Slate does the 77th


Jill Leovy, the L.A. Times crime reporter in South L.A., is writing the Slate Diary this week on the crime-ridden 77th Street Division.

People typically find out about homicides on the street, called there by friends, or upon arriving home. They will show up at the tape, frantic, breathless, still hoping for a miracle, demanding information. When they learn of the murder, they scream or wail, or run away, or lose their balance.

Twice I have seen mothers taken away in ambulances shortly after learning of their children's deaths. Many people talk about the screams. A paramedic from Compton told me it is the only part of his job he finds unbearable—that distinctive homicide scream.

That was Tuesday. Yesterday's diary talked about how looks can be deceiving in the L.A. ghettos.

It's hard to convey the tranquility and normalcy of these neighborhoods—the skateboarding kids, the Pizza Huts, the garage sales—while still presenting a truthful picture of their crime problems.

In fact, what many people in Los Angeles think of as this city's "bad neighborhoods" are in many ways indistinguishable from those with milder reputations. They brim with aspiration and middle-class comfort, even as they distill every kind of despair. I pass blocks of graffiti on Slauson Avenue in the morning before stopping in at the bright new Western Avenue Starbucks, inevitably full of well-dressed commuters listening to cutting-edge blues. This is just northwest of where the 1992 riots broke out, and the area is now booming, construction everywhere: a new Gigante grocery store, a new Subway sandwich shop.

But just across the street is the permanent swap meet where a shootout broke out recently amid a crowd in daylight.

In today's diary, Leovy says interviewing family members is easier in the first hours after the murder. In the years following, they get sadder and more bitter.

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