claiming residence in high class areas.

A Legend Elsewhere, Just Another Jerk on the Freeway Here

I've kinda followed Steven Gerrard's career as a soccer player in Liverpool, England.  Liverpool is usually one of the best teams in one of the top soccer leagues in Europe.  As a crowd before games, they sing a very uniting, humbling song, "You'll Never Walk Alone," which is my favorite anthem of any sports team.

He was basically their everything-man, their longest-tenured captain for 12 years, which in any professional sports is an eternity.  He was an icon for not just English soccer, but all of soccer


The ESPN interview makes interesting points as they paruse through Venice Beach --- that's something a high-profile athlete here, ala Stephen Curry or Chris Paul, might not be able to do here, but might be able to get away with in a not-as-basketballed-up place like say, England. 

A legend elsewhere can be relatively anonymous and enjoy the public spaces here and probably vice versa.  I was heartened to learned that he has already taken in the LA experience of...rush hour traffic and road rage.

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. 


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.