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Watts Is North Of The Border

Re “Greetings from Tijuana,” by Michael Hemmingson, Cover Story, August 7.

Greetings, Michael,

December 12, 2007 — Peter Landesman wrote in the LA Weekly: “The average American has a 1-in-18,000 chance of being murdered. In this area of [South Central] Los Angeles” — two hours north of San Diego — “the chances are 1 in 250.

“On New Year’s Eve so much automatic weapons fire pours into Watts’ airspace that LAX air traffic control must divert the flight path of incoming planes. The U.S. military sends its medics to train at local trauma hospitals because the conditions in their trauma units so resemble live warfare.… LAPD Chief William Bratton declared the Jordan Downs–Nickerson Gardens area ‘the most violent community in the country. This is now the most dangerous place in America.’ ”

“The modern American gang was born here” — the Bounty Hunter Bloods and Grape Street Crips. “At last count, Los Angeles County had more than 714 gangs and 80,000 gang members. That makes one of every hundred county residents either a hardcore soldier in a gang or an ‘associate’ — the getaway drivers, lookouts, ‘cookers’ (people who know how to turn cocaine into crack) and ‘hooks’ (people who direct customers to drug houses) — or an ‘affiliate,’ a gang member with no specific duties.…

“Every yard, doorway, shop and parking lot is the fiefdom of one of Watts’ 65 gangs and their roughly 15,000 hardcore gang members. In that area alone, gang members shoot 500 people a year, and kill 90. Nearly every citizen living there is enjoined by membership or affiliation; those who try to stay out of the life incur their local gang’s wrath, sometimes with fatal consequences.” The paramedics wear Kevlar vests.

“It wasn’t always this way. Originally, L.A.’s street gangs were social and support organizations for immigrants and packs of neighborhood pals. Mostly their crimes were petty, and scores were settled with fists.… All that changed forever in the late 1980s, when crack cocaine hit Los Angeles and neighborhood affiliation became secondary to what all the gangs now really wanted: a piece of the drug business.” Does it sound familiar?

“In America’s urban ganglands, and in L.A. in particular, the ferocity of the thuggery has surged; gang members, their victims and police long on the gang beat tell me the fighting has become more codeless, more arbitrary and more brutal than ever.

“And it is everywhere. According to the Department of Justice, today America has at least 30,000 gangs, with 800,000 members, in 2,500 communities across the United States. (Gang experts at the University of Southern California claim the number of American jurisdictions with gang problems has reached 4,000.) Federal, state and local law enforcement across the country agree that street gangs connected to or mimicking the L.A. model have become a national epidemic.”

It is “spreading to formerly safe middle-class communities, or, ‘to a neighborhood near you.’… The bigger and more dangerous portion of the country’s 800,000-odd gang members are disaffected and marginalized youths looking to identify with something.”

“Almost anywhere in America a migrating gangbanger lands, he is fairly sure to find a receptive supply of recruits. ‘Trying out gangs is becoming more and more popular’…‘Now gangs are fads, it’s cool to be a Crip and Blood,’ ” report experts, or, say, part of the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha). Will those Americans have ties across the border? Sure do. Crime is not apart from globalization.

“Shootings have become so routine in parts of Los Angeles that most never make the newspapers or television, leaving much of the community oblivious to the magnitude of what is happening on the streets,” wrote Kenneth B. Noble in the New York Times.

It is outrageous the level of corruption in Mexico. Society is taken as a hostage.

I never had any problem south of the border, crossing at least twice a week for the last six years. Neither had I any when I visited Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers (or Nuestro Pueblo).

After all, it is Tijuana, Michael. It is cynical to say that the situation is very different down there. Scary, isn’t it?

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The LA Weekly article can be read in English at http://www.laweekly.com/news/news/la-gangs-nine-miles-and-spreading/17861/ and in Spanish at http://www.elpais.com/articulo/paginas/infierno/angeles/elpepusoceps/20070826elpepspag_6/Tes — Editor

The Cop Gang

Your August 7 cover article on Tijuana murders (“Greetings from Tijuana”) was time-compressed from more than 20 years, making it look worse than it is, which nevertheless is pretty bad. My wife and I, both U.S. citizens and Anglos, lived in Colonia del Rio for 17 years, ending last month, and all our children grew up there. The murders got closer to home in the last few years (since Mayor Hank brought his Mexico City police friends, aka gangsters, up north). My family learned caution but was never fear-ridden. My daughter completed Tijuana high school.

The solution to this problem is trivial and obvious, and someone needs to say it. Ninety percent of the murders are drug-trade related. The issue, as in all the third world, is money. Legal dollars only come in the form of loans, imposed on an ever-poorer populace whose raw-material wealth is (except for oil) in long-term decline. The only dollars that don’t have to be paid back twice are the ones from America’s soft underbelly, its drug hunger.

All third world countries including Mexico should legalize drugs and their export, and tax them. The United States should concede this lost war and make drug trade among adults a misdemeanor, punished only by loss of any rights to get welfare or collect on insurance, including medical insurance. Income based on the drug trade will drop sharply and then stabilize, and young people in Tijuana and Afghanistan can begin to look elsewhere for hope. The members of the U.S. drug culture will either snap out of it or die, attended cheaply by trainee nurses and medical students. Chicago saw all this long ago, in Prohibition and its aftermath.

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"..." -- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System


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Ollie Aug. 22, 2008 @ 7:16 a.m.

Somebody go wake Shepard, Potter, and Brizzolera's asses up and get them in here. I want to know what MORE Reader writers think of my skipping around and Barb's quotes.


Ollie Aug. 21, 2008 @ 8:23 a.m.

I'm nothing but a dirty skipper-around-er, it's true.

Since you're a fan of quotes here's one: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes)." - Walt Whitman


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