Friday, March 1, 2013

Mr. Sex Offender; Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the new Pocket Park



I live in a strange neighborhood. It’s an oft forgotten pocket of Los Angeles. I do most of my living in neighboring Torrance. It’s where I work, grocery shop and spend most of my non home time. Torrance is its own city in Los Angeles County with a library, a police force and city council. My home address is actually says “Torrance.” But I don’t live in Torrance. Technically I live in a tiny sliver of the City of Los Angeles. I vote for the mayor, have a city council member, and I have to call LAPD when my neighbors have a loud fiesta. 

The best way to explain to people where I live is that the City of Los Angeles city limits actually looks a bit like an evil spider. There is the center mass of Downtown, Midtown, Hollywood etc., and then these arms extend out and around the unincorporated cities to grab certain parts of the city. There is an arm that stretches out around Culver City to take Venice and the Airport. Then there is a long skinny sliver arm that stretches out to grab the Harbor. That is where I live in a neighborhood called “Harbor Gateway.” To give you an idea of how awkward this part of Los Angeles is this neighborhood is it stretches from 120th st in the north to 230th street in the south. That’s 100+ blocks, but since Los Angeles doesn’t really have proper city blocks I’ll tell you that is 8.7 miles. At its widest the neighborhood is 1.7 mi. While the section I live in is only .7 mi wide. I’m telling you this to emphasize how strange this area is. It borders Torrance, Gardena, Carson, Compton, Hawthorne, Willowbrook and Los Angeles. This is not a neighborhood, it’s an odd no man’s land that the city of LA has carved out so that it can claim harbor taxes. It’s a mix of poorer communities and industrial businesses. It’s largely Latino and white with many families. My apartment is full of kids and the neighborhood is full of families.
This is all important to know before I start talking about some recent events in my neighborhood.  As I was driving home today I saw a news truck from Univision 34, right on the corner by my house! I turned on the TV only to find out that the reason they’re filming is because of the new mini-park they’re building. Oh why are they building the mini park? Because this areas of Los Angeles has the one of the largest concentrations of sex offenders living in Los Angeles. If they build this part it will force them to move out. I’m of two minds on this issue. I’m ecstatic to no longer be living near 86(!) sex offenders within a short walk. However I recognize that this is reflective of larger problems.
Firstly, why are there so many sex offenders living here? It’s because existing laws that keep them from living near parks and schools have pushed them into the fringes of society. This is a neglected area, it’s poor, the rent is cheap and rent controlled. There are no parks or schools. There are no amenities. This area is half industrial already. This speaks to the neglect of the area. Why is there nothing here? Why does the city leave us to our own devices? There is no street sweeping, no cops. There isn’t even any drainage! When it rains there is a huge puddle outside my house full of disgusting stagnant water. It sits there for days and becomes pungent. There is a bakery factory on the corner and when it rains you can’t even use the right turn lane because the puddles are so big. There is trash on the sidewalks all the time. Sometimes it’s just fast food or plastic bags, but sometimes its furniture, broken TVs, tires the list goes on. This is an impoverished and neglected area. The idea that it would take a mass amount of sex offenders to get a part built is shameful. There is no attention paid to this neighborhood. The division of LAPD that patrols this area is the Harbor Division. (They’re famous for producing Christopher Dormer, good job guys). What is their beat? Just Harbor Gateway? Of course not. As usual we are an afterthought. Their division covers all of Harbor Gateway, Harbor City and the entirety of San Pedro including the harbor. So when the city is faced with a massive pocket of sex offenders does the city give us more cops? Or build a new police station? No it exploits a legal loophole and, under duress, gives us a park. I find it to be completely manipulative and mind blowingly perverse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see any sort of neighborhood improvement. But instead of solving any solid problems in the community, our officials have seen fit to provide the fastest and cheapest Band-Aid to the solution.
This brings me to the second problem. This issue just goes to further prove the massive divide between rich and poor. Rich areas can price out sex offenders, who I’m sure can’t have very good job prospects. Now they’re shuttered out. Then the 2000 ft. law restricting where they can live makes it nearly impossible for them to live in most urban areas. So where do they go? That is the problem. They must leave for a neighborhood similar to ours .Which means someone just like me is sitting unsuspecting as they slowly creep into their neighborhood. It means pitting the poor against the poor. It’s another way for the power elite to keep us fighting amongst ourselves. This solution is a hasty remedy that treats a symptom but not the disease. Not only that but it’s making it impossible for sex offenders to ever incorporate back into society. How can they be productive members if they can’t live anywhere for longer than a few years? How can anyone remain on the straight and narrow without a support system?
I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I don’t want to have to worry more than I do when I’m walking to my car, but I know this isn’t a real solution. It feels disingenuous. It feels like our officials have found a powder keg in the backyard and are now suddenly trying to keep the barbeque they’ve planned from being ruined. You can see how this is a complicated issue made only more complicated by politicians. Often times politicians use being tough on crime as a way to drum up support. No one wants crime in their community so these laws, like 3 strikes and other laws are created to “clean up our streets.” Well, those people have to go somewhere; they can’t just be swept under the rug. Without proper care and rehabilitation they end up going right back to the poor communities that created them. Then the cycle of poverty continues. There are no real solutions here, only cute Band-Aids to staunch a gaping wound.

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