Letter From LA – Summer 2022 – The Crime Issue

Posted on August 24, 2022
Filed Under Culture, Letter From LA, People | Leave a Comment

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there were certain parts of the city you just didn’t go to — the bad sides of town: Watts, East LA, parts of Venice and Culver City, Pacoima, Gardena. The stigma never really bothered me: I hung out with bikers in Culver City, surf bums in Venice, partied in South Central, went to topless bars in Hawthorne, wandered Skid Road. I even lived in Echo Park way before it was fashionable, when the hills were ruled by the Frogtown gang. But times have changed — as we finish up the first quarter of the 21st century, all of Los Angeles has become “the bad side of town.”

Crime is up all over the city, crazies roam the street ala “Night of the Living Dead,” homeless encampments (many of them hotbeds for drug use and crime) have taken over some city parks and jam up side streets and some main thoroughfares, blocking sidewalks with tents and sleeping bags — even a famous intersection such as Hollywood and Vine is not immune to hosting the homeless.

According to a June report in Bloomberg News, murders in Los Angeles are surging on a wave of gun violence, following a spike in crime last year. The city saw 172 homicides through June 18, marking a 5.5 percent increase over the same period last year, which saw a 30 percent jump from the first half of 2020. According to Los Angeles Police Department data, overall violent crime is up about 8 percent.

There has been a raft of armed robberies at mini-marts, gas stations and liquor stores (during one night over a five-hour period in the early part of July, a pair of criminals held up six 7-Eleven stores in Southern California, killing two people); there have been police shootouts with robbers on Melrose in the Fairfax district; follow-home robberies in Beverly Hills and the Beverly Grove areas; people have been accosted at outdoor restaurants and robbed of jewelry and expensive watches; there have been numerous shootings (not gang-related) on weekends in various parks across the city; muggings, car-jackings, dognappings, home invasions, and general assaults and mayhem are on the rise; more so in Hollywood where people are continually assaulted by crazies and homeless as they stroll the city streets.

In mid-July Knott’s Berry Farm had to close early for the night because there were numerous fights throughout the park.

The new Downtown Sixth Street bridge — which replaced the old unsafe Sixth Street Viaduct built in 1932 that connected Downtown Los Angeles with Boyle Heights and spanned the Los Angeles River, the Golden State Freeway (I-5) and Metrolink and Union Pacific railroad tracks — had to be intermittently closed just two weeks after it opened. The problem: the bridge was taken over four nights out of six last month by groups of people whose illegal activities included dangerous speed maneuvers (“car doughnuts”) and racing , scaling the bridge’s arches, partying in the roadway, tagging, and other nonsense (Apparently, street takeovers in LA are not so uncommon. According to CBS Los Angeles, police have documented 657 street takeovers so far this year, with 352 misdemeanor arrests, 2,000 citations and the impounding of 439 cars).

And speaking of cars, road rage is on the rise in LA. According to the LAPD, there were 459 reports of road rage in the city in the first half of the year, up 32.7 percent over the same period last year … and 136 of those incidents involved a firearm. Driving in general has become more hazardous as more and more people disobey the law: speeding, running red lights, cutting in and out of traffic. Some of this is residue from the early months of the pandemic, when people could speed down virtually empty city streets and “own” the road.

Eleven smash-and-grab robberies in Los Angeles last year involved over hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods and property damage. Targeted stores included Nordstrom at the Grove (where at least 18 thieves used sledgehammers to smash through windows), Nordstrom at the Westfield Topanga shopping center in Canoga Park (where a security guard was assaulted with bear spray), Ksubi on South La Brea Avenue, Bottega Veneta on Melrose Place, and several stores in the Beverly Center.

But wait, there’s more:

A couple of weeks ago a homeless man pounded on the glass doors to my security building for five minutes, screaming to be let in; he then walked to the next apartment building and did the same there.

Last month I was waiting in the lobby of a veterinarian on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood when a  man tried to force his way in to the building. He was clearly delusional and said “is this the hospital; I want to get my meds.” The receptionist had to block the door and explain that it was a hospital for cats and dogs; the man left.

Neighbors in near-by residential areas reported a man running from rooftop to rooftop to peer into the backyards of homes; half-naked men and women wander around screaming to themselves (and the gods).

Two months ago I had to chase three homeless men (one with a bicycle) out of our parking garage when I came home at about 1:30am. They were going through the trash cans and peeking into car windows and looking through things people had stored in boxes stacked against the walls.

A couple of nights later when I came home around midnight a young man was slouching in a corner near our building’s front doors. I asked him to leave but he said he was doing nothing wrong. I said you’re trespassing. He wouldn’t move. I went upstairs and got my next door neighbor, Michael, who used to front a metal-hair band in the 1990s and now lives a quiet life with his pitbull Santo, to help — Michael leaned over the second-floor-outside balcony and asked the guy what he was doing. “I’m waiting for a friend,” he said, and Michael said, “well, you better go wait somewhere else because you don’t belong around here.” Michael is tough looking. The guy left.

Citing safety concerns, Starbucks has closed six of its outlets in Los Angeles (and 10 others around the county — six in and around Seattle, two in Portland, Ore., one in Philadelphia and in Washington, D.C.). Starbucks officials mentioned drug use, threatening behavior, mental health issues and racism as some of the underlying causes for the closures. Baristas have complained of being harassed by customers; there’s vandalism, violence, theft. The August 8 issue of The New Yorker reported on the closures in LA: One barista said that “People get violent with us. People steal stuff. It’s very aggressive.” “They spit on us,” another said. Other baristas have had drinks thrown at them. According to the article, “at a Little Tokyo location, an employee was jabbed by a used hypodermic needle while emptying the trash. … Outside the Hollywood and Vine Starbucks, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a barista said, ‘People come in here, they make a lot of noise, they bang on the walls, they yell at us. There was a fight outside. A guy was completely covered in blood … We got the security guards, and it didn’t really help … People visit Hollywood and they say, “This is not what I expected.”‘”

Is there a general breakdown in the social fabric, where the selfishness and materialistic values of the so-called “me generation” have spread to the population as a whole? A breakdown exacerbated by the pandemic that left people jobless and homeless and stressed. And now aggravated by the new Monkeypox epidemic, inflation, a Southern California drought that has made local governments restrict water usage, food shortages, computer chip shortages, supply chain disruptions, the possibility of electrical brownouts as the summer progresses — is this the makings of something out of a dystopian “Mad Max” science fiction movie?

(Of course, there’s craziness the world over: incredible heat waves in Europe and Asia,
water and food shortages, war and famine, toxic air pollution, China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine, Iran, North Korea)

Anyone got a spare bedroom in the country?


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