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.