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Posts from the "safe streets" Category

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CicLAvia Highlights Need for Better Bike Infrastructure for Cycling to Grow as a Transportation Option

Rides at CicLAvia along Wilshire Blvd. (from last year. I took zero pictures this year). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Riders at CicLAvia (2013) along Wilshire Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Stay to the right!” rang out over the megaphone from a passing police car. “That means you, young lady!”

As CicLAvia came to a close and streets were being re-opened to cars, well-meaning police officers did their best to warn folks on bikes that their two-wheeled utopia was subsisting on borrowed time.

And, while I was flattered that they thought I was young, I was rather flummoxed at the notion that they would have directed me to move from an empty eastbound lane of Wilshire to the right side of the dozen or so cars queuing up to turn right onto Hoover.

Who told them it was a good idea to run cyclists in front of cars turning right? I wondered.

This moment — the instant that the streets re-open to motorized traffic — is both the most informative part of CicLAvia and the most depressing.

It’s informative in that you immediately get a sense of how well-equipped your average person is to navigate traffic on a bike and your average police officer to help them do so. And, it’s depressing because the answer to both of those questions is “not very.”

At Hoover, the officers’ admonitions directing bikes heading east along Wilshire to stay to the far right were entirely counterproductive (and dangerous). Those that took those directions as gospel headed straight for the gutter, hugging the curb as closely as possible. But, because there was no room to ride in the car-occupied lane, many soon moved up onto the narrow sidewalk, where they had to walk their bikes.

All those now-pedestrians crossed through the intersection on foot, creating a tremendous bottleneck along Wilshire. Meanwhile, police continued to direct people to ride to the right of the growing line of cars waiting to turn right, despite the fact that the eastbound lanes remained almost entirely car-free.

Along other sections of Wilshire that had been re-opened to cars, some people chose to ride on the sidewalks, wanting no part of car traffic. Others continued to brave it out in the gutters, slowly battling and weaving their way up hills, sometimes completely oblivious to — or utterly panicked by — the line of cars forming behind them. Still others, apparently lost in the bike-fest bubble, merrily blew through red lights with their children in tow.

This is madness, I thought.

Not necessarily because all these inexperienced people were out on the streets — although that can be problematic, too — but because they were there and they were not protected by better infrastructure.

Earlier in the day, I had been talking with cycling advocate friends about the next steps forward from CicLAvia. Read more…

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Make a Little Noise, Get a Little Bus Stop Love: Random Thoughts on Mobility

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Oh, honey, no… I thought as I watched the obviously strung-out woman yank up her miniskirt and gesture insistently that passersby partake of her unkempt lady offerings.

It is not unusual to see ladies (and girls, unfortunately) of the evening working the streets on weekend mornings along S. Figueroa. It is also not unusual for them to be in questionable states of un/dress. But this level of desperation was a little out of the ordinary.

Ever the nerd, I wondered where curbing prostitution fit into the currently-open-for-public-review Mobility Element and Plan for a Healthy L.A.

Odd as that may sound, those two things were the reason I was out biking up and down South L.A.’s streets that morning. I had to be at a grand re-opening of a now-much-healthier convenience store on S. Vermont (story later this week) and decided a refresher tour of some of South L.A.’s main streets would help me put those plans into context.

As I’ve written many times before (basically, anything listed here), a neighborhood’s context is often more of a deterrent to mobility and health than whether or not the street has a bike lane. Not that infrastructure isn’t important — it absolutely is. But, if you see semi-naked ladies strolling up and down next to your school, rec center, grocery store, or home, all the bike lanes in the world won’t make you feel comfortable letting your kids — especially girls –  near those streets.

And, if they’re seated at the bus stops with their pimps, as several were this past Saturday, you may not feel comfortable letting your child take transit. While the ladies themselves can be quite friendly, their pimps can be volatile and the johns quite reckless. One nearly ran me over as he backed up at full speed without warning to get to a girl he had passed moments before.

All that said, things have apparently gotten better of late, according to one neighbor.

“It used to be like a drive-through here,” he said of the otherwise quiet stretch of 92nd St. in front of his home, where girls used to gather to avoid being seen getting into cars.

Some beautification efforts at the corner and a watchful neighbor who called the police any time he saw girls on the street, coupled with more regular patrols and the efforts of a nearby hall to ensure its parties weeded out the prostitutes that tried to mix in with the crowds has helped to limit unsavory activity in the area.

Which was good to hear, but rather depressing, considering how many girls you still see out and about at any given hour of any given day.

As I write this, I realize that these musings on prostitution don’t actually have that much to do with the reason I sat down to pen this article, which was to tout the fixing of a problem we highlighted last December — the lack of any bus infrastructure at a stop at Vermont and Gage. Read more…

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To Be or Not To Be a Gang-Banger: Is That Really The Question?

A tattoo warns against crossing...  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Tattoos — symbols of the struggle of his earlier years — warn you against crossing a former gang member. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

*This story features interviews with a number of youth. Some are named. Others requested they remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the information divulged. This story is the second in a six-part series on the impact of community violence and potential ways forward. The first, “Death and All His Friends,” can be found here.

AS WE CONCLUDE our conversation, he takes a deep breath, adjusts his belt, and asks – this time, I think, as a person and not a police officer – if I really believed kids in Watts didn’t have much choice about whether or not to get involved with gangs.

I have a sudden desire to pull out all my hair.

We had just spent the last forty-five minutes trading observations on the variety of factors that impact the safety, security, and mobility of kids in the area, all while seated next to a playground that – despite being situated in a housing development teeming with young children – is almost always empty, even on the most beautiful of summer afternoons.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” I say slowly. He grew up not too far from here and I do not want to diminish the effort that I know he must have made to leave his own hardscrabble background behind. “Technically, they do have a choice…”

But, as he was well aware, I tell him, it isn’t easy.

Ticking off a list of everything we had just discussed – the drive-bys, violence in schools and the public space, various forms of abuse in the home, grooming by gang-bangers, profiling by law enforcement, intense poverty, trauma, and a lack of exposure to positive environments and role models – I suggest it’s an awful lot to expect an eight- or ten-year-old to transcend.

Even for those who realize they do want something else for themselves, once they’ve started down a certain path, desisting, or walking away from gang life, can be extremely challenging.

Especially if they are still young.

Most can’t afford to move or find trying to navigate the politics of a new neighborhood to not be worth the risk. Staying where they are can be just as hazardous – they no longer have protection from former rivals who don’t know or don’t care that they’re out or from former homies that feel disrespected and want to settle scores.

Without a strong support system, job, and/or educational program they can lean on, they’re in danger of getting sucked back in. Or worse.

“The odds,” I say to the officer, throwing my hands wide, “are not in their favor.”

I Was Just a Kid. I Didn’t Know What Was Happening.”

“Middle school is when everything changed,” says Delfino, a shy but friendly and thoughtful young man finishing his high school degree at a continuation school in Watts.

From the very first day, he says, he was acutely aware that there were a lot of gang members at his school (which held grades 5 through 9) because they enjoyed picking on him.

“They would always ask me, ‘Where you from?’”

He pauses.

“I didn’t know the meaning of that,” he laughs, as if he still can’t believe he had once been so innocent.

I can’t believe it, either.

He had grown up around 92nd St., an area where gang activity is prevalent and his solid build should have made him a prime recruit.

The kid who was harassing him apparently also thought Delfino was bluffing because he got annoyed and asked, “You wanna catch my fade?” (take a beating) Read more…

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The Tour de Watts Gathers Momentum, Signals Good Things Ahead for Watts

A new form of leadership in Watts. Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Fredrick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A new form of leadership in Watts. From left to right, Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Frederick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While heading to South L.A. for the United Riders of South L.A.‘s Tour de Watts this past Saturday, I was reminded of a guest lecture I gave in a USC journalism class a few weeks ago.

For an hour and a half, I talked about how fortunate I felt to be covering South L.A. and how wonderful and welcoming the people there were. We talked about the problems, of course, and about the importance of taking a nuanced approach to get behind the typical perceptions of the area and its inhabitants. But, I thought I had done a pretty good job of painting a portrait of the South L.A. I know: the one that varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood; the one filled with good people whose ability to be good neighbors to one another is sometimes constrained by challenging circumstances; and the one that isn’t always easy to wrap your arms around but which rewards you tenfold for the effort.

Then, I got their evaluations.

Most had enjoyed the talk immensely and many even found themselves inspired to think about using a bicycle to get to know a community (huzzah!). But, the majority seemed to be incorrigibly wedded to the idea that South L.A. was a seedy and unsafe place.

Not because they’re terrible people, or racist, or even classist — I don’t believe they are. Simply put, that’s just how powerful the stereotypes surrounding South L.A. are.

What does it take to take people’s minds? I wondered as I pedaled down Avalon.

E.J. and Tiffany bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

E.J. and Tiffany of the East Side Riders bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sometimes I feel like I can write about how great the people of South L.A. are til I am blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference.

Part of the reason, I would guess, is that I still have to write about the problems I see there.

Crime, gang-activity, blight, intense poverty…those things are real. And, they do negatively affect the population.

In fact, just as I was rushing to meet up with the riders at the WLCAC, I ran into a young man I knew on the corner of Century at Ted Watkins park. His fixie had gotten a flat, he said, and he was walking to get his van so he could pick up the bike, which he had left at the park with friends.

What he was telling me, essentially, was that, even though he was a strong, grown man, walking a bicycle a few blocks down the street by himself on a sunny Saturday morning would serve as an invitation for people to take it from him and possibly hurt him in the process.

I nodded.

It’s a story I’ve heard a million times. The unfortunate reality for people in Watts and other parts of South L.A. is that the streets are not all that secure for pedestrians. Or for young cyclists, for that matter, if they are out riding on their own.

It is also a story I don’t enjoy telling because it seems to confirm the negative stereotypes of the area.

And, while it does confirm them to some extent, there is a lot more to the story. Read more…

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Reflections on Reflectors: Should They Be Updated Now That More People Are in the Streets?

Screen shot of Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Screen shot of the Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Although the shortest day of the year has come and gone (FINALLY), we’ve only gained an extra six and a half minutes of daylight since the solstice.

Which means it still gets dark too darn early and will continue to do so for a while yet.

I am not afraid of riding my bike in the dark. I do, however, dread the winter rush-hour commutes which are made more stressful by the unhappy combination of more intense visual noise and less overall visibility.

Over the past few winters, I’ve been finding that hard-to-see bicyclists have been adding to that stress.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been riding a busy street like Main or Central (in South L.A.) and found myself narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with another cyclist coming directly at me out of the dark.

Because they are almost never wearing light-colored clothing, sporting any kind of reflective gear, or using lights, I sometimes don’t see them until we are almost on top of each other. And, as most are on cruisers or shoddy mountain bikes and are not particularly nimble riders (save a few fast-moving kids on fixies), I tend to be the one that has to make the last-minute panicked maneuver into traffic or in between parked cars to give them space to pass.

While bicycle traffic is kind of a nice problem to have, it puts us both in danger and I could probably do without the added adrenaline rush.

My beef is not with the bicyclists, however. Read more…

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Dear Santa, Please Bring Us an Active Transportation Corridor Along Slauson. But Don’t Forget the Community in the Process.

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is nowhere near as empty as people passing through might imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

If you’ve ever driven or ridden the bus along Slauson Ave., you are familiar with how much of a wasteland the corridor appears to be.

Flanked by industry or warehouses on either side for much of its trajectory, and running parallel to defunct and unkempt railroad tracks that are liberally adorned with debris, graffiti, and enormous mud puddles when it rains, it doesn’t seem like the most human-friendly place.

And, if you’ve ever felt reckless enough to ride the street on your bike, you would probably attest to that observation. There is no shoulder, traffic moves fast, regardless of the time of day, and on the north side (along the tracks), the road can be rough on your tires and quite dark at night.

Empty and desolate as it may appear to be, however, Slauson actually slashes its way through a series of neighborhoods that are chock full of families. You just don’t see much evidence of them thanks to the 30,000+ cars, buses, and trucks that rumble through there daily, lack of mid-block crossings and other pedestrian infrastructure, poor lighting, graffiti, and general filthiness of the corridor. The unhealthy and unsafe conditions serve as yet one more strike against community cohesiveness by discouraging residents from being out and about in their neighborhoods.

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. (map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks (in black), starting at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, turning west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. They would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence (map taken from 2008 Harbor Subivision study).

So, it is incredibly exciting to know that plans are slowly moving forward on the proposal of County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina to convert the 8.3 mile corridor between Huntington Park and Crenshaw into an active transportation corridor.

Not just because transforming the right-of-way along the tracks into bike and pedestrian paths would make passage safer for the thousands of people who want to connect to transit in the area (i.e. the Vermont/Slauson stops see more than 3700 boardings per day).

But because, if built with the surrounding community in mind, it could be a tremendous boon to those who must traverse the corridor on a regular basis and who have few safe and welcoming recreational spaces available to them.

With those aspirations in mind, I attended the first public briefing announcing Metro’s feasibility study for the project last Thursday.

I came away with somewhat mixed feelings. Read more…

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Death and All His Friends Cast Long Shadows When They Make Regular Appearances in the Public Space

Sherika Simms holds the last photo taken of her brother, Maurio Proctor, outside one of their childhood apartments in Jordan Downs. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I went crazy,” Sherika Simms says quietly of the realization that she would be unable to help her brother.

Twenty-two-year-old Maurio Proctor, two years her junior but more like her twin – the boy that had followed her everywhere she went as a child and wanted to do everything she did – had been gunned down in front of her and all she could do was watch his killers drive away.

When the Impala had first rolled through Jordan Downs around 1 p.m. that afternoon, they hadn’t thought much about it.

“We were mourning the loss of someone we grew up with…” she tells me. “We’re not thinking we’re in harm’s way.”

That ”someone” was 25-year-old Branden “B.L.” Bullard – a major player in the East Side Grape Street Watts (Crip) gang based in Jordan Downs. Twelve hours earlier a shooter(s) – presumably from the rival East Coast Crips – had sprayed a party where people from several neighborhoods had gathered, wounding seven and killing Bullard.

He had been something of a larger-than-life figure for having survived a shot to the face 3 years prior in retaliation for the wounding of a Bounty Hunter (Bloods from Nickerson Gardens). That 2005 event sparked six weeks of tit-for-tat carnage that left nine dead, twenty-six wounded, and the whole of Watts paralyzed as the battle played out in the public space.

Although the incident that finally killed Bullard in the wee hours of Sunday, January 27, 2008, may have been sparked by a fight between women, the damage had been done. As dawn broke, warning shots were already being fired in areas frequented by Grape Street’s rivals.

Perhaps because Grape Street hadn’t landed a kill, the community did not expect a retaliatory attack.

Whatever the reason, when the Impala made a U-turn and came slowly back around, nobody bothered to look up, Sherika says.

Until all hell broke loose. Read more…

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“Invest in Us!” say South L.A. Youth in Response to Questions about How to Curb Violence at Town Hall with Garcetti

Mayor Eric Garcetti asks participants in the town hall on gun violence for suggestions of messages he could record the crowd saying in unison. He wanted to take the recordings with him to show President Obama when he met him at the airport. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When asked by his group’s facilitator whether he believed the youth in South L.A. had opportunities — opportunities to grow, succeed, try new things, advance their education, you name it — one young man said he was convinced that the answer was a resounding “no.”

It wasn’t just that opportunities weren’t there, the dapper teen from Crenshaw High School (below, at right) told the youth, facilitators, and representatives from the mayor’s office who had gathered to hear South L.A. youth perspectives on how to address the problem of gun violence in their communities. It was that the environment he was raised in did not prepare youth to make the most of the few opportunities that were available to them.

Speaking of a youth leadership conference he had attended in Sacramento, he said he was struck by how different he and his South L.A. peers were in their approach to thinking about their futures from other youth.

A young man from Crenshaw speaks about his desire to see South L.A. youth dream as big as youth from more privileged communities. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The other students — the majority of whom were from well-to-do communities around California — had all traveled so much and were so open-minded, he said, that they “[were] not aspiring to work anywhere. They were aspiring to innovate.”

He’d never seen anything like it.

“They were like TV people — I didn’t know they existed.”

South L.A. youth needed to have some of those same opportunities to travel, to see new things and ways of life, and to expand their horizons, he concluded. They also needed to believe that the sky was the limit for them if there was any hope of things changing for the community.

It was, perhaps, not the response that the mayor’s team expected to hear from participants when they decided to put together a “Youth-Led Town Hall” to address the issues underlying the frustrations expressed by the community in the wake of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. But it was actually par for the course among this group of activists.

While there was some discussion of gun violence and gun control, the majority of the 100-plus youth present believed that mitigating such violence in their communities required tangible and sustained investments in dealing with the root causes of violence and investing in youth, education, and intervention work.

“I don’t think gun violence is the problem,”  said a young man summarizing his group’s ideas. “I think anger is the problem.”

In his experience, happy people didn’t go around shooting each other. Read more…

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A Case for the Incorporation of Questions of Access Into Planning for Complete Streets

Participants from the Complete Streets this ride with the Mobility Advisory Council included representatives of TRUST South LA, Community Health Councils, LA's First Five, the East Side Riders, Los Angeles Walks, the LACBC, city planning, LADOT, Biz-e-Bee Bikers, and a couple extra folks thrown in for good measure. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“David!” I yelled, gesturing at City Planning’s David Somers to come over and listen to what the residents playing cards in their yard were saying about the need for a stoplight at the intersection outside their front gate.

Too many people had come crashing through it, they told me.

And if it wasn’t their gate, they pointed across the street, it was the damaged stone wall kitty-corner from their yard.

Just so I could fully grasp how bad the intersection at 82nd and Hooper was, the woman pulled out her camera and showed me a photo of a large red SUV parked practically on top of the hot water heater outside her bedroom window.

She had been sleeping on the other side of that wall, she said.

“They didn’t even give him a breathalyzer!” another resident shook his head. “Even though there were beer bottles fallin’ out of the car!”

The driver had apparently tried to run away and hide, at first. Then, he came back and tried to drive the truck off (or something of that nature) before the Sheriffs finally stepped up and told him that wasn’t how things worked when you crashed into a house.

Hooper’s just too fast of a street, they all reiterated. Wide open and curvy, people apparently feel like they can slalom along it, especially after they’ve had a few drinks. Which never ends well for anybody. And by “anybody,” I mean the residents in the area. Read more…

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A Tale of Two Communities: New Security Measures at USC Intensify Profiling of Lower-Income Youth of Color

This is what stopping teens can look like. Mikey, Jonathan and George/Jorge were frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park last spring. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Note: the photo is not from South L.A., as many of the youth I spoke with wished to remain anonymous. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“What you got on you?” the 15 year-old girl says the cops pulled up alongside her asked as she walked along Vermont one night.

Bundled up in her boyfriend’s jacket to stave off the chilly air, she didn’t realize that they were actually talking to her until she heard one grumble, “Fucking Mexican!” and repeat the question.

Now she found herself both amused and pissed — not only were they messing with her, she’s Salvadoran.

“I was like, ‘Dayum, for real??’” she laughed as she recounted the incident to me over a plate of fries at a little restaurant not too far from where she had been stopped.

She was just going to the market, she told them. She didn’t have anything on her.

“Well, you just look [like you're] bad,” she says the cops told her before pulling away.

“Geeeez-us,” I groaned, cradling my head in my hands.

I had spent the last month and a half moving up and down the streets around USC, speaking with lower-income black and brown male youth (aged 14 – 25) about the encounters they have had with officers from the LAPD and USC’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). Every single one of the approximately 50 youth I had randomly approached for an interview told me multiple stories about getting harassed, insulted, stopped, and sometimes even frisked and handcuffed by both DPS and the LAPD.

But I hadn’t expected to hear a story from her.

She’s tiny – maybe 4’10” tall on a good day – and she’s been working hard to stay out of trouble. In fact, she had recently moved up to the USC area to get away from the craziness and drama of the streets in Watts, where she had lived for the last several years. There, she was stressed from having to constantly watch her back. Her new neighborhood seemed so peaceful in contrast.

“You realize there’s a Harpys clique just up the street, right?” I laughed, pointing over my shoulder.

“Huh?”

She had never even heard of that gang. The only trouble she had had was with the cops. But it didn’t faze her, she said, waving me off dismissively. That kind of thing is normal.

Rites of Passage in the ‘Hood

“Normal.”

“Happens all the time.”

“It’s like a rite of passage.”

All across Los Angeles, these are ways that a lot of youth of color from lower-income communities describe being stopped, questioned, searched, or, on occasion, falsely accused of misdoing and arrested or even brutalized by the police. Such incidents are so prevalent, in fact, that I’ve had to postpone meeting up with people that wanted to tell me their stories about enduring harassment in order to finish this article. The list of friends, acquaintances, and random people I’ve encountered that regularly experience this kind of discrimination is actually that long.

Most strikingly, although all describe hating how disempowering, humiliating, and even traumatic it can be, and that it feels like the police prefer sweating them to keeping them safe, they tend not to think of getting stopped as anything out of the ordinary.

It sucks, they tell me, but it comes with growing up in the ‘hood.

Until recently, many of the residents – young and old — in the neighborhoods around USC might have felt no differently. They were used to being scrutinized by both the LAPD and DPS, monitored by some of the now 72 cameras USC has set up on and around campus (watched 20 hours a day by LAPD and round the clock by USC), and observed by the more than 30 security ambassadors positioned on campus and throughout adjacent neighborhoods.

“We know [LAPD and DPS] are going to slow down [their cars] when they see a group of us standing out here like this,” an older black gentleman said of himself and his friends as they chatted in front of his home under the watchful gaze of cameras posted up on Normandie Ave.

“They always do.”

His friends nodded solemnly.

Since the implementation of new security measures around USC following two shootings in the area last year, however, things have apparently become more intense than “normal” for some. In particular, the stepping up of DPS patrols on and around campus combined with the arrival of 30 officers to the Southwest Division to conduct high visibility patrols and “more frequent parole checks on local gang members” (the $750,000 worth of personnel costs which were paid for by USC) have put everybody on notice.

Neighbors (and, most recently USC students of color, apparently) really began to feel the shift in tone with the beginning of the fall semester, when the new measures went into full effect.

The reason? Despite DPS’ use of “video patrol” techniques and the LAPD’s use of cutting-edge computer-generated models to aid in predictive policing, the methodologies behind the identification of suspicious behavior or candidates for “parole checks” appear decidedly unsophisticated.

And aggressive.

Black and Latino youth report that officers from both the LAPD and DPS regularly pull up alongside them and verbally accost them with a barrage of questions. Read more…