Sunday readers of The Los Angeles Times were treated today to twin headlines: "Smugglers Bring Havoc to Central America," and "How a Community Imploded." The piece on Central America describes governments' struggles against traffickers (those are Nicaraguan soldiers training their guns on captured smugglers) when parts of those governments are probably smuggling themselves. The other article is the best overview yet on the L.A. neighborhood "Harbor Gateway" and its major murder problem. This piece is good because it looks at causes besides the gangbangers themselves: unregulated apartment construction in the 1980s that, coupled with a total lack of public services (even streetlights, to say nothing of schools, parks, rec centers, and other gathering places), destroyed the community fabric. Most of the residents were low or limited income, the area became an immigrant community in which newcomers had to fend for themselves, sustaining barriers of language among others, and then the tripling of the black population in ten years created a backlash among some Latino kids. The article features some good material on the good life of a gang member - when it's better to be in than out - and also a very unusual phenomenon - a remorseful developer.
The story is sad - the 204th Street gang (Latino) has made most Black folks afraid to leave their houses during the day, and some of their kids have been gunned down in broad daylihgt. The story is infuriating - decent government, transitional services, and a public infrastructure can keep most of this from happening, but now it almost never does. In most parts of the US today, including California, government only reacts to crises and arrives on the scene when the bodies have been carted away to make a pious speech. L.A. abandoned Harbor Gateway long ago, and the result was avoidable fear and death.