Mistrust of Police and Ending Violence in One LA Community

Posted on January 22, 2011 by


Lot of thought-out ideas to ending violence in one LA community.  The ideas came complete with definitive metaphors and punchlines about problems and solutions.

I noted a few of the comments that struck me.

One major theme of the meeting was a community distrust of the police.

  • Perception of the Police: They viewed the police as employing strategies of suppression rather than intervention.
  • No personal connection with the police: One community member, a female, said that “there’s no cop I know that I can call at 2 AM”
  • Another Perception:  Police are just a “mop and broom.” One community member said that the police are a “Mop and Broom”.  “Mop and broom” is an interesting metaphor describing what law enforcement means to a community.  The implied association of mop and broom is that of “janitors” who simply come only after a “mess” has been made.  The metaphor is an indictment of their preventative measures (or lack thereof) to deter crime.
  • History of mistrust between community and police? In the past, when activists did work with the police, the police arrested community members.  So community members who are likely to have influence and can have some control over the violence, are going to stay as far away as possible.
  • Misattribution of credit for the drop in crime. Community members from a youth group disliked how the various police departments in LA County took credit for the low numbers and drop in crime.  They said that it was community work, the work of outreach, gang interventionists, and street workers that curbed crime.    They gave these interventionists the title of “knowledge workers”, championing the rationality, agency, and influence of these mostly-youth-aged individuals.
  • One way the police could help the community:  One community member emphasized the need for police to share their resources with youth.  The police are largely viewed as having too many resources at their disposal, especially in comparison with economic development and education.

The community went on about life in the neighborhood and criticized churches and the foster system:

  • Kids get robbed at gunpoint everyday.
  • Going to funerals is normal.
  • One community member talked about having a large number of people who suffer from PTSD
  • The Foster system was viewed as something that “attacked” black families and lacked discipline in its approach.
  • Churches have been an important uniter of community.  It’s one place that I know police officers in the LAPD have outreached to as a way to say they outreached to the community.  However, in this meeting, one community member said that the church never did anything liberating to outreach to her.
  • “It’s all a slam” said a community member.  Children in the community face either prospect of the “slam” of the jail bars to the “slam” of the casket.

My own thoughts:

  • As an Anthropologist interested in Victor Turner’s work on symbolism and rituals, I’d been thinking about how quickly people act on symbols in gang life;  wear the wrong color, be from the wrong crew, you’re likely to get shot, even if your identity might be mistaken.
  • They talked a lot about changing the mindsets and cultures of gang members who perpetuated a majority of the violence.  “Cultures” is always a buzzword for this Anthropologist, and I think we can participate in culture change.  As far as carrying out change in the community, it can be sort of presumptuous of me, this coddled, comfortable, paraprofessional grad student.  However, I have had the benefit of looking at tons of patterns throughout many disciplines and I can offer some synthesis of ideas from my experiences.  That said, I’ve seen a lot of movements for change build momentum and lose it.  I think part of it has to do with a feeling of “ownership” of a movement.  Ownership is deeply personal, a “braiding” of the movement/cause with one’s identity.  You live, eat, breathe something.  Who is going to step up, and make it their “own?”  I think people rarely take on a full “ownership” and are prone to consumption.  They’ll support going to a few things, sign postcards, talking about it, but they won’t do the logistics of phone banking, organizing rallies, getting permits, etc.  I was just wondering how we facilitate an advantage to taking care of such logistics that are important for a movement without making it a paying job.
Posted in: Notes, Uncategorized