“This isn’t the Boy Scouts. It isn’t the chess club. It’s a world of violence.”
Los Angeles Police Department Detective and gang expert Frank Flores, quoted in article on MS-13 trial in Charlotte, NC, Charlotte Observer, January 14, 2010
Just when you thought Los Angeles couldn’t get any goofier or more self-defeating, an entrepreneurial former gang member turned “anti-gang activist” has started a gangland bus tour.
Alfred Lomas, 45, a former gang member and the creator of the tour ($65, lunch included), said this drive-by was about educating people on city life, while turning any profits into microloans and other initiatives aimed at providing gang members jobs.
“A Gangland Bus Tour, With Lunch and a Waiver,” The New York Times, January 16, 2010
Like the mudslides and wildfires that remind us the Los Angeles Basin was intended by its Maker for other than human habitation, this idea roared through the arid mind canyons of the Left Coast and swept thoughtful analysis into the Pacific Ocean like so much polluted runoff.
Not on the Tour
First, let’s be clear about one thing. Lomas’s “tour” is going to skip the fundamental reality of gang life in Los Angeles. You know, the inconvenient bits – drug and human trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft, armed violence, and most of all the visible toll of the dead (think funerals) and the limping, less visible trail of walking or wheelchair-bound wounded (think spinal injuries and those little plastic waste bag appendages).
This You Tube video fills in that weak point of the enterprise.
NOTE: Some idiot at You Tube disabled the video I had posted here some months ago — without warning — on the grounds that the images of actual gunshot victims in the video were merely shocking.
You Tube’s Google owners have learned well from their Chinese masters. I’ll find another venue to host the video and add the link back here when I get it.
Meanwhile, I took down my You Tube site in protest of this idiotic and heavy-handed censorship. Be warned.
I assume that one of the LA gangster world’s bought-an-paid-for-politicians got to YouTube, or some other thug-hugger. In a paraphrase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur: The Video Shall Return.
Superficial Rationales Sufficient for the Chattering Class
Rationale # 1. “Hey, it’s America, right?”
“What the heck, market what you got,” said Celeste Fremon, who writes the criminal justice blog Witness L.A. and has studied the city’s gangs.
Although she disputed whether several of the sites had a solid gang association, she said, “if it makes money for a good cause, more power to them.”
Rationale # 2. “Hey, his heart’s in the right place!”
Kevin Malone, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who came to know Mr. Lomas through the center and is one of the financial backers of the project, said he might accept the criticism “if it was somebody other than” Mr. Lomas.
“But I know the guy’s heart,” he said. “He is not taking anything out. All he is doing is serving and giving. If that is exploitation, I hope somebody does that to me.”
Rationale # 3 (maybe … maybe not … demi-semi quavering). Gloria in excelsis scelestus ?”
“Everybody says we are the gang capital of the world, and that is certainly true, no denying that,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, who has spent decades trying to steer people out of gangs into legitimate work. “It’s hard to gloss over that. But there are two extremes we always need to avoid. One is demonizing the gang member, and the other extreme is romanticizing the gang.”
With all due respect to Boyle, Malone, Lomas and Fremon, this is a bad idea on so many levels it makes LA’s most densely stacked freeway interchange look like a rural crossroads.
Snarky rebuttal # 1. Making money for a good cause? That’s the test?
Let’s see, every whacked out terrorist in the universe – especially the ones who strap bombs into their underwear – thinks his or her cause is not only good, but also superior to every other cause on the planet.
Fund-raising for these “good causes” is intimately entwined in the depredations of global organized crime – included human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, cigarette trafficking, traffic in phony products from lethal baby formula to fake designer jeans, and the bloody mayhem that accompanies all of the above. In fact, there is a school of serious thought that the war in Afghanistan is at least as much about the drug trade as the Taliban’s odd socio-religious tyranny.
And by the way, the point of this spear of criminality comes right down to L.A.’s ubiquitous marijuana “clinics,” which are a wonderful system of retail outlets for the illegal production and trafficking in weed by the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates, the Gangs of Los Angeles.
Bad idea, good cause.
Snarky rebuttal #2. “If it were anybody else …”
Say, what he say? This logic twists my mind like a pretzel.
Okay, pick a hero in your life. Any hero. You know, like … um … Brangelina … Barack Obama … Mother Teresa … Alex Sanchez … Lindsay Lohan … Pat Robertson … Glenn Close … whoever you look up to in your personal universe.
Just imagine – stick with me here, this is just a “mind exercise” – that your hero decided that running 13-year old child prostitutes up from Pueblo Pobre, Qualquiera, and vending them out in slam pads was a damned good way to raise funds for … well, a good cause, no profit here.
See, if it were anybody else … love the sinner, love the sin? Certainly, no one, definitely not Fairly Civil, suggests that there is anything unlawful about the gang tour. But the logic is the same.
Bad idea, good-hearted personal hero.
Snarky rebuttal # 3. The demi-semi quaver.
In fairness to Father Boyle, it is at least possible that he told The New York Times reporter that this gang tour was definitely a bad idea because it glorifies gang life. Reporters and editors sometimes cut out the sharp points in a “reader.” But the quote attributed to him came across as an “on the one hand, on the other hand” equivocation. What the modern news media call “even-handed.”
Well, be that as it may, here is a more pungent comment from another source:
Is there a danger of romanticizing or even glorifying the culture that has cost so many lives and caused so much heartache and tragedy to go along with the poverty that pervades the area? You think? There are a number of tours of past gangster lairs and stomping grounds from those occupied and traveled by Jesse James to John Dillinger to name only a couple. But those who made these locations infamous or famous are long gone and the thrill is far more benign than what one might expect where there still is ongoing horror.
“L.A. gangland tour is a bad idea,” Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps Howard News Service.
Human tragedy is human tragedy.
The Sicilian Connection
Finally, it is instructive to look at this tour in the context of another gang-infested culture: Sicily, home of the original mafia, Cosa Nostra (not “La Cosa Nostra,” as the U.S. federal government mistakenly and irreversibly misnamed the American variant.)
It’s well worth reading the history and sociopolitical culture of this scourge. So much that is fundamentally bad about the Sicilian Mafia and its relation to civil life can be seen in the L.A. gang culture.
- Self-marginalizing ethnic mythology and denial. “There is no mafia, it’s just a cultural thing we Sicilians have.” For nearly a century and a half Sicilian and other Italian chatterers – politicians, writers, academics – promoted the idea that there was no such thing as the mafia, in the sense of an organized criminal enterprise in Sicily. No, they said, “mafia” just means a prideful violence ingrained in the “character” of Sicilians. You know, like that Latino carnal and barrios stuff. We just can’t help ourselves. The gangsters, of course, loved this idea, and promoted it through the transmission belt of their “useful idiots” — even in the face of well-documented informants from as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries! The mob’s suckers included “intellectuals,” corrupted and gullible politicians, nitwit clerics, and the usual gaggle of do-gooders.
- Corrupted members of church and state. To the shame of the Italian government and the Catholic Church, many politicians and priests were co-opted by Cosa Nostra. Some remain so to this day. Interestingly, a characteristic posture of the corrupted has been to publicly criticize the mafia and propose grandiose plans to attack it, while secretly undermining law enforcement efforts against the mobsters.
- Attacking law enforcement and judicial authorities. One of Cosa Nostra’s classic tactics has been to attack – both physically and rhetorically – specific gangbusters in Italian law enforcement and in the Italian judiciary. In many cases, this was assassination intended to send a message that the mafia was above the law, in fact, was the law. In other cases, it was a smear campaign; a whispering, snickering current of innuendo designed and intended to undermine public confidence in law enforcement generally and in specific persons whose principled activities became a thorn in the side of the mob.
- Culture of Criminality. The goal of socialization is to inculcate a “culture of lawfulness.” No matter what else one thinks of cops, there clearly are not enough of them to prevent every crime and stop every criminal enterprise. This is the job of that broader mass we call “culture” or “society.” In Sicily, the culture of lawfulness became a culture of unlawfulness. The vast mass of ordinary people came to accept the depredations of the mafia, because the very culture taught them there was nothing they could do about it. Many heroes of modern Sicily paid with their blood to reverse this perverse culture inversion.
You can read some of the best books about Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, and decide for yourself. My recommendations:
- John Dickie, Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia.
- Alexander Stille, Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic.
- Leoluca Orlando, Fighting the Mafia and Renewing Sicilian Culture.