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Homeless in Los Angeles

The Huntington Apartments. (All photos: Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

[This is part two of a four-part series. To read part one, click here.]

We left Broadway at Eighth Street and swung east toward Main, two blocks away. There isn’t much to downtown past Ninth Street anyway. After that street, for the next ten blocks, the area begins to slowly lose its early 20th-century glory. The buildings get shorter, less adorned and more insignificant until they shamefully dip underneath the I-10 freeway and bleed into the lowlands of South LA.

Dogon strutted along Eighth, dodging the pitfalls of poorly maintained sidewalks patched with asphalt. The man dressed in the silver ski jacket whom I saw earlier walked past us. He continued his tirade, though no longer shouting: “Sixty thousand homeless and you decide to live here. Whose fault is that?”

As we passed Spring Street and approached Main, we came upon the Huntington Apartments. Its four stories were painted an unassuming tan with brown trim. We peeked inside its renovated lobby and saw its potted flowers, millwork, decorative fixtures and marble floors that restored some elegance to this former hotel that was just over 100 years old.

The Huntington was where Dogon first lived after getting out of prison in 2004. It was, however, much different when he lived there. For instance, when Dogon first entered his apartment at the Huntington, he noticed it was already occupied, by rats.

“You give me my money back or give me another room,” said Dogon to the front clerk.

“Why? What’s going on?” he asked.

“I opened the door and there goddamn rats everywhere.”

The clerk asked for the room number and Dogon told him.

“All right, that room is no good,” said the clerk, handing Dogon another key. “I don’t know why they gave you that room.”

“Man,” said Dogon, “there’s rats all over the place. In the hallway, everywhere.”

“Ignore them,” replied the clerk.

But ignoring rats in your apartment is easier said than done.

“I lived there for like about a month,” said Dogon. “I would wake up and feel shit crawling in the bed. All through the night there were drug dealers all out in the hallway — hoes and shit, man. I mean, I had to put the goddamn dresser against the goddamn door to get a good night sleep. People just come by, hit the knob all during the night, knocking on my door. The majority of times, it was: ‘Honey, you all right? You all right? Can I talk to you?’”

The events in Dogon’s life that brought him to the Huntington Apartments and its drug dealers, prostitutes and rodentia began with him leaving his church. By the time he was 16 years old, Dogon was rarely in downtown anymore. His mother moved out of the projects and to another section of South LA, and he was on his school’s football team. Also, because his mother’s side of the family were big fans of the prophet Jesus, Dogon was indoctrinated on the subject seven days a week.

He attended the Christian Academy in Inglewood Monday through Friday. On the weekend he was in the Academy Cathedral’s junior choir and was also an usher at Sunday mass. But a seven-day-a-week inculcation of Christ the Redeemer was not enough to keep Dogon from thinking and observing some of the religion’s intellectual flaws — thanks in part to an elderly believer.

I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing this shit all wrong. I’m supposed to be out there partying, drinking, getting high and fornicating. And when I get old, 80 years old, I’m going to come back to church and give my life to the Lord and slide into heaven with everybody else too.’ 

“I hated it; I hated church,” he said. “I’m telling you, man, I never felt any of that stuff that would make people shout, jerk, do all that running, speaking in tongues and all that kind of stuff. I never did feel that energy all that time I was in church. Then I heard this one lady testify. She was something like 80 years old and I was in the back of the church. I had an all-white suit on. I was an usher and I had the white gloves on and I’m standing there in the back and this lady was testifying. I’ll never forget what this lady said. She said all her life she’d been sinning, been partying, going to night clubs, drinking, getting high, fornicating. She said now that she old she’s coming to church and she giving her life to the Lord and she’s going to go onto heaven like everybody else. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I’m doing this shit all wrong. I’m supposed to be out there partying, drinking, getting high and fornicating. And when I get old, 80 years old, I’m going to come back to church and give my life to the Lord and slide into heaven with everybody else too.’ So I was like, man, fuck this!”

So into the Devil’s playground Dogon went. With various excuses he gracefully escaped his duties. He knew some kids in his neighborhood, but never spent much time with them. Now that he had a free moment or two, that changed. Dogon knew these kids were gang members and always watched them from afar. He liked the way they dressed, which was a polar opposite from the clothes he had to wear for school, which was formal — dress shoes, slacks, a dress shirt and, because religion is a close relative to nationalism, a blue tie with an American flag on it. The gang members had brand-name athletic shoes that Dogon could never afford to wear. They drank and smoked weed, but even better than that, they had the greatest intoxicant of all: girls, they always had plenty of girls around. Amen.

“So I started hanging with them and stuff,” said Dogon. “And they was smoking weed. I’ll never forget the first time I hit a joint, I was giggling and laughing and I was all over the place. I had such a good time, man. Tried some beer. It tasted nasty, like shit. I knew I didn’t really like beer; I liked the weed though. So one day I’m hanging with these guys and a car pulls up. I’ll never forget. A car pulls up and guys jump out wearing all blue. The guys I’m with, I turn around, they take off. They’re running. Pewwwwww! They gone. I’m standing there. The guys in the car walk up. …”

“Hey, wuz up, cuz?” said one of the blue-clad strangers.

“What’s going on?” said Dogon.

“Where your buddies going? Do you know those guys?”

“Yeah.”

“Where you know them from?” asked the stranger.

“I live around the corner. We be drinking and getting high,” answered Dogon.

“Oh, yeah?”

And so began the mayhem.

“Next thing I know I’m fighting all these guys,” said Dogon. “They jumped me. My clothes were all tore up and I’m all beat up and everything. I got one shoe on. I’m walking and I get about a half a block from where I’m living at and I hear: Pss, pss. … Pss, pss. I turn around and there’s a couple of them, my buddies.”

“Hey, man, what the fuck?” said Dogon.

“Hey, man, where those guys at?” asked one of Dogon’s friends.

“Shit, they gone now! Man, who were them guys? What’s going on?”

“Oh, those are Crips,” replied the friend.

“The Crips?! Well, all right, I ain’t got shit to do with that!”

“Well, they thought you was with us.”

“I’m like, this a bitch,” said Dogon. “I’m like, OK, no problem with that, no problem. I gave it out as a passing — all right, it’s a fluke, it’s a misunderstanding; thought I was them, I’m not; I guess they know who I am now, they beat me up, they don’t want me no more. So I started hanging back with the guys again. I guess it was the weed that brought me back, because we was smoking some good shit too. We was smoking that Panama Red, that Columbian Gold and all that kind of shit. And then, it happens again; I get jumped on again, like a couple of days later. I’m not even healed up and I’m getting jumped on again. So I was like fuck this shit, you understand me? And so, basically, I just got to fighting these guys. I would catch one of them or something and we’d fight. Then it would go from fighting, with sticks and bricks, to we was swinging at each other with knives. By the time I was 17 or 18 years old, it was a shoot out.”

Most people are initiated into a street gang by having members of that gang beat the crap out of them, sort of like a college fraternity, just more brute violence and less of that homo-erotic torture so many soft, privileged, college males enjoy. Dogon’s entry into the Denver Lane Bloods, however, was earned by being torn to pieces in a Crips feeding frenzy. It was a case of mistaken identity, but if the Crips say you’re a Blood, then you’re a Blood. It is a distinction Dogon holds, especially for someone who was once their gang leader. Another distinction for Dogon was his weapon of choice: the shotgun. For a South LA gunslinger, Dogon had style. He carried two specially modified shotguns. He had sawed off their barrels and, using coat hangers, restructured the stocks so the guns would hang inside his trench coat. This way he was able to efficiently draw his concealed weapons on his rivals.

“So my nickname name was Dracula, because of my teeth,” said Dogon. He had prominent canines then, but later lost his upper front teeth during a football game. “I had two buddies — Demon and Devil. Demon used to have a TEC-9. He was an automatic guy; he used to love automatics. Devil used to have .38s, .45s and shit like that. And I was the shotgun man. It was Dracula, Demon and Devil, and when people used to see us, they be like, ‘Oh, goddamn, here they come.’ I used to have two shotguns under my jacket. And I used to walk in daytime down the street and I used to draw down on people with a double-barrel shotgun. Believe me, you couldn’t imagine the look on people’s faces when you would draw down on them on the street with a double-barrel shotgun. We used to go on the block, the Crips be like somewhere shooting dice and we’d try and creep up as close as we can to them. I used to pull back both hammers on the double-barrel shotgun and let it go. It sounded like a cannon going off. It would scare the shit out of them if, you know, folks weren’t ready for it. Guys be like trying to duck up under the concrete trying to get away from that double-barrel. Loo-yaaaaa! And then Demon would come with the automatic. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da! We’d light ‘em up. We used to light up the whole block. And I used to take us away with that shotgun. Loo-yaaaaa! … Loo-yaaaaa! I used to load buckshot, lead, buckshot, lead, buckshot. I’d hit the crowd with the buckshot, then I had a slug in there, a big ol’ slug. It used to blow holes like this … [Using his hands, he made a circle about seven inches in diameter]. I’d aim for one person or something. I’d hit the lead. Oh man, it would blow whatever it is to smithereens.”

Demon and Devil died in their twenties. Somehow Dogon made it into his 30s. He doesn’t recommend the life of a gunslinger to anyone, but didn’t hide the high it provided him either, as he still seemed under its spell. Combat, regardless if it’s done legally in the U.S. military or illegally outside of congressional oversight, provides an adrenaline rush that can hook a user as easily as heroin or nicotine. It was clear Dogon enjoyed relaying his stories. He had survived after all, which was worth some celebration, but Dogon never lost the serious tenor in his voice either. It was difficult to tell if he was still bothered by the loss of Demon and Devil, but the energy in his voice vacated when he mentioned them. “We were some dangerous motherfuckers,” he said in a sudden, severe tone. “But Demon got killed by the police and Devil got killed by the Crips. I went to the penitentiary for robbery.”

He may have survived those years, but Dogon was still on his own path of self-destruction. He had become addicted to heavy drugs, snorting cocaine and smoking PCP. His robberies were prolific, roughly over a hundred, but as time went by he was getting reckless. For instance, he once robbed a Bank of America in North Hollywood that was down the street from his parole officer. A few years after Dogon’s robbery that same Bank of America, in February 1997, would be subjected to one of LA’s most bloody and audacious bank robberies in recent history — all caught on live television to boot.

Homeless in Los Angeles

Wearing highly effective body armor and armed with automatic weapons, Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips Jr. attempted to shoot their way out of their botched robbery. They fought LAPD’s rank-and-file and SWAT. Eleven cops and six civilians were injured or wounded while automatic weapons peppered the neighborhood; Phillips Jr. committed suicide during the battle and Matasareanu stuck it out, getting shot 29 times and finally bleeding to death at the scene.

As far as bank robbers are concerned, Matasareanu and Phillips Jr. definitely approached their job with gusto, but compared to Dogon they were amateurs. Dogon’s robberies could have gone badly too, but he made it sound so easy it left the impression that Matasareanu and Phillips Jr. were buffoons.

“Bank of America was the shit,” said Dogon. “It was easy to rob Bank of America. You just go in there and ask them. The Feds were so hooked on they were going to get their man, they were telling people just to give you the money. And I used to go in there and ask them. I used to get it. I used to lift up my shirt and show them the button — you know what’s up. …

“I used to rob rich, white women for their wedding bands too. I remember I was going to NBC studios in Burbank. There was a cafe, some famous Chinese place. They always had bad-ass cars coming in and out of that motherfucker — I’m talking about expensive cars coming in and out of there. I said, this is the spot for me. So I caught this one lady, she had a ring that — I’m talking about rocks. She was bling-bling. I said, ‘Lady, there is two ways we going to do this: You’re going to give it to me freely or I’m going to blow your goddamn head off.’ She gave me the ring. I knew I was going to get ripped off. I got like 13,000 dollars for the damn ring. As soon as Big Fred at the pool hall saw the ring he said, ‘What do you want for it?’ I was on dope and stupid. Thirteen thousand. That ring was worth a lot of money. It had diamonds; it had rocks the motherfucking size of peanuts, like M&M’s. I’m telling you, it was some serious bling-bling. That is probably the best piece of jewelry I’ve ever had in my life.”

Up until this point, the most time Dogon spent in prison was three years. But by his early thirties, the gunslinger’s trifecta of doom — either death by rival gang members, death by cops or incarceration — had caught up to him for good. He was arrested on 36 counts of armed robbery and 13 people identified him in a lineup. He was sentenced to prison for 18 years, but would be paroled after 10.

* * *

“Homeless guy, go away, you are not welcome here.
We don’t pay thousands of dollars in rent every month
so that you can have a nice, safe place to squat.”

— A sign posted anonymously near the LA River in downtown

Dogon bent over and extended his arm toward the sidewalk. On the ground, next to the Huntington’s painted facade, were several pennies.

“You see this?” he said, picking them up. “This is the only place where folks throw pennies. You go by stores or buildings and you see pennies. It’s the young, black folk. The only reason why they throw the pennies away, they say pennies are bad luck. They say if you have pennies in your pocket, you’ll never make dollars. That’s their philosophy.”

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From Eighth, we walked north along Main Street. After World War II, the street became a magnet for everything discussed in hushed tones — burlesque houses, 24-hour theaters and X-rated bookstores. In the era of “Leave it to Beaver,” it was a street of cheap gin joints, bottom-priced hotel rooms, greasy spoons and greasy characters.

That changed, however, in 1961, when the last light rail train stopped running. With the ascendancy of the automobile, Main Street lost its lifeline, and its parlors of pleasure were demolished and replaced with parking lots. Now if a hungry man wants to see female flesh, and still stay on Main Street for historical purposes, he will have to go 10 blocks south just on the other side of the freeway, to the Deja Vu Gentleman’s Club where there are “1,000s of beautiful girls and 3 Ugly Ones” at reasonable rates. Or at least their advertising said so.

But today, Main Street is the dividing line between the “new downtown” and Skid Row, a kind of discriminatory membrane between two realities. People are allowed to filter through it like water entering a red blood cell, but the other concrete things that make up the psychic integrity of each reality remain in place. On this street, low-income housing and nonprofits that assist the homeless live in the shadows of civilized man’s great cathedrals of progress: luxury lofts, boutiques and pet grooming stores.

Homeless in Los Angeles

Skid Row. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

We turned east on Sixth Street and, after a block or so, it became perceptible to nearly all the senses that we had entered Skid Row. No matter how much the sun shined on it, Skid Row always retained its darkness. Upon its warn and soiled sidewalks were the artifacts of the lowest levels of human survival — rows of tents crowded by folding chairs, plastic milk crates, umbrellas, bicycles and shopping carts covered in blue tarp or gray disaster relief blankets. But it’s the people that gives the traveler the strongest indication they are in a foreign land.

The sidewalks are littered with observant faces. It is a bit unusual and unnerving to be watched by so many in a public space. It feels unnatural and threatening, which probably spooks a lot of colonists, causing them to warn their friends of “the menace” on the other side of Main. But the poor are no more threatening than any other human. It is their willingness to engage you that is unfamiliar in an otherwise alienated society.

Unlike the colonists who work tirelessly to build a “community” in downtown, it’s the homeless who are much more willing to be involved in a conversation with strangers. In many ways, a homeless person can be much friendlier than your average citizen.

A street corner is, in the broader sense, their communal living room and we are all their guests. Despite this amiability, the mood of Skid Row is depressed and paranoid, and it creates a certain jittery vibe that flashes quickly over faces. No doubt the melancholy has something to do with the awful personal and worldly circumstances that place someone in Skid Row.

But the paranoia is probably because the homeless are a hunted population. Their predators could be one of their own, or drug dealers with life-threatening temptations, or the religious bearing false promises based on a Bronze Age hypothesis or the police, the servants of the status quo and the historical enemy of the poor.

As we passed the LAPD’s Central Division headquarters, a dark, brick bunker filled with careers and pensions and surrounded by human misery, I noticed a commercial building across the street that had a sign posted on it. Official in appearance, it read like an Old Testament-style edict from the Great Creator:

WARNING:

No Person Shall Sit
or Sleep In or Upon
Any Street, Sidewalk
or Other Public Way.

L.A.M.C. 41.18(d)
Violators Are Subject To Prosecution

Posted By Property Owner

Such signs can only be found in Skid Row. The laws application may extend into downtown, but no further. It’s a selective, and punishing, form of law enforcement that is specially reserved for the area, and it’s a matter of official policy. Launched in 2006, the Safer Cities Initiative was to be a two-prong, good-cop-bad-cop, strategy to curb violent crime in Skid Row and lessen homelessness. On one hand, 50 additional cops would focus on subduing crime and on the other, social programs would lift people out of homelessness. It was for the betterment of all, said city officials, but what Angelenos really got was an incarcerated population that would be destined to stay homeless.

“The motherfucking mayor and Councilmember Jan Perry said the ‘reason’ for bringing the SCI program in was to focus on the outside criminal element that comes into Skid Row and play on those that are vulnerable,” said Dogon. “They was talking about drug dealers and all that kind of shit. They said they was taking advantage of the homeless folks, beating up homeless folks, robbing homeless folks, taking their money. I mean some of that criminal shit was happening, but not to the greedy level that they said it was happening. The way they was talking about it, it was gang related. But you couldn’t have had 200, 300 drug deals on one block, all this kind of stuff they were saying. That would’ve been a drug war, you understand me? So yeah, I knew they was lying. Like I was telling you, it’s always been neutral territory for the gangs. This is one part of the city where gangs don’t fight.

“The first day … I’ll never forget the first day when they launched SCI, man. Just the sight of 50 wicked pigs coming out of Central Division, single file. We got it on camera. There’s all these cops just come walking up single file, like robots. These motherfuckers had on plastic rubber gloves, and they had them plastic handcuffs too. They was no joke. So I’m like, ‘Oh that’s some dirty shit.’ They came out the side of the police station. They made a left-hand turn and they started for that wall right there — you know those homeless folks that be along that wall, around where the Department of Water and Power be at, across the street from the Midnight Mission. All along the wall there’s people. The cops marched single file all the way up the street and then they turned and told everybody that was against the wall: Get up! Stand up! Hit the wall! Turn around! Put your hand behind your back! …

“They arrested every-fucking-body on that wall for 41.18(d) … for 41.18(d)! They arrested so many people, man, they didn’t have enough cars for transportation. They had motherfuckers walk to the police station in handcuffs. Can you imagine that shit? The homeless folks walking to the police station, it brought back images of slavery in my mind, especially when you see all those people in a straight line, handcuffed, walking down the street. They just chain-walked them all the way to the goddamn fucking police station. I knew from that day on it was going to be a war. That shit was crazy, man. People driving down the street, brake their car, they’re like, ‘What?!’ This shit was mad, crazy. I ain’t ever seen no shit like that. They arrested this one lady, she had to at least be about … she was the oldest one. She had a fucking dog for her protection because she felt safe with her dog, you know, at nighttime. She was this white lady. Man, I felt sorry for this old lady. That was fucked up. …”

“I don’t understand; I don’t understand,” said the old woman. “I sit down all the time. I didn’t do nothing. I was just sitting here. I didn’t do nothing.”

“That’s what she kept saying,” said Dogon. “It was some sad shit. They put their handcuffs on this old lady and took her to fucking jail. …”

“What about my dog? What about my dog?” said the woman, who was now weeping. “Can somebody take my dog?”

“They ended up calling the pound for the lady’s dog,” said Dogon. “The lady’s dog went to fucking jail. … The lady went to jail, and for just sitting on the sidewalk, man. It was crazy. They arrested like 70 people. I mean, motherfuckers in wheelchairs. The majority of the people, I mean, motherfuckers was crippled. The police was helping motherfuckers out of their tent into the fucking wheelchair and then handcuffing them to the wheelchair. And then they had the Red Shirts come take people’s property. They was like just scooping shit up. They didn’t give a fuck. They’d throw the shit in the truck. It was some cold shit. People wasn’t even getting their property back because their shit got all mixed up with someone else’s. It was crazy, chaos. They didn’t give a fuck. They just came over there and arrested all them homeless people and then just snatched their property up and they was gone. They disappeared off the block. They went right back inside the police station. And then every day they would come out like that and they would hit a different spot on Skid Row, and they’d arrest everybody. In the end, they was the ones taking advantage of the homeless folks, beating up homeless folks, robbing homeless folks, taking their money.”

Skid Row makes up a 50-block area, but most of the LAPD’s enforcement was in a much smaller 15-block area, which gets crowded when you deploy into it 50 additional cops. No area in Los Angeles got this much attention from police, not even the areas infamous for violent crime.

Homeless in Los Angeles

Skid Row had “perhaps the highest sustained concentration of police officers anywhere in the world outside of Baghdad” in 2006, according to a UCLA research report. In the first year of SCI, police in Skid Row wrote roughly 12,000 tickets, mostly for jaywalking, and made about 9,000 arrests. It was, using a Vietnam-era matrix, one hell of a body count. (To give some idea of LAPD’s attention to detail during the first days of SCI, one Skid Row resident was ticketed for dropping his cigarette ashes on the ground, which the cop deemed “littering.” Of course, on the other side of Main, the colonists could smoke free of harassment.)

The burden of citations and tickets can be extra hard on the homeless. Whereas a colonist might begrudgingly pay a fine or hire legal representation, the truly destitute have no other option but community service or jail because their inability to pay fines will lead to arrest warrants and eventual incarceration. The fact that a high percentage of homeless people are suffering from some form of mental illness or another, and do not cope with police interactions or keeping track of court dates well, does not help this situation either. The LAPD know this, they have their own statistics on the percentage of mentally ill in Skid Row — as high 60 percent, according to one of their estimates — but this doesn’t stop the police from ticketing them or jailing them for frivolous reasons.

“I seen a guy get a ticket,” said Dogon. “While the cop is writing him a ticket, he’s playing with the cop’s motorcycle. The cop said, ‘Hey, get your hand off that.’ He got to keep telling this guy that while he’s writing his ticket. The cop got to stop to tell this man to get off his motorcycle, to quit doing this, quit doing that, turn around, face him. Then it took him ten minutes to get the guy to sign the ticket. Does the cop really think that this guy is going to be able to come to court? It’s crazy. Then the guy, as soon as he gets the ticket, he tore it up and it went in the air. So that guy has got a warrant, right off. So next time they stop him and he give his name, he’s going to jail. So that’s the way a lot of those tickets are played out. People either forget or their property ends up getting taken by the Red Shirts, where they don’t have the information for them to go to court with. Or, they end up going to court and they still get criminalized. They get fined, which they can’t afford to pay, or have to pay some type of restitution or do community service.”

dan-bluemel

Proponents of SCI — police, the city attorney and business interests — said the program reduced crime in Skid Row. Its critics pointed out, however, that crime had reduced in areas outside the SCI zone during the same period, making the self-reflective wonder if SCI had accomplished anything at all, besides scattering homeless people or incarcerating them.

At a time in human history when outright human extermination is frowned upon, this was the next best thing for the City of Angeles, as SCI caused many homeless to flee for cover under freeway overpasses. The citations and arrests of SCI were reserved for the poor, not the colonists. They were never ticketed for jaywalking. Some years later, however, police would bite the hand that fed them by ticketing crosswalk violations west of Main Street. Feeling victimized, the colonists protested with pouty lips and downtown’s neighborhood council, along with the area BID, would come to their aid and get the naughty LAPD to back down. After all, unhappy consumers do not make a happy “community.” And may the rest be damned.

The colonists also do not have to worry about entrapment-style sting operations to lure them into jail. That is reserved for the poor. SCI cops would stage a fake arrest by arresting an undercover cop on a bicycle. Thinking the police left the area, someone would inevitably attempt to take the abandoned bicycle. Police would then arrest them for theft.

Homeless in Los Angeles

Undercover narcotics cops would find homeless people about to smoke crack cocaine. The cop would offer the drug user an above-market price for the rock, which was an offer that couldn’t be refused. By accepting money, however, the drug user became the drug dealer, and arresting drug dealers makes cops look pretty damn good in the eyes of colonists.

Though city officials and cops say they care about homeless people, this one little trick of entrapping someone into selling drugs meant the homeless person would be cut off from various forms of government assistance, such as food stamps or subsidized housing, after their release from prison. Also, these cop-created dealers would no longer be eligible for drug treatment made available under California’s Proposition 36. In that way, police and prosecutors were perpetuating the conditions the city said it would be alleviating.

“They would go to court and, instead of having a possession charge, they would have ‘possession to sell,’” said Dogon. “Possession is like 16 months to 3 years in prison. Possession to sell is like three, five or seven years depending on your record. So they were sending addicts to the penitentiary for five fucking years. So for the next five years the California taxpayers got to fucking pay for this addict to be in prison. This is the reason why California has the largest prison system in the world, because they taking advantage of sending addicts to the fucking penitentiary. They ain’t nothing but a fucking bunch of addicts. They could do better in an outpatient or inpatient drug rehab program, and only thing they’re doing is clogging up the prison system.

They ain’t nothing but a fucking bunch of addicts. They could do better in an outpatient or inpatient drug rehab program, and only thing they’re doing is clogging up the prison system.

“Residents was living in fear; people scared to come out their units because fear of being arrested, targeted, thrown up against the wall, searched, their name ran for warrant checks. I remember one time I came out of my apartment. I was walking past the day room and I overheard a conversation between my neighbors. They was drawing straws to see who was going to run to the store to get the little goodies for the day. They were scared to come outside."

"One of my neighbors was walking down the street and saw one of his neighbors on a bus stop. The guy asked my neighbor for change for a dollar so he could get on the bus. The guy gave him change. Just by them giving each other change, the cops stopped them, said they was doing a drug deal. Even though the cops found no drugs, they was arrested for drug deals, taken to the fucking jailhouse."

"He was in the county jail for like three and a half months before he finally had his day in court where he had like the preliminary hearing. Three months he had been in custody before finally they figured out that these guys wasn’t fucking doing drugs. He was just giving him change. And it was like OK, case dismissed. That’s over. You can go. Bye. You can leave now."

"You know, it’s three months later. The guy can leave now, but going where? He had already been evicted, because after 30 days if you don’t pay rent for the next month … so the guy had lost his place and he had lost his job. So now he about to get out of jail three months later. He ain’t got no job. He ain’t got his place."

"Luckily his manager was real cool. The manager had kept his clothes and some of his stuff down in the basement in the hotel. And so when I saw him, he was bringing his bags up and I was like, ‘Hey, man, what happened?’ And that’s when he told me the story that he had just got out of jail."

"The cops had lied and said that he was selling drugs and he wasn’t and they had him in jail all that time. Then they kicked him out, but he lost every fucking thing, and he was going to the LA Mission to put his property in and he was trying to get a bed, either in the LA Mission or the Midnight Mission. It’s cold, man. It’s fucked up — you understand me? — some racist, punk-ass shit.”

It is a sad fact that while the city’s weakest members were further preyed upon, SCI had benefited many others. Cops went after petty infractions in a manner that only authoritarians can understand, people who take on faith that the smallest of violations, like loitering or cigarette ashes on a sidewalk, lead to heavier, serious crimes.

Homeless in Los Angeles

In a fanatical sort of way, it’s a theory that makes sense on the face of it, in that if one lets the small things slide then such tolerances invite more egregious immoral behavior. That may be true for some who crave simple absolutes, but in reality it does a handy job in serving the purposes of cops, as high arrest rates make the public believe something is being accomplished.

For the police, this leads to promotions and pay raises. It also pleases the campaign-financing business community, as they don’t like the wanton hanging around their gold mines. In turn, these benefits also produce votes for mayors and city councilmembers. SCI also served a darker, psychological purpose for the public, as it fed their belief they live in a just world where we get what we deserve.

It is a belief system used by people willing to steel themselves against their better nature and who chose a social route that requires no action or intellectualism on their part. Though at their feet is a pit of human suffering, they rather look upward, whistle and think well of themselves as their hired thugs pound the economically-challenged, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill further into hell.

“Since then, the arrests and the tickets have probably been cut in half, but it’s still going on,” said Dogon. “They trying to take credit for cleaning up Skid Row, but they haven’t cleaned up Skid Row. Only thing they did was run a fucking recycle system, because the motherfuckers that they arrested five years ago are now getting out of the penitentiary. And the reason why he got to come back to Skid Row is because now he ain’t got no goddamn where to go. He don’t have a home. He don’t have a job."

"And now because they arrested him for fucking possession for sale, now he can’t even get food stamps. He can’t get into college, junior college, because they won’t pay for tuition or nothing if you have sales. You can’t get housing in one of the low-income housing units. So now you got motherfuckers in a worser situation than where they was five years ago. Now they stuck on the streets for real; they stuck in a tent on San Julian Street, because they can’t get none of these fucking services."

"So now all they got to do is go straight to a fucking good job somewhere or win the lottery in order to be able to afford housing to get off the fucking streets. And the chances of that, for all these thousands of people that’s been recycled back on the streets, is zero next to none.

[dc]“T[/dc]hat’s why after eight years of SCI we still got motherfuckers that’s sleeping on the streets on Skid Row. They have not solved the problem. They have only escalated the problem. The mayor, Central Division leadership, the rank and file that have to do with SCI and some of the businesses around here has been the only people who has benefited. Poor folks ain’t benefited nothing because we still in the same doghouse, and it’s got more dog shit in the front yard and the backyard than before we left, and ain’t nobody cleaning it up neither. So SCI, you know, really is a failure. It’s a goddamn failure.”

dan bluemel

Dan Bluemel
L.A. Activist