In Which We Invite You And The Whole Gang

Send Lawyers, Guns And Money

by Tess Lynch

Strawberry Letter 23 – Shuggie Otis (mp3)

Usually, every day or so, I look at real estate listings online because my one real goal in life is to own a house. When I was a kid and not reading Christopher Pike novels, I was usually reading a book called Mandy (not porn, why does it sound like porn?) by Julie Andrews Edwards (= the same Julie Andrews you’re thinking of). Its eponymous heroine was an orphan who found a little cottage and moved in all by herself, “embarking on a clandestine domestic fantasy;” again, I must stress, this is not porn. This is Julie Andrews! Edwards!

Scenic World (Remix) – Beirut (mp3)

Anyway, dreaming of a house has been a hobby of mine for around twenty years now. I check Craigslist and Redfin and Zillow a lot. Then, a few months ago, I found a house that was so perfect that I convinced my boyfriend to go with me to an open house; this is a mistake unless you really know you can buy the house, which, if I haven’t made it obvious, I can’t. We left the house in some kind of delusional ecstasy, imagining our furniture in the little rooms, drinking beer in the yard, and pulling our cars into the garage. Later that day, when we realized that we’d just played ourselves, I felt like my own laziness and lack of ambition had snatched my house from me like in The House of Sand and Fog.

Not the same house that took another little piece of my heart.

Since realizing I have no money, it’s only natural that I should turn to crime; now, I like to pepper my fantasy-home-searches with a cold hard dose of reality. The LA Times Homicide Blog! Other cities do their own murderbloggin’ (the Chicago Tribune, which just sort of did an “Eek, We Have A Lot of Homicides!: 2003 Edition” thing), but props to the LA Times for giving some background on the victims, the circumstances and the location (Crime Maps and COMPSTAT just give you basic facts about what kind of crime was committed and where, and they don’t seem to update that much; in fact, there’s some sort of weird link, it seems to me, between lags in Perez Hilton‘s updates and COMPSTAT).

It Was A Very Good Year — Frank Sinatra (mp3)

They pepper their victim blurbs with related editorials and investigations, usually regarding gang violence in Los Angeles or chilling statistics relating race, age and gender to homicide rates. Some of them are more detailed than others:

Chontel Johnson, 36

Chontel Johnson, a 36-year-old black man, was fatally shot at 9902 South Broadway in South L.A. at about 9:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28. According to LAPD South Bureau detectives, an unknown number of suspects fired several shots into a clothing store. Johnson, who was the store owner, was fatally hit, and two other people were injured. Paramedics declared Johnson dead at the scene. The two other people inside the store were taken to a local hospital, where they were listed in stable condition. The shooting is related to ongoing gang violence in the area.

Gatekeeper (Remix) — Feist (mp3)

There was also an interesting interview with Sal LeBarbera, a veteran homicide detective. Many of the questions posed to him by the Homicide Report (HR) subtly address the criticisms of the LAPD which are so loudly voiced in the comments following the victims’ stories:

HR: Does the city place an adequate priority on homicide?

LaBarbera: It’s a big city. Each neighborhood has its own concerns, and it’s a balancing act.

HR: Would you balance things differently?

LaBarbera: I think homicide throughout the city should be the priority. It’s someone’s life, and you can’t replace it. You can replace a stolen car stereo…. This year the chief [LAPD Chief William Bratton] has combined all the South Los Angeles homicide detectives into one unit, and that should help, but there are still not enough homicide detectives. This group is still handling 10 to 15 cases per team, and that goes back years. I see my detectives leaving here with stacks of blue binders in their arms. Each of those binders is life lost. They are forced to prioritize–to go after the hot leads, and take a step back from the lukewarm leads.

Put down thy weapon, scoundrel!

Some of the most unnerving are the domestic violence homicides:

Jacklyn Villanueva, 22

Jacklyn Villanueva, 22, a Latina woman, died after she was stabbed in the street at 4744 Myrtle Street in Pico Rivera at about 1:45 a.m. Dec. 28, and a female friend was badly wounded in the same incident.

The stabbing was a domestic crime of sorts, said Sheriff’s Det. Mike Rodriguez. Villanueva’s friend had been dating a young man, and the two women had gone to this young man’s house that night. Some kind of conflict erupted involving the dating couple, and the young man grew enraged and attacked both women with a knife in the street outside the home. Villanueva died at the scene. Her friend was hospitalized in critical condition but is now considered stable. After the stabbing, the suspect got in a car and drove to Rio Hondo Park. He was arrested. Police identified him as Brian Galvan, 20, a Latino young man.

LA Homicide Map

What’s intersting is that, usually, the entries with the most comments are the ones involving gang members. Sometimes these comments seem aimed at clearing the victims’ name, sometimes they’re retaliatory, and some are just your regular sweet, sad musings on a friend or family member who died. Timothy Johnson, aka Sinister, received an unprecedented amount of comments which really cover all the bases. His HR entry reads:

Timothy Johnson, 37, a black man, was shot multiple times at 939 E. 92nd Street in Watts at about 3:23 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, and died at the scene. Police officers had received a “shots fired” call and found him. He had been visiting friends in the area.

He had gone to a party that night, then had stopped on his way home to socialize with friends outside. His shooters came by walking or driving. He was hit multiple times. When officers arrived, he was alone, dead on the ground, and the people who had been outside with him had disappeared. A pit-bull puppy chained in the yard was curled on his body.

The LAPD is chronically criticized, understaffed, and unpopular. Maybe that’s true of all big-city PD’s. I’ve always feared and respected police officers, mostly because my dad looks a lot like one and people often treat him with deference and fear. He likes donuts, wears button-down shirts, and smokes, but in fact is not a policeman. To make this clear to everyone, he seldom wears navy or shiny buttons. When I had to call a policeman about some identity theft issues last year, I was terrified until I had two concurrent realizations: this officer was probably just like my dad, and also that I am a white middle-class woman. According to the Homicide Report, a 34-year-old black man in Los Angeles has a 15.9 in 10,000 chance of being killed in a given year; a Latino man of the same age has a 2.1 in 10,000 chance and a white man has a .6 in 10,000 chance. And, of course, there are at least a handful of victims who have been shot and killed by police officers in any given month (including the nobody-knows-what-really-happened scenario of actor Mark Gregg this past July).

Mark Gregg, 25

The good news: homicides are down in Los Angeles and New York City.

Top 3 Things I’ve Learned From The Homicide Report

1. Stay out of: Rampart, Watts, Compton. And Park La Brea — I knew it!

2. If someone pulls out a gun at a party, leave. If you were planning on going home with said person, maybe don’t, even if they are cute — just try to catch them on a “nicer” day. Get the digits!

3. I can’t help but believe that it’s a useful tool, the Homicide Report (as are shows like The First 48). The oft-discussed chasm between the media coverage of white victims versus minority victims closes when, theoretically, every reported homicide is covered. And the HR is careful to post frequent editorials stating that, just because a victim was “no angel” (they use this term like tabs use “feasted on” — have you ever noticed that? Celebrities never eat, they feast), their death was no less horrific. Seeing the comments on Timothy Johnsons’ page, you realize how little these murders are explored in the media unless they directly involve a police officer or a law-abiding citizen, and they really are worth covering.

Friction — Television (mp3)

Tess Lynch is Contributing Editor for This Recording. She reads obituaries too.


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4 thoughts on “In Which We Invite You And The Whole Gang

  1. Fascinating post, Tess. The comments on the Homicide blog are last-to-first, not first-to-last – it’s weird how confusing that is. Best wishes for realizing your dream of homeownership and thanks for using Zillow!


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