Monday, December 24, 2007

Hard Life (and Death) in Los Angeles

It's good news that Los Angeles saw a decline in homicides in 2007, the lowest level in almost forty years:

Los Angeles is on track to end the year with fewer than 400 homicides for the first time in nearly four decades -- a hopeful milestone for a city so long associated with gangs, drive-by shootings and sometimes random violence.

With 386 killings recorded as of this morning, the city has experienced one-third the number of homicides it did in 1992. The last year with a comparably low figure was 1970, when Los Angeles had a million fewer residents, guns were far less prevalent and street gangs were a much smaller part of life in urban neighborhoods.

Experts and Los Angeles Police Department officials have offered a wide range of theories for the drop, including the gentrification of once-tough neighborhoods, improved emergency medical care and better policing....

So far this year, homicides in Los Angeles are down about 17%. The number of shooting victims is down by 14% compared to last year. Overall violent crime -- including rape, robbery and assault -- is down 8%.

The trend extends to other parts of Los Angeles County. As of Dec. 1, the last date for which figures are available, the number of homicides had dropped about 17% in the more than 40 communities patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and in cities such as Pasadena. The total for those communities was 303 as of Dec. 1, down from 369 during the same period last year. Long Beach has recorded 39 homicides this year, the lowest number since 1971.

"It's not just a number. It means a whole lot," said Betty Day, 68, who moved to Watts in the 1950s and has seen the homicide rate rise and fall. "You know, I'm very proud. People should feel good about it because it's been a long time coming."

The declining crime numbers come amid demographic shifts that are rapidly changing some neighborhoods. Venice, Echo Park and Hollywood, once significant crime areas, have become trendy addresses.

In the early 1990s, a gang war in Venice left nearly two dozen people dead and scores wounded. Gang violence has lessened considerably as the district has become far more expensive, with multimillion-dollar homes replacing fading bungalows.

The Figueroa Street corridor near Century Boulevard in the early 1990s was a drug and prostitution bazaar and the scene of numerous slayings. Now, bungalows in the area are being refurbished for first-time home buyers. Even downtown L.A.'s skid row has seen major changes with the addition of luxury lofts and fashionable eateries. Homicides there have fallen to seven so far this year, down from 12 last year.

Yet while declining murder numbers are encouraging, the nearly 400 killings annually should still be seen as a calamity.

To appreciate this point requires some street-level perspective on the killings. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times provided a powerful reminder of the crisis of crime and social disorganization among the urban underclass, with a complex story of black-on-black murder in the inner-city (see here and here):

Timothy Johnson, 37, a black man, was shot multiple times at 939 E. 92nd Street in Watts at about 3:23 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, and died at the scene. Police officers had received a "shots fired" call and found him. He had been visiting friends in the area.

He had gone to a party that night, then had stopped on his way home to socialize with friends outside. His shooters came by walking or driving. He was hit multiple times. When officers arrived, he was alone, dead on the ground, and the people who had been outside with him had disappeared. A pit-bull puppy chained in the yard was curled on his body.

The story of Johnson's murder was the lead commentary piece at the Time's Sunday opinion section. The Times' Jill Leovy, who edits the "Homocide Report," also added this:

Johnson's killing, like most others described in the Los Angeles Times' online Homicide Report, drew scant attention from media accustomed to a metronome beat of black-on-black killings. But such killings in South Los Angeles often contain within them interlocking strands of other murders - other cases of thwarted justice. When the bare details of Johnson's murder were posted on the blog, more than 100 people commented. The excerpts below - cut for space, but otherwise unedited - encapsulate the effect of one such murder cluster in a small community.

The blog link is here. The newpaper excerpted some comments for publication yesterday, here. Leovy's right to note the significance of this microcosm of opinion, and I'm pleased that the Times' editors placed this on page one of the Sunday op-ed. It's a lengthy thread, but a few of the comments are penetrating in their brutal honesty and revelatory importance on the nature of life in the 'hood:

My sincere thoughts and prayers go out to the Johnson family. I have known the family for over twenty years, through good times and bad. Being the detective supervisor overseeing the investigation, I can honestly tell you that we would appreciate any information regarding the tragic death of Timothy....

Citizens can telephone the detectives at (213) 485-4341 or anonymously at 877 LAW-FULL

Posted by: Sal LaBarbera November 26, 2007 at 06:37 PM


The life of an African American Man in LA has proven to be a fight till the death. I am struggling now as I sit here looking at your picture. All the years we spent growing up together, supporting each other and just loving one another. I Love you!! You were my cousin by birth but my brother at heart.

Love Kim

Posted by: Khaleelah Muhammad November 28, 2007 at 04:50 PM


Street justice has been served". I never personally met or seen timothy johnson, a.k.a. "sinister" but my complete understanding of this guy is that he had blood on his hands. He lived by the gun and he died by the gun. It has been confirmed by the lead detective that "sinister" killed a dear friend of mine about 3 yrs. ago, and the police identified "sinister" as the killer. they never charged him for the murder because all of the witnesses were reluctant to come forward ... prayers to "sinister's" wife and kids, but to "sinister", you lived as a coward and you died as a coward. you killed innocent people in broad day light, is it not ironic that you we're gunned down by the shadows of darkness? only god can judge us so i wont ....

Posted by: STREET JUSTICE November 29, 2007 at 11:46 AM


... My cousin wanted me to meet tim ( sinister as you call him) how ever i was uncomfortable with it because of the things people said about this young man .... my cousin wanted me to talk to him about god and see if he'll come to church. however i was not with it but one day while sit'n at her house this guy came over, not know n who he was it was tim (sinister) he came in with a big smile i'll never forget he was respectful when he came in by speak n to everyone when he took my hand and asked my name then told me his my heart drop... but we all talked, passed a few jokes, told each other old stories he was so kick back. he was nothing like what people said!!!!!!! He was respectful, kind, really funny lol... never judge the book by its cover ....

Posted by: monique December 01, 2007 at 12:04 PM


... you speak of what a stand up "Man" he was well if that was the case he would have realized long ago that life is precious. He was not a "Real Friend" I am a mother who has losted her Son to death with sinister as the trigger man. He took my son's life, Nov. 12, 2004 and he was right there beside him professing to be his friend. well what I say now is that my Son's death has been "vendicated" all vengences belong to God and it doesn't bring my Son back, he too have children that will never have the comfort of their "DAD" one baby he never got chance to see. God is the maker & creator of "Blessings & Rewards" my "Heart & Soul" has a "little" satisfaction because when I lost my Son to murder by the hand of Timothy Johnson no one would speak up to help stop the senseless killings., because everyone was afraid, well this is what I say to that, Our lives begin to end when we don't speak up about things that matter. God is good, and The Wrath of God is no joke. when he see God & my Son on that "GREAT DAY" that's when Eternal damnation will take place

Posted by: Mrs. Cozette Hallman December 02, 2007 at 01:21 PM


As I read all of the postings, I am very saddened. It sounds like my cousin caused a lot of pain and anger for a lot of people and families and especially one mother. I hurt because of how my loved one affected so many people in such a negative way while he affected our family in such a positive way. We don't know, nor will we ever know, if he actually did what many say he did. But now ... that is neither here nor there. He is gone! Never to return .... The botton line is ... ENOUGH! The family knows you are out there. You have made your point. We are aware you are in pain. Now let us greive! RIP cousin. I will miss you!

Love, Your little cousin

Posted by: Little Cousin December 04, 2007 at 07:46 PM


It's always funny to me how the friends and family of thugs and gangbangers feel bad when something happens to one of the "homies," but they couldn't care less about the loved ones of the person that their homie hurt or killed. ... Now you are feeling the same thing the loved ones of Sinister's victims felt. It don't feel good ... does it?... I'm not going to hate on a dead man, because God don't like ugly. But when you're out here killing people, messing with people, mobbing on people for NO REASON ... just remember that; God don't like ugly.

Posted by: Truth hurts sometimes December 05, 2007 at 08:00 AM


Have your empty heads absorbed and learned nothing from what you have read on this post, even if untrue? So many idiotic names like bad boys ygs, 20gangbl27d and baby bookie 84 and others whose names indicate you haven't learned a damn thing from your homie's death ... ... I am downright angry with my people for trampling the fruits of our forefathers and foremothers into the ground while their greatest thrill is robbing and killing one another. You are the reason why Blacks are falling faster than flies! You are the reason why there are more minimum wage jobs in our communities than those that actually pay a decent and livable wage. You are the reason why Mexican Americans are passing us in terms of political astuteness. You are the reason why Whites could care less about fighting gun control ....

Posted by: ... to live or ... to die December 07, 2007 at 04:04 PM


Truthfully I would love for someone to help me understand the whole premise of gang bangin, because for the life of me I can't figure out how the hell you can see another brother who you've NEVER EVER seen before in your life and because he is wearing a certain color you feel compelled to kill him. Or how the hell you see someone in your neighborhood who doesn't live there and you feel compelled to kill him, the ironic part of this is that most of these folks don't even OWN the homes they're living in in these neighborhoods, so what part of this neighbor "HOOD" is really yours???? ... Please wakeup people and let's stop the black on black genocide. God bless you all and us as a people

Posted by: Ken R December 13, 2007 at 02:46 AM


... The real question is, is this criminal's death enough to wake up those who signed this post as his homies? Are they ready to make the necessary changes in their lives? Pull up your pants and wear clothes that fit so that you aren't putting yourself out there as a wanna be gangsta if you ain't one. Put away the slang speak unless you are addressing your peers and know when to speak like you have some common sense. No one wants to hear you in the mall, in fast food places, and other neighborhood frequents, cussing and using language that disrespects everyone within hearing distance ... Do yourself a favor and get out because the "game" is played and the graveyard is your end! Simple changes can go a long way to drastically reduce your chances of being targeted....

Posted by: cmoreclearly December 13, 2007 at 11:50 AM

Read the whole post here.

I've often noted - in my posts on black politics - the vital importance for African-Americans to escape the crime, violence, poverty, and social disorganization of the inner-cities - blacks must get out of the 'hood.

I've seen few academic or news articles better able to demonstrate the point than the Johnson homicide post here.

So, while the statistical reduction in killings is indeed promising - especially in the way better law enforcement has contributed to the decline in homicides - there remains much to be done in social welfare poliicy to increase the hope and mobility of those still looking for a better life.

Political leaders of both parties (see here and here) have much work to do.