Sin and redemption. Despite it’s long-standing status as a stroll, Western Ave. has at least two churches on almost every block. A passerby teased the elderly gentleman at the corner who had just left the church by suggesting he was hanging out along Western for other-than-godly reasons. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
“We need to empower people to see their streets as sites of recreation.”
It’s somewhat of a city planner mantra.
And, it tends to drive me crazy.
Part of it has to do with my having been an academic in my previous life, where I spent years observing efforts to “empower” refugees, displaced persons, sex trafficking victims, genocide survivors, and the desperately poor to take charge of their circumstances. The focus on modifying individual behaviors precluded dialogue on the mix of structural and individual interventions that might have yielded more comprehensive solutions to what were, essentially, deeply-rooted structural problems. As a result, outcomes were often superficial and/or unsustainable at best and irreparably damaging to people’s livelihoods at worst.*
Yet “empower” soldiers on, both abroad and right here at home.
I hear it all the time.
I heard it most recently at the well-attended Community Planning Forum held at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center on Western Ave. in South L.A. at the end of March.
It was all I could do to keep myself from dragging the poor person outside to show them the street was already very heavily used for recreation. Just the wrong kind.
There are a few sections of Western — including areas in close proximity to the park — known as “strolls.”
Day or night, rain or shine, you can find a girl on the street that can help meet your “needs” for a few dollars.
They sit at bus stops, stand on corners, walk up and down the block, dance by themselves on quiet side streets just out of the glare of the main drag, brazenly post up like sentries at the driveway entrance of the Mustang Motel — they are ubiquitous.
While a number of them are older and may be working independently and/or feeding drug habits (especially north of King Blvd., according to some residents), many are just teens, coerced into the trade by men claiming to be their boyfriends, rapists that abused them and turned them out, or their own history of sexual abuse and neglect. The hold their pimps have on them can be tremendous. It is not unusual for girls show up in juvenile detention centers with their pimps’ names tattooed onto their ribs and so thoroughly victimized that they fight anyone trying to help them get out of the trade. Some don’t believe they could ever be valued for anything other than their bodies, especially after being abused. Others believe their pimps love them and refuse to say anything that would incriminate them.
But, the pimps clearly do not love them.
Spend any time along Western and you’ll see them, stationed in parked cars at corners (and, occasionally, on mountain bikes), perfectly positioned so that they can see everything happening on the street. They are ready to menace their girls or anyone who takes too much of an other-than-recreational interest in their charge(s) at a moment’s notice.
The intense level of neglect a street — and, indeed, a community — must experience (this was the stomping ground of the Grim Sleeper, after all) for it to be able to function so openly as a market facilitates other forms of unhealthy activity, too. While long-time residents tell me that things are much better than they used to be, gang activity and substance abuse, particularly that of those living on (or making a living on) the street, are still major issues in the area.
Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The combination of these factors can make locals paranoid about interacting with outsiders for fear of being seen as snitching.
And, it can certainly go a long way in keeping a family from feeling comfortable about taking a stroll through the neighborhood, waiting at bus stops, getting to know their neighbors along the Western corridor, or being outside too late in the evening. Read more…