Friday, March 09, 2007
Inside a world where 'old' means mid-20s
Editor's note: This post gives the backstory to a one-hour CNN documentary, "Homicide in Hollenbeck," that airs tonight on "360."

The scale of the gang problem in Los Angeles and other major cities is, in a way, too big for television. Narrowing our scope to one police district, the Hollenbeck Division, in the heart of L.A., gave us the vehicle to take viewers into a subculture most of us try to avoid.

The big question: How do we open Hollenbeck's front door?

Our first step was to listen. For background interviews, we met with police officials, social workers and former gang members. Their different perspectives helped us understand the neighborhood's dynamics, the long history of Hollenbeck gangs, the frustrations of police in gang suppression, the efforts at prevention and the overwhelming impact of intimidation by violent gangsters.

Each expert led us to others. Eventually, we were being introduced to active and former gang members willing to tell us about their lives. The younger ones were typically boastful and impulsive. The older ones ("old" meaning mid-20s) had an outward self-confidence that commanded respect. In this case, being respected and being feared were one and the same, because "respect" in the world of Hollenbeck gangs is earned through violence. A gang members willing to fight are "riders." The ones who are not are "bitches."

A high-ranking official in the Los Angeles Police Department tried to discourage our access, openly fearful that our report would stigmatize Los Angeles as a combat zone. Fortunately, rank and file officers and their immediate supervisors were open to telling us about what they do and why they do it. Several gang cops in Hollenbeck had grown up around Latino gangs. Some had relatives who were members.

Was our work dangerous? It was always in the back of our minds and sometimes at the forefront. One gang member came to an interview carrying a gun and a belligerent attitude. My colleague, Stan Wilson, persuaded him to leave. Other gang members, seeing our camera out in the neighborhood, were simply curious. One smoked grass during the interview; we were aware that if he misconstrued an innocent remark by us as disrespect, it could lead to violence. Still other gang members were hospitable and escorted us to their most impressive gang graffiti. One even offered to have "the little homies" tag an overpass so we could film the action. We thanked him for the offer, but declined.

One veterano seemed to pop up wherever we went. John was in his 40s, drove an old red convertible and some mornings drank from a bottle in a brown paper bag. The last time I saw him, he was coming out of a laundromat with a tiny Chihuahua tucked inside his shirt. The incongruous image of this heavily tattooed vato sheltering the vulnerable puppy symbolized one of the questions we had about what gang-bangers call la vida loca - the crazy life: Why do they join the gangs when it so clearly leads nowhere? To this day, I do not have a complete answer.

We went into Hollenbeck with an open mind - not about the criminal behavior, but about the people who do it. Are they predators or misguided youth? Sociopaths or victims of society? Weak-willed drug abusers or people who need help?

We met gang members from each category. Gang banging is for the young guys. By their mid-to-late-20s, many gang members say they "get tired of being tired" and want to settle down. But the strong pull of the gangs - "homie love," they call it - makes breaking away difficult. Their education had come more from the streets than the classroom. And their horizons have been limited to what they saw in the confines of their gang turf. In some way, these were among the saddest stories in Hollenbeck: gang members who wanted to change their lives but lacked the skills to do it.
Posted By Andy Segal, CNN Producer: 6:32 PM ET
So sad, this waste of human life. It's all those ghetto women having ghetto babies in large #s, irresponsibly. Poverty begets poverty, the cycle is hard to break. So, why not impose mandatory birth control and even sterilization so these women in these lost communities will not reproduce, and just create "more wasted human lives"?!? In this way, the "ghettos will be cleansed" through mandatory birth control. The solution is SO SIMPLE!! Duhh!! No more ghetto babies!
Posted By Anonymous Cindy, Cincinnati, OH : 7:21 PM ET
You did the story in Hollenbeck but reading your post,you could be talking about everywhere in North America. For some,they don't see a way out and for safety reason(wich is not a rational choice),they join the gangs.It could be the way of life of the parents(drugs,booze,violence) or poverty that doesn't alow them to give a better environment for their kids. Education is lacking,for sure.
But,I don't know if you talk about it in your story,but the way girls are treated in gangs. Sexually abused,sometimes forced to prostitution.I'm talking for Montreal,but,a few years back,the police went down hard on the Hells Angels,leaving the path open for street gangs. They took it! They stay longer(in their 20's),they have a big part of the prostitution market,the drugs,there is an increase in violence and now,the police are trying to come down on them. What may have started as a way of dealing with their surroundings,has now become a business with big bucks,all over North America.
Solutions? Tougher laws,better education(giving them a way out)? I think that most of them are able of better things,we can't look down on them or turn the other way. It is part of our reality.

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 7:27 PM ET
Why don't they just do the NYC style small crimes enforcement in this area to try to get these gangbangers people off the street. Once you get a critical mass incarcerated, the problem will get better, hopefully, as in NYC. At the same time, there should be intensive social work and interventions in schools to try to show kids that it is possible to get out of the neighborhood if they stay in school.

There needs to be two prongs: Criminal AND social intervention.
Posted By Anonymous Nick, New Haven, CT : 7:34 PM ET
Cindy, perhaps we should look at manditory sterilization of narrow minded people so they won't reproduce either. The solution is SO SIMPLE!! Duhh!! No more narrow minded people!
Posted By Anonymous Elsie, San Diego, CA : 8:07 PM ET
Cindy, your simple-mindedness amazes me. Perhaps we should sterilize middle-class people so they don't raise kids who grow up to bilk people out of pensions a la Enron. Besides, if we really sterilized the poor, it wouldn't get rid of poor people. The standards would change and those who are now middle-class would be considered "the poor" and the cycle would continue.

These kids aren't in gangs simply because they were born to poor mothers. I was a "ghetto baby". I'm now an employed graduate from a prestigious university (Pepperdine), and on my way to a Master's degree. Poverty didn't stop me because my parents gave me hope. They told me that if I concentrated on school, I could get out of the ghetto. I did.

What needs to happen is to get the bad apples off the streets so they stop blocking the way for kids who just want to learn. Those who are left need a real sense of hope and real opportunities. There are only a few troublemakers. The rest are bullied into submission because they don't think they have a choice.
Posted By Anonymous Katia, malibu, ca : 8:08 PM ET
Is Anderson ill? Is that the reason we are getting so many repeats during the second hour?
Posted By Anonymous Patti - Chicago, IL : 8:32 PM ET
Well thank you for your enlightened solution "Nazi Cindy" in Concinnatti. I think it is a sad human being who looks at another and does not have compassion or suggest solutions but instead calls for their extermination.
Posted By Anonymous Denise Bloomfield Hills, MIchigan : 8:41 PM ET
I wonder if Cindy would consider sterilizing people like the parents of the Columbine shooters, or maybe parents of kids like the ones who killed the homeless men with bat for "fun." Gee, those kids were all so "ghetto" huh? I guess Cindy doesn't realize that spoiling kids by giving them everything is just as dangerous as giving them nothing.

Having kids out of wedlock is pathetic REGARDLESS of your socio-economic background.

Vanna, please hand Cindy a brain.
Posted By Anonymous Barbara, Columbia, MD : 9:23 PM ET
My father grew up in the Irish slums of Minneapolis/St. Paul in the 1930's. He knew Machine Gun Kelly as, "another idiot with a gun in the nieghborhood." As a young boy, he and his buddies would watch shootouts so they could collect the bullets of the winners like middle class kids collected marbles.

He stole and ran with a gang in his teens. Had to to survive. But he did well in school, and he always knew gang life was crap. After I grew up, he told me that every guy in his gang was dead or in prison by time he was 25. He was always clear about the fact that most of them deserved to die. As he put it to me when I was young, "Mother nature will execute you without a trial for being stupid."

This isn't new. Bluntly put, it's evolution in action. Fools get consumed by idiotic violence over nothing. Other fools wring their hands, which makes them feel better.

What is really sad is that so many teens who aren't from such places are adopting idiot gang attitudes absorbed from gangstah rap and publicity over stupid gangsta rappers killing each other. Such a waste of life and possibility.

But - it's evolution in action. Idiots will always do such things.
Posted By Anonymous Brian, Davis, CA : 9:39 PM ET
Having seen this special, I have to say it's excellent, but overdue for an update. An 'American Graffiti' style montage at the end telling us the current status of the people we met in Hollenbeck would be appreciated. What's up with Kiki these days?
Posted By Anonymous Arachnae, Sterling VA : 9:39 PM ET
Sociologically, lets identify what it is.....a definite culture in America. I am not talking about being Irish, African American, or gay. It is about the cultural of poverty.

Unfortunately, one particular culture of poverty was unveiled to America during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Every large city has this culture, and it is about survival and a sense of community. Though very dysfunctional, poverty has its own networks i.e. the imprisonment of gangs.

These networks provide the right of passage for young men, provide a position in the community, and also provide a source of power for men who feel powerless.

I feel this culture of poverty will not change until America re-invests in its children and its job force. Without excellent educational opportunities and good paying jobs to restore America's dignity, the hopelessness of poverty will continue to grow and this troubling culture will continue to thrive.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 9:44 PM ET
I know Anderson is in Los Angeles, but isn't the "Hollenbeck" special from last year?
Posted By Anonymous SAM, Brookpark, Ohio : 11:11 PM ET
As a surviver of Los Angeles Unified School District I know a thing or two about gang life. In 9th grade I sat behind a gang member in Health class, he would walk outside to deal drugs with no comments from the teacher and consequently no punishment. In mid-March a kid was arrested in his apartment building as he had threatened to shoot up the school. I never saw the kid who sat in front of me in Health class again so I just assumed he was the supposed school shooter, turns out he wasn't: He was sent to Juvy for rape. I remember thinking how ridiculously Los Angeles that was.
Posted By Anonymous Ashley King, Los Angeles, CA : 11:16 PM ET
These people are such a drain on society! A friend of mine teaches at an inner city high school and says that 90% of her job is just discipline and only 10% instruction. How are we going to compete with the rest of the world when we have people like that clogging up our education system? It boggles the mind when one thinks about the cost to feed, clothe, incarcerate and give medical care to these cysts. God help us all in the 21st century.
Posted By Anonymous Allie, Austin,Texas : 11:19 PM ET
I'm not exactly what you would call a rap or hip hop fan ...
but they can not blame the violence exclusively on the music ...
Every channel on tv has people shooting, mugging cutting and slashing each other, and giving people insane ideas ...
Remember the general population has a 70 or under IQ ...
What do you expect? ...
I blame HollyWood, for constantly looking for plots that glamorize tarts killin each other ... and making the psycos restless ...
Cheers ...
Posted By Anonymous The Geek Chesterland Ohio : 11:20 PM ET
I too agree that "narrow minded" people should be sterilized. How sad to think that even Cindy's kind could one day land in a ghetto!! The problem with gangs is not one of reproduction. The problem lies with the fact that there are not too many programs to get those kids out of there and let them experience the other side of the fence and show what they are really capable of. Also, before trying to instill more "politically correct" values into our kids, we should bring back some of the old school rules that scared the pants off those trying to forcibly take over other people's lives. "Kid" gloves often don't work with tough necks.
Posted By Anonymous Lyne, Laval QC : 11:24 PM ET
What is Cindy's problem?? This isn't a stupid AOL jr. high chat room.
Posted By Anonymous Julia, Dallas, TX : 12:19 AM ET
This problem goes on in many communities, it isn't just the poverty stricken places. You have gangs in every facet of this country now.
Cindy, while I don't agree with your comment...I will not resort to all the bad mouthing as the others have. Everyone is entitled to their own thinking even if others don't agree. But maybe you need to broaden your thinking of others who may not be as fortunate as you.

What's up with this blog? I thought CNN monitored it. No need in being so rude!
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 12:20 AM ET
I think these people are a product of their enviroment. what appears to be protection and short term gratification as well evolves into a cycle that is difficult to escape. solutions? make strict gun laws and enforce them. maybe the new york model of the small crime enforcement, offer education and opportunity...hope. a goal of a family, a life, peace. swat the but with a stick, but entice the way forward with a carrot.
Posted By Anonymous dj..milwaukee, wisconsin : 12:40 AM ET
Every human-being has the intrinsic need to be valued. A small number learn that it comes from within; most people look on the outside. For a gang member, value comes from being respected by their homies. They want to be respected not because they want to be respected, they want to be respected because they want to be valued.
Posted By Anonymous Sameer V., Austin, TX : 2:59 AM ET
I wrote this to a friend on a political message board:

Did you catch that piece on CNN about the gangs in Hollenbeck?I will "never" forget what one of them said...

I can't quote him, as I don't think the transcripts have come out yet, but he said something about being in a gang being all he had. He said that the military is the BEST place for people like him and that the only reason he isn't in the military is because he had a felony......

Are 'you' telling me that the posters on this board, do not understand that we have people who have no regard for human life, ESPECIALLY the life of someone who is different then they are, USUALLY BECAUSE of the color of their skin or because of the block they live on and the military is a place where they have been given a free pass to KILL...Tell me WHY this is OK??? Do you know, Woody? Because I sure don't get it...

A human life is a human life and YOUR life is NO MORE important then an Iraqi, so get over yourselves!

(not you Woody, LOL)
Posted By Anonymous Sarah I. Robinson, Tucson, AZ : 4:06 AM ET
In response to Cincinnati Cindy... Ghetto women having ghetto babies? Just in case you're not familiar with the human reproductive process, a MALE must also contribute in order to create a child. We are not asexual beings capable of fertilizing our own eggs. Sexual responsibility is NOT limited to women. Both partners bear equal onus. (Onus means burden.)

Funny you should choose to use the phrase "the ghettos will be cleansed." At the most general level, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these. While being born in "the ghetto" (as you put it) is NOT an ethnic identity in any way, you are still suggesting a form of ethnic cleansing. That puts your idea in the ranks with Slobodon Milosovic, Mao Zedong, Adolph Hitler and various others who have attempted to cleanse their countries of "undesirables."

Perhaps instead we should, as a community, focus on education, encouragement and offering opportunities to help break the cycle.
Posted By Anonymous Nikki, Port Hueneme, California : 5:28 AM ET
I believe that what Cindy from OH is talking about here is legalized genocide. Basically, I think she is full of hatred! I think I pity her more than the gangbanger.
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Silver Spring, MD : 8:12 AM ET
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