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California and the West | Mike Downey

If You're Going to Walk the Walk in L.A., Do It Legally

August 23, 2000|Mike Downey

As soon as I heard what Philadelphia's mayor had to say about Los Angeles after his recent visit here, I concluded that the Liberty Bell wasn't the only thing in his city that was cracked.

He took a simple jaywalking incident and ran with it, practically making L.A. out to be the city of brotherly hate.

But later it occurred to me that perhaps the Philly gentleman doesn't understand our town, and how we do things differently here.

After all, there are 2,700 miles and a number of fundamental philosophical differences between us.

For example, we don't have as many pedestrians as Philadelphia has. But the ones we do have tend to cross the street at the corner, not in the middle. We're funny that way.

Mayor John F. "Don't Cross Me" Street sounds pretty put out, nevertheless. He's still unhappy about a flap involving one of his aides, Shawn Fordham, 35, and a few of our ever-popular Los Angeles police officers.

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I have in front of me a four-page statement from his honor the mayor, dated Monday.

He claims to be "perplexed and disturbed" over what happened to his associate last Friday, on the day after the end of the Democratic National Convention.

Street first assures us that he was treated quite well during the convention itself, while in town to see how ours compared to the Republican National Convention that his own city played host to a couple of weeks earlier.

(A convention in which Philadelphia's Finest were on their best behavior at all times, right, Mr. Mayor?)

Alas, at around 5:45 p.m. last Friday, the mayor, his wife and staff member Fordham went shopping in downtown L.A.'s garment district, with a couple of Philly police officers tagging along to watch their backs.

I don't know for a fact what kind of garments Mayor Street and his party were able to find in our district, but I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for contributing to our city's struggling economy.

Anyhow, according to the mayor's statement, Fordham "crossed at the light at Los Angeles Boulevard [sic] and 5th Street," on his way back to a parked car. That's when a couple of LAPD officers allegedly stopped Fordham to inquire who he was, what he was doing and where he was going.

Now if the out-of-towner didn't actually cross "at the light" and was indeed jaywalking, Mayor Street should know that we don't take that kind of thing lightly here. Pedestrian deaths abound here.

We mock ourselves from time to time about living in a city where nobody walks anywhere. Fact is, though, this isn't one of those places like Philadelphia or New York where pedestrians are expected to routinely dodge cars as matadors do bulls.

As my media colleague and fellow street-walker Patt Morrison alerted tourists prior to the convention in a National Public Radio commentary, L.A. crosswalks are like hallowed ground. "You'd recognize us in any city in the world," she said. "We're the ones standing on a deserted street corner at midnight, patiently waiting for the WALK sign to turn . . . "

I don't know how it works in Philly, mayor, but your city was laid out by William Penn way back in 1682, so you should have crossing the street down by now.

Unfortunately, when your aide was asked for his ID, he told the cops it was in the car. That's another thing they must do in Philly differently. Most of us carry ID in our wallets here.

"Shawn was intimidated and feared that . . . he could be arrested and swept up in the criminal justice system," says Street, who joined the fray and demanded to speak to a higher-ranking officer.

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It took a couple of hours to resolve the dispute. Fordham got no ticket, and an LAPD lieutenant said the reason it took so long was the Philadelphia mayor's demand to speak to a higher-ranking officer.

LAPD Chief Bernard Parks later had to listen to the mayor's lament about how this kind of thing would be handled in Philadelphia. "We advised him that this was not Philadelphia," our chief explained.

With all the L.A. cops involved being white and all the Philadelphians involved being African American, Street insists it "raises traditional stereotypes and questions about untoward police behavior."

No, Mr. Mayor, what it does is raise traditional stereotypes about politicians who expect preferential treatment, in or out of town.

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Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to: Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com

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