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STREET SMART: Diverse career shapes ideology


August 15, 2019

Because of the nature of my assignments on the Los Angeles Police Department, I had the privilege of working each of the 21 divisions or precincts in the city over the course of my career. The ability to work all these different areas gave me exposure to people from every ethnicity and all walks of life. That exposure is what changed/shaped my ideology.

When I first graduated from the Police Academy, I was assigned to Van Nuys Division in the San Fernando Valley. In 1979, Van Nuys Division was relatively tame compared to other areas of the city. Although changing rapidly, Van Nuys at the time was primarily White with only pockets of black and Hispanic neighborhoods toward the north end of the division. As soon as I was able, I transferred from Van Nuys Division to 77th Division in South Los Angeles.

The 77th Division was almost entirely black at the time, so for me, having grown up in a black neighborhood, I was immediately comfortable in my interactions with the community. I quickly realized things were different though. Instead of a teenage boy going to a friend’s house to hang out, I was now being called to people’s homes to somehow resolve their problems. I started to notice things that had never registered with me as a kid. For example, I had never paid attention to how many of my friends didn’t have a father around, something I was now seeing on a daily basis. I had never paid attention to how many of my friends’ parents didn’t have jobs. I mentioned in my last column that both of my parents worked full time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents had been role models for me. The young black people that I grew up with and the young black people I was working with in 77th Division didn’t have these role models. It seemed to me that everyone I was dealing with, because I was called to their homes, was on some sort of public assistance program. I also began to notice that the reliance on these public assistance programs was generational.

In countless instances it seemed to be a family tradition to rely on welfare rather than work. The lack of jobs was a huge part of the problem. As badly as some people might want to get away from public assistance, without jobs it’s nearly impossible. There seemed to be a sense of resignation, a belief that “this is as good as it’s gonna get” mentality in the minds of the people I’m describing. They lived for the 1st and 15th of the month because that’s when the checks arrived. Everything in between was just existing. Drugs and alcohol filled the time. I don’t want the reader to misunderstand. I know there are readers out there who follow this column and then ‘cherry pick’ portions of it to make a point. What I’m describing here has nothing to do with race. I’ll say that again…this has nothing to do with race! As time passed, I saw this same scenario play out throughout the city with all ethnicities. I’m trying to explain a chronological journey and sort of personal awakening early in my career. There were plenty of black families in 77th Division very much like mine in the sense that both parents were present, employed, and acting as positive role models for their children. The simple truth though is that the police aren’t typically called to stable homes like that.

Young people growing up in this environment didn’t have too many options. Sports, music and education were the only real ways out of the lifestyle, but not everyone had the talent. Gangs were attractive to the young people looking for a place to belong and a significant number adopted the “Gangsta” lifestyle. This created a whole different set of problems for the community. The crime and violence impacted everyone. The gang members, in a strange twist, became the role models. Drug sales were a common way for the gangsters to make a living and could be quite lucrative. It was common to see a young gang member, with no legitimate source of income, driving a Mercedes and flashing wads of cash. A nice car and lots of money was pretty attractive to young people who thought they had no other real options. The violence was a byproduct of the gangster lifestyle. I remember one particular night that I responded to three driveby homicides, all related to gang and drug activity. That sort of violence was an every day event and looked at as an “occupational hazard” by the gang members, but the whole community suffered. Families slept on floors and in bathtubs in an attempt to avoid random gunfire.

Based on all that I was witnessing, it seemed to me that the lack of jobs, reliance on entitlement programs, and unstable family life were the catalyst for all the other problems. None of the social programs put forth by the liberal city government worked. Nothing was done to bring jobs into the community. The ease of obtaining and staying on welfare created reliance on the program rather than the temporary assistance it was designed for. People learned to manipulate the system and make it work for them. A real example from my own experience; a young woman who couldn’t find a job, knew that each child she had increased the amount of assistance she received. To a person who’s given up hope for herself, this seems like a no brainer!

Ran out of room again! Stay tuned…

Blaine Blackstone is a retired Los Angeles Police Sergeant who enjoys the simpler life in Thompson Falls. He can be reached by email at [email protected]


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