Before the killings in Aurora and the ritual handwringing over the “tragedy of gun violence in America”, we had some of our own gun violence right here in Mid-City, Los Angeles. Just down the street, in fact. This wasn’t your sensational mass shooter scenario, there was no theatrical psycho or massive death toll. This was more your mundane, meat and potatoes shooting – one of some 138,403 gun assaults per year, which result in 12,179 homicides. The kind of shooting, in other words, that barely merits a shrug.
I was at my desk that morning, wasting my life and potential on Facebook – probably some heated political debate with someone I never met. Then I heard the choppers. “Ghetto birds” is what ghetto people call them. I’ll stick to “chopper” – it sounds nice and old school, which is only fitting. One day, in our Orwellian Drone Future, we’ll look back at them the way we regard old cellphones, as quaint and retro, so clunky they’re cute. “Look at how big they were! And they could hardly see anything up there. Can you believe they used to put people in those things?”
The choppers have become a constant presence lately – same time, same place, every night, as though the gangbangers kept to schedule. You even feel them when they’re not here. Only yesterday, I was driving back from the park with the dogs, whizzing along 4th Avenue with the back windows half way down. As we passed the parked cars and the palm trees, I heard the wind whip in thwup-thwup-thwup, with the babies panting over the top, hah-hah-hah, quick and light, and the drone of the leafblowers in the yards. The sky was clear but you could have fooled me.
On this particular day, the choppers were out in force – one, two, three of them circling up there, and in the daytime too, just after lunch. Squad cars started arriving, I counted nine all in all. Some blocked the street at each end, others circled, while a couple parked in the meridian right outside my door. And after a few minutes, the cops got out, opened the trunks of their cars and yanked out the big guns and the Kevlar.
“Sir, please go back into your property sir. The street needs to be clear.”
OK, sure whatever. One minute it’s “sir”, next thing you know they’re stamping your face into the asphalt. But it was the way they said it. Bored almost. For all the activity and engines, all the choppers and SWAT gear, there wasn’t much adrenalin in evidence. It was just another sleepy, tranquilized day in the hood. Business as usual. The sirens and lights were all off – the cops weren’t here to kick in doors so much as close off exits for a suspect who is apparently on the run. So there’s no tuck and roll. No “cover me, I’m going in!” These guys just stood there like Lego figures by their Lego cars. And the palm trees swished in the breeze, same as it ever was. Not a soul on the streets, not a peep from the peeps, just another dormant desolate suburb in the west coast wasteland.
After an age of nothing, four of them walked down to the white house on the corner, and climbed over the fence, each one giving the other cover. But that must have been when the K9 did his thing, apprehended the suspect, and everyone could go home. So the cops returned to their cars, forlorn. All dressed up and no one to shoot. They unclipped their SWAT helmets and put their big guns back in the trunk, shrugging and chuckling to each other. Ah well, maybe we’ll get some action next time. Donuts anyone?
“What was all that about?” I ask them.
“Sir, I’m not at liberty to talk about it. The situation is contained, that’s all I can say.”
“You can’t tell me why you closed my street down, pulled out guns and climbed into a neighbor’s front yard?”
“Sir, I believe a report goes out to the media. If you have K-Cal 9, you can see the news report there.”
A perfect Los Angeles response. You want to know what’s happening, go turn on the TV.
As it was I couldn’t find KCAL 9’s story. I’m not convinced they did one. I did however see this on KTLA:
Two dead in running gun battle on Los Angeles street: June 21, 2012
LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — Two people are dead after a gang shootout in broad daylight in the Arlington Heights area. The shooting was reported shortly after noon on Wednesday near the intersection of 6th Avenue and West Pico Boulevard, LAPD spokesman Bruce Borihahn said.
When Wilshire Division patrol officers arrived on the scene in the 1500 block of 6th Avenue and found two people suffering from gunshot wounds. The incident started when a male juvenile was chasing two others down the street and started shooting, witnesses said. “This teenager was pointing his gun at the kids,” bystander Jackie Arredondo told KTLA. “He was just shooting at them.”
Miguel Martinez, 19, and Daniel Regalado, 18, were taken to Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where they died soon after. The shooting appears to be gang related, police said.
Authorities used a K9 unit to track down the suspect, and he was located a block from his own home. The suspect will face double homicide charges and will likely be charged as an adult.
How this is a “running gun battle” when only one party has a gun, I can’t say. And “gang related” sounds as meaningless as “drugs” at this point. We’re told to fear things, but are given no information apart from the occasional horror story about nasty Mexicans chopping off heads and so forth. What gangs, what drugs are we talking about, what’s going on here exactly?
The message of this story is that it’s not a story at all. It’s a nuisance, some paperwork to clear off your desk, nothing to see here. The LA Times, normally so assiduous about crime, knocked out all of 109 words on the topic, and buried it on their “This Just In” blog. And even now, two months to the day after that story, there are still no comments. It’s one of those lonely stories out in the Webosphere that no one cares about. And who can blame them? If you know anything about LA it’s that people get shot here. The sun goes up, shit goes down, what else is there to say?
But since this is my street I asked around a bit. My friend Steve is on all these committees, city council stuff, and he knows the local cops – “oh I make it my business.” And Steve said that his guy at the LAPD, some Greek guy with a name that sounds like food poisoning – Gyro Colitis or something – this guy says that the shooter was some Latino kid. And he was – wait for it – thirteen years old.
Thirteen. I know they grow up fast in the hood, but seriously. And they want to charge him as an adult? I did a story in Rio once, about gang violence in the favelas there, and the most feared gang bosses there were kids too, in their teens. But at the same time, we’ve all been thirteen. We’ve all lived through the hormonal onslaught and all the attendant sound and fury. This kid was emotionally in diapers. An infant. He probably was in a gang of some sort, but this talk of gang war just elevates it all – the word “war” ennobles. This could equally have been a simple altercation that turned fatal because in America today, it’s a piece of piss for a kid to get hold of a gun.
In 2nd Amendment America, we must watch out for these infants. They’ll mow you down like grass, they don’t care. To them, it’s Playstation and ketchup. Cops and badasses. It’s cool. No doubt, kids are innocent – they possess that thing which rots – but beside the innocence is savagery. And at that age, our savagery is pure – we are all simply monsters who’ve matured. Had you shown me the button back then as a 13 year old, I would probably have detonated whole villages, and next to this kid, I was a winged cherub, a school swot who wore a tie and carried a satchel and rode his bike.
We fret about child soldiers and KONY, but why cry about Uganda when you have Sixth and 15th, just near Pico, Mid-City? Not South Central but Central Central. Born and raised in the bullseye of LA.