"Take a picture of this violation," I said to a staff member from Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa's Boyle Heights field office. She was using a digital camera to document conditions in our industrial neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles, where we were trying to get street repairs.
As we were walking around the congested, bland area filled with sweatshops and check-cashing stores that also sell tacos, we came upon one of the colorful, graffiti-art covered businesses of Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries is a nonprofit company dedicated to giving youths in the barrio an alternative to gangs. "Jobs not Jail" is one of the slogans spray-painted on the old brick building.
I remarked that it was too bad the June drive-by shooting death of one of Homeboy's homies, as he was trying to clean up some East L.A. graffiti, didn't get as much media attention as the man who was beaten by a flashlight-wielding policeman last month in the infamous videotape. The aide got a little upset with me for seeming to downplay the rough arrest.
But then I started to get upset. The goodhearted homeboy is already forgotten, just another statistic in the L.A. gang wars. But that arrest video will be played and debated for a long time. Same thing with the Abu Ghraib prison pictures from Iraq. It's a terrible story, but it's the pictures that shock us the most and help give the story legs.
The Abu Ghraib mess saddens me, and I hate seeing constant headlines like "Four Marines Killed in Baghdad Ambush." But I'm equally pained when I see a headline like "Four Killed in Drive-By Shootings in L.A." Every day "gangs of mass destruction" terrorize the L.A. homeland. We have our own mini-Baghdad massacres every weekend in L.A., but we've almost come to accept it. Besides, there are no good pictures of the actual drive-by shootings to play over and over on the local news. Maybe we can change that.
I have a modest proposal for the Los Angeles City Council. Let's start a program to give low-cost video cameras to hard-core gang members. Let's ask them to put a dedicated "video shooter" in every drive-by car to record the deed. Why in the world would gang members even consider such a crazy idea when it might help send them to prison? Why not? Isn't it crazy to kill somebody because he painted over your gang's tagging? Isn't it all about territory and recognition? What better way to publicize your territory and get recognized then seeing your latest drive-by murder on the 11 o'clock news?
Maybe seeing the pictures of our kids actually killing each other will shock us so much that we'll finally do something to get us out of this murderous cycle. Picture this: a time when drive-bys make the news only because they happen so infrequently.
Why don't we take it a step further and use the drive-by videos for the next hot reality television show -- "The Real World of L.A. Gangs." See Los Angeles' meanest gangbangers cruiz'n down Cesar Chavez Boulevard in their low-riders, ready to shoot anybody with the wrong color spray paint. Maybe people in the neighborhood could find work on the show. Jobs not jail, you know.
Curt Bormann is a Los Angeles writer.