Even if you’re not from Los Angeles, you’ve heard the stories. NWA put this tiny city on the map. Documented its violence and gangs as if it was as our own little Baghdad. Compton, The CPT, has been synonymous with fear for as long as I can remember. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, I wasn’t unaccustomed to violence. Echoing gunshots, helicopters, barking rottweilers, and yellow police tape were not foreign to me. When I was 10 there was a man murdered right in front of our house, my dad washed away his blood. But when someone mentioned we had to go to Compton—for any reason—I was shook.
Although Compton is tiny, their reputation looms large. Ten miles hosts 100,000 people and 65 different gangs. Their murder rate has been out of control for years, but last year it dropped, aided by stronger community policing efforts. The LA Times noted that the drop in the murder rate is due in part to “pairing aggressive enforcement with programs designed to improve the relationship between the community and the cops.” They contrasted this new approach, which to me makes logical sense, with that of the hard-hitting tactics of the 1980s, when gangs and crack exploded in LA. They write,
It is a stark contrast to the 1980s, when area law enforcement agencies launched a gang crackdown that resembled a military operation, destroying any semblance of a relationship between the agencies and the communities they served.
Since Ryan took command of the Compton station two years ago, the number of Explorer Scouts has risen from eight to 25, that of station volunteers from 10 to 55, and reserve deputies from just one previously to eight. Neighborhood Watch and business watch programs are popping up all over town.
The department runs the Compton Youth Activities League in a former National Guard armory, and about 150 kids come each month for after-school programs. Almost all have a close relative in prison, officials said, and many have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system. (read the article here)
Compton seems to be getting it right. Things are far from perfect. People are still being killed, and property crimes are up as of late which can be attributed to the horrible economic situation, but a stolen car is better than a stolen life any day.
I am hopeful for Compton. A lot of my students live in and around Compton and in neighborhoods like I grew up in. When I was growing up, we had a blatant suspicion of the police. They were not our friends; they didn’t live in our neighborhood, nor know our names. This suspicion, and even hated, of police has continued. Any time I speak with my students about the law or police or how their actions may affect them in the future, they express an apparent disdain for police, for many reasons that signal a lack of mutual respect and relationships.
The key to combating any problem is relationships. Whether it’s teachers building trusting and respectful relationships with their students, or parents building relationships with their children, you cannot get anyone to buy into your cause without first building a relationship with them. I am amazed that more communities, especially urban communities, have not followed the community-policing model. Instead of investing money in ways to house more inmates, our communities should be investing in more neighborhood programs that prevent people from turning to crime. After-school programs, job training programs, and educational programs all work; yet they are the first to be abandoned when a budget crisis arises. Why is that? Why do we allow our neediest residents to be relegated to a subpar life?
As we stand on the shores of change and are all still tingling from President Obama’s inauguration, we cannot become complacent and feel as if he will take care of everything. There is so much work to be done. There are so many kids being lost to a cycle of prison, poverty, and hopelessness. Everyday I face my students hopeful that something I say or something we do will spark inside of them. I challenge you to do something, anything, that will help break the cycle our communities are stuck in.
What will you do?