L.A. Gang Tours: Exploitation Or Education?
The first of those L.A. Gang Tours we told you about took place Saturday on a bus filled mostly with journalists, and concerns that the journeys would be exploitative looks at the ghetto seemed to be mostly allayed.
"I was skeptical at first, and thought it would be a 'titillating' tour, like how the 1920s New Yorkers used to slum in Harlem," German university professor and tour participant Sieglinde Lemke told the New York Times. "But I think they are on to something with their plan, helping gang members. Maybe I am naïve, but it is a vision."
His use of the term "titillating" likely refers to journalist and former Weekly writer Erin Aubry Kaplan's argument in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece that "the tour's marketing sends mixed messages and raises the question of whether it's even possible at this point to distinguish between showcasing the 'hood for altruistic reasons and showcasing it for titillation."
"Who would spend money for a cruise through the toughest and least telegenic parts of L.A. except those who regard such parts as source material for all things urban, i.e., hip, black and cool?" she asks. "I shudder to think."
We would beg to differ on a couple levels. First, telegenic is in the eye of the beholder, and there's beauty to be found in the vibrant and diverse streets south of the Santa Monica Freeway, where much of the tour takes place. Second, much of its new wave of entrepreneurial vibrancy has been brought by Latino immigrants who have moved into the area en masse since the 1990s. To assume that the tour's stomping grounds are mostly "black" is wrong: They're mostly brown now.
But that's besides our point: Angelenos should take ownership of their city and never be afraid to explore and embrace its every corner. The city needs more observation and inquiry, not less. The strange flip-side to the notion that we should stay away from the 'hood for fear of turning it into a titillating, ghetto theme park (this is not what Kaplan wrote, but this certainly might be inferred) is that we should all just stay where we belong.
Getting to know your city, barrio-by-barrio, gang-by-gang, block-by-block, makes you a wiser and perhaps safer citizen. Why shouldn't you know what turf a local gang claims? I can guarantee you knowing this will expand your awareness in a good way.
Did you know that there's a gang in West L.A., Sotel 13, that claims some fairly pricey real estate? Or that, just a mile south of Beverly Hills, a set known as the Playboy Gangster Crips claims turf? These surely aren't "the toughest and least-telegenic parts of L.A.," but the need to know is the same. Knowledge empowers.
What we always found strange, as well, is that police for years discouraged mention of a gang in news reports about violence, arguing that publicizing the name of a set only glorified it and served its goals to intimidate and recruit. That attitude has changed in the new Los Angeles Police Department shaped by former Chief William Bratton, whose leaders have been much more open to the media.
You should have a map of each gang in L.A., the turf it claims and the violence it has wrought. Gang-related crime is the number-one factor behind violence in L.A. and surely contributes to lower home values, the environment inside public schools, and quality of life. People suffer because of gang violence. We shouldn't sweep it under the rug just because one bad guy killed another bad guy or it's unseemly to peer into some of the more down-scale neighborhoods in town. There's blood on the streets. Let it see light.
The tour is a good start at showing some of those folks the reality of violence in some neighborhoods, a reality that can't be captured in crime-tape b-roll on TV or in a two-paragraph, "gang-related" shooting story in the Los Angeles Times. The tour can bring home to folks who don't live amongst such thuggery why fighting and preventing gang crime is so important to this city.