Shooting on Skid Row, Part II

Following up on yesterday’s post, by now most people have heard about the shooting on Skid Row in Los Angeles that resulted in the death of a homeless person who apparently tried to take a gun from a police officer and was shot to death in the process by other police.

Los Angeles’ Skid Row is one of the worst in the country and there are reasons for that, many of which are captured in another excellent article by the same author, Heather Mac Donald, two years later than the first, from 2009 in the City Journal.

An excerpt.

The homeless industry on Los Angeles’s Skid Row lost its final shred of legitimacy this summer. Three murders and their aftermath exposed the advocates’ opposition to assertive policing as dangerous, hypocritical posturing. Los Angeles officials should reorient their funding priorities in light of the lessons of the summer of 2009.

For 25 years, Skid Row constituted a real-world experiment in the application of homeless-advocate ideology. The squalor that engulfed the 50-block district just east of downtown Los Angeles was the direct outgrowth of advocates’ claims that the homeless should be exempt from the rules of ordinary society. The result was not a reign of peace and love among society’s underdogs, but rather brutal predation and depravity. Occupants of the filthy tents and lean-tos that covered every inch of sidewalk in the area pimped each other out and stole from, stabbed, and occasionally killed one another. Gangs and pushers from South Central and East Los Angeles operated with impunity under cover of the chaos that reigned on the streets.

The intrepid small wholesalers and warehouse owners who tried to keep the area’s once vigorous commercial trade alive removed feces, condoms, and hypodermic needles from the entrance to their properties every morning. Elderly residents of the local Single Room Occupancy hotels were imprisoned in their tiny apartments, terrified to go outside.

In 2006, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton announced a full-scale attack on Skid Row anarchy. His Safer City Initiative (SCI) would be a demonstration project, he said, for Broken Windows theory, which holds that tolerance for low-level forms of crime and disorder allows more serious crime to fester. When the police started enforcing jaywalking, public urination, and public camping laws, thousands of warrant absconders and violent parolees on the lam lost their refuge. Order gradually returned to the streets.

The homeless themselves were the Safer City Initiative’s most immediate beneficiaries. As the lawlessness in the encampments was pushed back, deaths from drug overdoses, untreated disease, and other non-homicidal causes of mortality diminished as well, falling 36 percent in just three years. Skid Row’s violent crime—the victims of which were almost always other vagrants—decreased 45 percent from the first nine months of 2006, before SCI began, to the first nine months of 2009. The lean-tos faded away as their inhabitants discovered that they could no longer smoke weed and crack in them all day without disturbance.

Skid Row’s radical social-service providers and public-housing advocates declared war on the Safer City Initiative. They directed a nonstop barrage of propaganda and lawsuits against the LAPD, claiming that its officers were abusing the poor on behalf of would-be gentrifiers. One of the most vocal critics was Casey Horan, executive director of Lamp Community and a highly public presence in Skid Row politics. Lamp is a subsidized housing provider that counsels its mentally ill clients to use drugs “safely”—an approach to drug treatment known as “harm reduction”—rather than requiring abstinence from drugs as a condition of residency. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has championed Horan, giving Lamp a prominent and always virtuous role in his book and subsequent movie about Skid Row, The Soloist.

Horan calls the Safer City Initiative a “discriminatory . . . initiative targeting poor, homeless and disabled people” that has “infringed on the civil and human rights of the predominantly black downtown community” (these statements appear on Lamp’s website). In an ACLU lawsuit against the LAPD, Horan claimed that “aggressive policing” was causing “fear and stress” among the Skid Row population that “add[ed] significantly to their issues.” SCI has had “no affect [sic] on violent crime” on Skid Row, Lamp alleges, a statement contradicted by crime statistics. At the same time, however, Lamp’s website dismisses the problem of “serious or violent crime” on Skid Row, saying that crime rates there are “relatively low.”

Given Horan’s long record of opposition to assertive policing, jaws dropped all over Skid Row on the morning of August 12, 2009, when the Los Angeles Times quoted Horan criticizing the LAPD for not fighting lawless behavior aggressively enough. Horan’s about-face came in a Times exposé of the reckless mismanagement at Lamp that had led to a double murder in April. Horan’s desperate effort to deflect responsibility for the violence in her own facility contradicted everything she had ever said against the Safer City Initiative and blew apart the advocates’ longstanding opposition to proactive policing.

At around 5 am on April 12 (Easter Sunday), a drug dealer and an associate were gunned down while watching TV in a Lamp residence. The events leading up to that double murder, described in an affidavit from an LAPD homicide detective, provide a breathtaking glance into the criminal mindset, above all, into its inability to defer gratification or to place long-term consequences ahead of short-term gain. The Lodge, one of several facilities for mentally ill addicts that Lamp operated on Skid Row, was a veritable drug bazaar. Inglewood-based dealer Lamont Ward, known exclusively as “Q,” directed the largest portion of the drug trade there through a network of intermediaries that included the Lodge’s night manager. Residents sold Q’s wares from their apartments or rented their apartments to outside dealers in exchange for drugs (the sublessors would then sleep in the streets, according to an employee). The Lamp philosophy of tolerating residents’ drug use creates a de facto sanctuary zone in the residents’ apartments; not surprisingly, drug-dealing rapidly colonizes that sanctuary zone. Q himself set up shop just outside the Lodge next to a flower planter. Near Q’s drug post, a Lamp resident conducted a brisk beer trade from his car trunk; the attendant bustle undoubtedly helped Q’s drug sales escape undue police notice.

Retrieved March 3, 2015 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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