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Troops for L.A. War Zones

September 16, 2004

It turned out that the teenager's tattoo served a purpose after all. It was the way his parents identified him in the hospital when his head had swelled as big as a basketball and his forehead bore the imprint of his attacker's shoe.

San Diego Superior Court Judge John L. Davidson had seen victims of violent crimes in his courtroom. Nothing prepared him for seeing his 18-year-old son Martin in a coma, stomped almost to death.

The Cal State Dominguez Hills student left a friend's house in South Los Angeles on July 25, a Sunday. His parents are the first to say that Martin is no angel. But that night he was guilty of nothing more than a teenage lapse in common sense. To catch a Metro train back to the room he rented near the college, he headed on foot through streets his father later drove and described as looking "like Bosnia." Like a war zone.

It took until mid-September for Martin, now in a San Diego rehabilitation hospital, to squeeze his father's hand and speak a few halting words. "What happened to me?" he asked. Judge Davidson has no answer.

The Los Angeles Police Department says the city is offering a $50,000 award for information about the beating, which took place around 11 p.m. near 107th and Figueroa streets. (Call the Southeast Division, 213-485-6902, or the 24-hour toll-free Detective Information Desk, 1-877-LAWFUL.)

Davidson knows that witnesses often won't speak up for fear of retaliation. Like his wife, he believes strongly in education and jobs as alternatives to drugs and gangs. But he also believes that the neighborhood's residents, however afraid, need to say, "Enough." And he knows that they can do so only if they can count on the police.

During 2003, the LAPD assigned an extra 150 officers to South Los Angeles, which each year leads the city in crime. Homicides declined enough there to help produce a 23% drop citywide. But the stretched-thin LAPD was unable to maintain the higher staffing. Homicides this year are up.

Measure A on the November ballot will ask Los Angeles County voters to increase the sales tax by half a cent to add police officers to a region that has fewer cops per capita than New York City, Chicago and just about every other major city.

Stories like Davidson's -- of families turned inside out when sons land in the hospital, or worse, a coffin, just for walking down the street -- constitute a call to shared humanity. More police are not the whole solution, but their presence makes a difference. Measure A provides the means to put them on the streets that need them most.

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