Last week the Rampart Station of the Los Angeles Police Department, our Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A.P.D. Chief William Bratton, and friends (ATF, ICE, DEA, FBI, etc.) held a press conference to discuss L.A.'s 2009 gang initiatives. This is an issue near and dear to my heart since I live under the daily exchange of gunfire from opposing gangs and have a hard time buying Chief Bratton's opening statement that gangs are always going to be here. And an even harder time believing the Mayor's claim that there is a 26 percent decrease in gang homicides, to which I answer, where?
I walk into these rooms with an open mind and a critical eye and ear for details. My first observation and probably the most important, was the lack of Black people in the room other than officers. My second observation was the amount of time wasted by the Mayor and his friends, who spent a considerable amount of time patting each other on the back and thanking the media each time they stepped to the microphone. This is extremely annoying to me, especial considering the fact this is a press conference and not dinner theatre. The reality of the situation is that the media in the room is there because their bosses assigned them to the story, so there's no need to repeatedly thank the media for coming as if somehow by doing so will change the slant of a reporter's piece on the press conference from negative to positive. Just ask KFI's Eric Leonard. Then there's the reality of the fact that their 45 minute press conference is going to be condensed down to 1 to 2 minutes on the evening news, and all of the thank yous and pats on the back, yeah, well that ain't going to make the cut. Basically, it's a lot of political pomp and circumstance that makes a 15 minutes conference into a 45-minute press conference and quite frankly it's a waste of everyone's time involved, especially those of us on the receiving end.
A couple of weeks ago Chief Bratton called a press conference to discuss a donation by Target to the L.A.P.D. for their public-private partnership–a partnership wherein funds are provided to the L.A.P.D. for equipment, grants, training and forensic support. The backdrop of the press conference was that embarrassment of an empty lot otherwise known as Santa Barbara Plaza. I attended that press conference too, and let me tell you, there was nowhere near the same amount of media in attendance as there is when you include the words "gangs" and "L.A.P.D." in the headline of a media advisory.
And even with all of the media in attendance at today's press conference, I can't help but think that I was the only one who noticed the visible absence of L.A.'s Black media in the room.
Now the last time I checked, gangs were a major issue in Black Los Angeles. If you take a survey of Blacks in Los Angeles and ask what the top local issue is, chances are that gang violence will come in at number one. Anyone living in Los Angeles knows exactly where the highest concentration of gang activity takes place. The Mayor and the L.A.P.D. know it too as evident in their news release that listed the top 13 targeted gangs by name and the areas that they terrorize according to police divisions.
18th Street West Side – Hollywood, Wilmington, Southwest, and Rampart
Mara Salvatruch – Hollywood, Wilmington, Rampart
Avenues – Northeast
Rolling 60s – 77th Street
Black P-Stones – Southwest, Wilmington
Rollin 30s – Southwest
Rollin 40s – Southwest, 77th Street
Toonerville – Northeast
Grape Street – Southeast
Florencia 13 – 77th Street, Newton
Canoga Park Alabama – Devonshire, West L.A.
Barrios Van Nuys – Van Nuys
204th Street – Harbor
More than half of these gangs are in areas that still have a high concentration of Blacks, they are also areas where on any given Thursday, you can pick up the latest copy of our local Black newspapers. Was the Black press even invited to the press conference?
But the plot thickens.
It dawned on me somewhere between the Mayor patting Councilman Jack Weiss on the back and Weiss patting the Mayor on his back that someone else, or shall I say three someone else's were missing from the love fest. The councilmember's who represent the districts these gangs reside in, otherwise known as the three Black members of the Los Angeles City Council, Bernard Parks (8th District), Jan Perry (9th District), and Herb Wesson (10th District).
At the beginning of the press conference, the Mayor said that he was hopeful that he'd be able to get his colleagues on the council on board with his plan to put more money into putting more officers on the street. Chief Bratton followed that by saying that L.A.'s 2009 gang initiative was the most comprehensive effort on the history of the L.A.P.D. and there was a partnership between the Mayor, the City Council, and the L.A.P.D. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo said he felt like L.A. was winning the war on gangs.
Somehow all of that was lost in translation on me because for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how Councilman Jack Weiss managed to make it to the press conference, but his colleagues whose districts were clearly in play, didn't. It bothered me so much, I asked the Mayor who then looked at the clock, asked what day it was, remembered that there was no council meeting, and then tried to unsuccessfully explain that all of the city council members were on board with his plan and that they were probably in their districts attending to important work. I guess he assumed I wasn't sitting in the same seat 30 minutes earlier when he said that part about hoping to get his colleagues on board with his plan and that I wasn't smart enough to put two and two together, or shall I say I two minus three together. It's cool, I get that lot in these rooms considering I am usually one of few Black women in them.
As far as I am concerned, aside from getting our homeless people off the street and our kids a decent education in our public school system, there is no more important issue than the issue of gang violence. So come again Mayor. Where'd you say Parks, Perry, and Wesson were? Or better yet, were they even invited to attend? Knowing Parks, Perry, and Wesson, I can't see how either of them would just opt not to attend a press conference on something as important as L.A.'s 2009 gang initiatives. There's more to the story or shall I say their absence than meets the eye. Because I have to say that holding a press conference on the future of the L.A. Unified School District, oh say, without the Superintendent, might be just a bit suspect. Especially if said press conference was held with Superintendent of a neighboring school district. Kind of like making Councilman Weiss being front and center when his district, council district 5, includes Encino, Sherman Oaks, Valley Village, and Palms, Westwood, Century City, Beverlywood, the Fairfax District, Cheviot Hills, and Carthay Circle, not South or Mid Los Angeles. I'm just saying.
Then there's the little issue of the community and involvement in this whole process. Now for the record, I like Chief Bratton but that doesn't mean that he gets a pass either. The Chief made a remark about how he was pleased that member's of the community were present for the press conference and I guess he meant members of the community as in members of the press because I gotta tell you, the community wasn't in that room. I know who the activists are when it comes to gang violence and the L.A.P.D. and just like Parks, Perry, Wesson, and the Black media, they were nowhere to be found.
The sad thing is, none of this is going to come across in the following news reports on the press conference. What will be shown is the Mayor looking good for the cameras surrounded by his friends with a good sound bite that gives the impression that something's really happening about Los Angeles' gang problem. When in reality, you only have to go back to paragraph one and Chief Bratton's declaration that gangs are here to stay to know that's not really the case. And those of us, who even know who our councilmember is, probably won't bother to question where Councilmember's Parks, Perry, and Wesson were and this story won't be missed in our Black newspapers.
Like I said earlier, I walk into these rooms with an open mind and a critical eye and ear for details, the ones being acted out on the stage in front of me and the ones that are less overt.
For those of you connected to the Internet, you can log onto www.jasmynecannick.com to see the video of the referenced press conference and the Mayor's reaction to my questioning of the absence of Councilmembers Parks, Perry, and Wesson.
Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, and Ebony Magazine. A regular contributor to NPR's 'News and Notes,' she was chosen as one Essence Magazine's 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.