Tag Archives: Compton

Is This How Gangs End?

I’m very proud of my cover story in the January’s edition of Pacific Standard Magazine about the decline of gang violence and gang presence in Southern California.gangs-illo

I’ve been watching this phenomenon quietly unfold for several years. It amounts to a revolution in criminal behavior in the region that essentially invented the modern street gang, then exported it to much of America.

It’s not necessarily to say that, literally, all gangs have stopped existing, though some have. Rather, it’s to say that their behavior is so much more underground, low-profile, so quiet, that it amounts to about the same thing for many working-class neighborhoods that were besieged by these guys for so long. Some are still active but none is as active as gangs were a decade or two ago.

These were truly street gangs, meaning they took their power, identity and reputation from their streets and how well they “defended” them.

Areas like Drew Street, mentioned in the piece, are now seeing a resurgence that was denied them for many years due to the stifling presence of their local gangs.

Anyway, I hope you like the piece. Daily Beast selected it as one of the Best Longreads of the Week – so that was nice….Let me know what you think, please.

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Filed under California, Gangs, Los Angeles, Southern California

Compton Latino gang members and race

IMG_9401Two Latino gang members from Compton pleaded guilty (Thursday, Oct. 16, 2013) to federal hate crimes in attacks on black youths in a case that showed how much the town had changed.

Jeffrey Aguilar and Efren Marquez, Jr., admitted to violating the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

They each face a maximum of 10 years in prison, said Reema El-Amamy, the federal prosecutor in the case.

Aguilar and Marquez are reputed members of Compton Varrio 155, a small street gang that has feuded for years with a black street gang a couple blocks north. They were arrested in January. Sheriff’s officials said at the time that the family they allegedly targeted had no gang association and had only lived on the street for a few months.

I went out to the neighborhood one rainy day after these arrests were announced. The street is working class, with stucco two-bedrooms crowded next to each other.

What struck me was that the gang seemed especially energetic. Their graffiti was everywhere. This is something you don’t see so much in Southern California any more. Most gangs don’t have the same public presence — largely because of federal indictments and gang injunctions. Graffiti, certainly, is far less common.

The case seemed to me emblematic of many that have taken place over the years and have gone largely unnoticed. They involve Latino street gangs targeting blacks who live in their area.IMG_9395

Beginning in about the mid-1990s, Latino gangs emerged as the leading perpetrators of hate crimes, especially violent hate crimes. This happened all over: San Bernardino, Pacoima, Azusa, Canoga Park, Highland Park, Harbor Gateway, Hawaiian Gardens, Pomona, and so on.

Compton, long a black enclave that gave birth to gangsta rap, has transformed into a majority Latino city in the last 15 years. Nothing showed that more than this case, unless it’s the school fields on Sundays that are filled with people playing soccer.

ADDENDUM: By the way, if you go back further — into the 1980s — you find that black gangs preyed mightily on Mexican immigrant kids in much the same way. this coincided with the influx of Mexican immigrants into black areas like South Central, Inglewood and Compton during that decade, which in Mexico was an economic catastrophe.

I’ve heard this from many people. But here’s what one blogreader just wrote, remembering those times:

“…back when I lived in Compton, specially when I went to Compton high school between 89-93, things were tense between the black gangs and the mostly Mexican students at Compton, there were a lot of instances where I witnessed Latino students not gang members being jumped brutally for no reason…there were even riots on my senior year where these black gangs that were around Compton high school would start hitting random Latino students and these students would fight back with their cowboy belt buckles, this was the time of quebradita and chalino Sanchez….so a lot of us would go semi cowboy to school….”

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Filed under California, Gangs, Los Angeles, Southern California

LOS ANGELES: Hell Restaurant

IMG_3062I was in Compton earlier today and came upon this restaurant on Long Beach Boulevard.

El Infierno Restaurant (English: Hell Restaurant), known for its excellent menudo, was named thus by its owner, a fellow named Andres, who comes from Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

Apatzingan, you may know, is in a ferociously hot part of Mexico known as the Tierra Caliente, and known for its wild ways. Frankly, I was always afraid to visit and never did.

Andres said he named it for the heat of his native region, though Apatzingan lately has become a virtual war zone, as cartels fight each other and the military.

Anyway, El Infierno Restaurant has had some tumultuous times itself.

When it was in its original spot, in a strip mall elsewhere in Compton, it was burned down during the riots of 1992. Andres rebuilt. Then earlier this year, his restaurant was shot up and then someone crashed a car into it, gutting it with fire (see photo, right).IMG_3056

Andres blamed gang members who wanted to sell drugs and didn’t like his surveillance cameras (there to protect his business). A neighboring business owner said he didn’t treat customers well and some got mad. That seems hard to believe, but whatever the case, Andres moved to the newer, bigger, better location on Long Beach, which he shares with a cleaners. (See photo above)

(Reminds me of the time when, from a bus, I spotted a taqueria in Los Mochis, Sinaloa — Tacos Hitler — no lie).

The stories you hear in L.A. if you stop and ask….

Great menudo, too.

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Filed under Business, California, Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Southern California, Storytelling

TELL YOUR TRUE TALE: One Day in Compton

Tell Your True Tale

Hey all, I’ve just posted another story on my storytelling page, Tell Your True Tale.

Johnathan Quevedo tells the story of how Los Angeles was the lifesaver he turned to as he fled his mother’s manic depression.

Until, that is, his encounter with Latino gang members one day in Compton.

Check out “One Day in Compton” — a terrific story, very well written.

 

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Filed under Culture, Gangs, Storytelling, Streets, Tell Your True Tale, Writing

COMPTON: In SoCal, the best stories come from smallest towns

I’ve long thought that in Southern California, the best stories come from the small suburbs — particularly those just to Compton Fashion Centerthe southeast of Los Angeles, which have become a vast Mexican-immigrant suburbia.

Their names belie a wild and wholly politics: Maywood, Huntington Park, South Gate, Bell, Bell Gardens, Hawaiian Gardens.

These towns are unprecedented in American immigration history. Other immigrant groups advanced politically and economically into America at the same time, and almost always in big cities, where their numbers were large but not dominant: New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami and others.

Mexicans long ago put down economic roots here in Southern California, usually when most were living in Los Angeles. But politically they are neophytes. However, they now live in these small suburbs I mentioned above, where they make up the vast majority of the population.  (More on why that is later….) I don’t believe this is true of any other major immigrant group in American history.

But this is why these towns have produced such astonishing and bizarre stories of municipal governance.

As it happens, Compton (pop. 97,000) is one of them and varies from the others only in the fact that the population being slowly displaced is black and not white.

Today’s LAT article (not mine) on its mayoral election chronicles one of those great small-town LA stories … which almost involved child TV star Rodney Allen Rippy.

Former mayor Omar Bradley, under whose administration the $4999 city expense check was notoriously invented (lookRuben's Bakery, Compton that one up), is running against a young woman, Aja Jones, with serious municipal credentials but not the emotional connection to black voters. So somehow Omar Bradley is again a political force in Compton.

Almost always, the reason these towns turn out such remarkable stories has to do with Mexican immigration.

In this case, Compton, the town where gangsta rap was born, is now 70 percent Hispanic, but both mayor candidates are black.

That’s because Mexican immigrants cannot, or choose not to, vote. So a very small percentage of the population has any say over who runs the town. Were there more Mexican immigrant civic participation, these two candidates likely wouldn’t even be in the running.

Very similar to what the other towns went through in the 1990s, which were once white but then transformed into almost entirely Mexican-immigrant suburbs.

But more on that in other posts….

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LOS ANGELES: Wan Joon Kim — A Compton Rap Legend Passes

Wan Joon Kim died last night, his son, Kirk, tells me.Wan Joon Kim 002

Mr. Kim, originally from North Korea, was one of the first indoor swap meet vendors in Los Angeles, when he signed a lease to rent a stall at the Compton Fashion Center, once a Sears building, that opened as the region’s first large indoor swap meet in 1985.

At stall Z-7 by the building’s main entrance, he and his wife, Boo Ja, sold women’s products for a while, but then switched to records and cassettes.

As these were years when the first rumblings of gangsta rap were emerging from kids working out in Compton garages, in response to the city’s crack and gang violence nightmare, that’s what he stocked.

He spoke almost no English, and didn’t understand the lyrics — he preferred classical music. But like any microcapitalist, he was willing to stock what sold.  Most of the early gangsta rap stars sold their first stuff at his stall, since other record stores refused them. This included records by Eazy E’s Ruthless Records and NWA, and many who’ve since died and others who’ve gone on to other things.

Mr. Kim grew to be loved by customers and rappers alike. He and and his wife were known as Pops and Mama.

I wrote about Mr. Kim last summer. A fascinating fellow straight outta Compton.

NPR’s All Things Considered did an obituary of Mr. Kim that’s worth listening to.

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Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Southern California

LOS ANGELES: Wan Joon Kim and gangsta rap in Compton

At long last, a story I worked on months ago, has run.

It’s about Wan Joon Kim, a vendor at an indoor swap meet in Compton, who became an impresario of gangsta rap, a music he didn’t particularly care for nor understand, as it was emerging from the garages of that city.

I got into it while looking for a way to write about indoor swap meets in Los Angeles, which have always intrigued me. I shop at them often and find them fascinating business models for micro-entrepreneurs.

Most, if not all, are owned by Koreans, for whom the indoor swap meet was an important route into the middle class in America.

They provided another view of black-Korean relations than that of the Korean-owned liquor store.

Mr. Kim is pictured here with his wife, Boo Ja, and his son, Kirk, who now runs the stall at Compton Fashion Center.

Hope you like the piece.

 

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MIGRANTS: Wan Joon Kim

I’ve spending time with Wan Joon Kim and his son Kirk. Mr. Kim was a gangster rap empresario in Compton, selling records, then cassettes, of the rap pioneers from that town when no one else would, and operating it all out of a stand at an indoor swap meet.

The story began as a piece about indoor swap meets and how in Los Angeles they’ve become an avenue that thousands of Korean immigrants have used to work their way into America, selling whatever anyone would buy. They pioneered the indoor swap meet and most vendors in indoor swap meets are still Korean, though new immigrants find their way into many other businesses nowadays.

Mr. Kim just happened to sign a lease in Compton at a time when it was a hive of DIY rap artists and promoters who had nowhere else to sell their stuff. He didn’t care what he sold so long as it was different and moved. He became “Pops” to an entire generation of young Compton rappers, and had 20 years of great sales, until computer downloads began the decline of the record store. Great story, I think. Very happy I happened on it. Here he is with his son and wife….

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