It was 20 years ago on Jan. 30 that Los Angeles reacted with horror to the murder of 27-year-old graphic artist Karen Toshima, killed by a stray bullet during a shootout between rival gang members as she walked on a Westwood street.
Her murder shocked the city and attracted national attention. The LAPD tripled patrols around UCLA and 30 officers were assigned to a task force to find her killer. Politicians staged press conference and vowed to take strong measures to quell the gang menace, even promising to hire 150 more cops for the underpoliced city.
TIME magazine concluded its article, noting that “this is not likely to end the debate over life and death in Los Angeles. Not many of the 387 gang-related killings in Los Angeles County last year ended with a press conference announcing an arrest.”
The New York Times focused on the backlash in the black community over the attention the Toshima murder attracted, noting it “brought anger from some blacks who, while deploring the Toshima killing, said that no such concerted police and media attention attends the numerous killings of innocent blacks by gangs in the predominantly black south central part of Los Angeles…
”We are tired and we’re not going to take it anymore,” Congresswoman Maxine Waters, then a state legislator, was quoted as saying.
Sound familiar? It is because so little has changed.Gangs still flourish in much of the city, terrorizing vast neighborhoods, engaging in mayhem and murder.
The senseless killing of Jamiel Shaw II has prompted outrage across the city and calls for tough action just as so many similar slayings have in the past. And the backlash against strong action is just as visible.
So what does it take to get City Hall to act? Letters, phone calls, emails, petition drives — past experience shows those tactics only get City Hall to step up its public relations efforts, briefly, without affecting real change.
But if you want change you have to do more: Go to your neighborhood council meeting, community organizations, civic groups and stand up for what you believe. Bring along friends and neighbors. Push for them to take a stand and unite with other groups across the city.
The answer to what’s broken in L.A. is People Power. Nothing will change because you cry tears in your beer. It takes action.