Barbarians At The Gate
Posted on: 2008-03-30 21:41:42
Non-white gangs on war footing?
Deep inside the bunker. Your erstwhile war correspondent clacks out another column on life as lived in America's second-largest city. That popping sound you hear in the background isn't the Orville Redenbacher or my stiff joints snapping as I stretch for one more M&M. That's the sound of sporadic small-arms fire, incoming rounds pinging off the new armor plating I have recently installed around my writing compound. It's called "defensive architecture," but I won't object if you find it offensive.
Big Bill Bratton, the politician's favorite cop, tells us crime is down; race has nothing to do with gang murders, and we can't "arrest our way out of the problem." So L.A. keeps stacking bodies like cordwood and sullying its name internationally with horrific headlines that sound more Karbala than Compton, Fallujah than Alhambra, Baghdad than Baldwin Park.
In desperation, urban planers have begun to incorporate ammo-resistant designs into new housing and public buildings. It's both pragmatic and pathetic.
If you're around my age, you may remember aluminum siding.
Instead of painting the house, you'd just hose it off once or twice a year. It looked great until one too many tennis balls thwapped into it, or dents from the extension ladder the old man used to clean the gutters left their dimples. After a while, your house looked like it had a bad case of cellulite.
Aluminum siding is a relic of the pre-Glock, Mac 9, AK-47 San Fernando Valley of orange groves, sock hops, slingshots and BB guns. Today's L.A. is more interactive. Your home needs something tougher, Kevlar siding, something that can stand the onslaught of an army of domestic terrorists: Crips, Bloods, Avenues 43, MS-13, Latin Kings, Vineland Boys, 18th Street, whatever.
Drive-by shootings have actually spawned a new school of urban planning, "defensive architecture." So move over Post-Modern, make room for Post-Moral. L.A. went from Bauhaus to crack house. From Art Deco to Art Ducko, as in hit the deck before a stray bullet hits you.
City Councilman Ed Reyes represents one of the most densely populated districts in the city, with as many as 66,000 residents per tract. He correctly asks, "What do we have to do so every time there's a backfire from a bad muffler they don't have to hit the floor...? How do we bring the parks back for families and kids?"
Part of the solution is Reyes' "defensive" designs for housing, pubic buildings and parks.
It's hard not to see the pragmatism. It's also hard not to puke. How pathetic that we've allowed gunfire to become so commonplace, we have to make buildings drive-by proof.
The Rio de Los Angeles State Park is a 40-acre oasis surrounded by the concrete and power-line sprawl of a city that's been guided by Darwinian planning. Reyes points to a 5-foot dirt hill lined with fencing, shrubs and trees for the explicit purpose of absorbing incoming rounds from San Fernando Road. While Los Angeles talks a big game about being the 21st century city, we're essentially reverting to moats and castles with a dot-com face-lift.
How does the clich go? "If you build a better mousetrap, someone builds a smarter mouse?" We're playing a game of cat and mouse with amoral killers.
The latest atrocity was the slaughter of 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr., a star footballer who caught the eye of top college recruiters. Tragically, he also caught the eye of an illegal-alien gangbanger who gunned him down while Jamiel's mother served in Iraq.
You can't make this up. The irony of fighting a war against terrorism half a world away while a generation of Angelenos is shot to pieces by local terrorists, while your own son is cut down at home.... Wow.
Smart people and good people may argue over the way out of this mess, but we'll continue to bury kids and wring our hands impotently until we agree on the basics: We have to salvage the next generation of gangbangers while crushing the current generation.
In the six months past, libraries have been shot up, Garfield High School torched, the copper wire stripped from hundreds of streetlights and a landmark Mid City statue was cut in two with a blowtorch and sold for scrap by scavengers. The barbarians are literally pillaging Los Angeles around the edges while we cheer on Eli Broad and the Grand Avenue boys. We've come so far we've circled back on ourselves. Back to the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile, child after child, young adult after young adult is quietly buried with an all-too-familiar chorus of tears.