Police, Power, and the Production of Racial Boundaries in La Cienega Heights

Criminology professor Ana Munoz produced this 2015 ethno-graphic history of La Cienega Heights.

From Amazon: “Police, Power, and the Production of Racial Boundaries…explores the history of the area to explain how Cadillac-Corning became viewed by outsiders as a “violent neighborhood” and how the city’s first gang injunction—a restraining order aimed at alleged gang members—solidified this negative image. As a result, Muñiz shows, Cadillac-Corning and other sections became a test site for repressive practices that eventually spread to the rest of the city.”

Here are some highlights:

* Thank you, Adam and Christina at the Soros Justice Fellowships for your continued belief, concern, and support.

* During the first part of my research, from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2010, I lived in the 18- square-block Cadillac-Corning neighborhood.

* I was struck by how residents, prosecutors, business owners, and police spent entire meetings vehemently complaining about Cadillac- Corning as well as by how they collaborated on repressive strategies. It was also apparent, however, that civilians and law enforcement often conflicted with one another on their assessment of
proper tactics in the neighborhood. In fact, the residents were often more militaristic than the police. Community group members were not representative of neighborhood residents. Their high levels of formal community
involvement made them unique. It is precisely this uniqueness and unrepresentativeness, however, that interested me. Community groups planned to shape the neighborhood in specific ways. They reached out to leaders in local government, the LAPD, the City Attorney’s Office and to business interests to control access to the neighborhood, resource distribution, the appearance of the area, and the behavior of residents.

* Cadillac-Corning is a predominantly working- class black and Latino immigrant neighborhood. It sits on the edge of the West Los Angeles police jurisdiction, which includes some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.

* The neighborhood consists primarily of two- and three- story apartments built in the 1960s, punctuated
occasionally by a single- family home built in the 1920s. Most apartments are surrounded by wrought- iron fences, some with spikes pointing inward, that were installed in the 1970s and 1980s. The housing is dense, with narrow alleyways in between and behind apartment buildings. Parking along both sides of every street essentially creates one-lane roads throughout the neighborhood. According to the 2010 Census, 86% of all occupied housing in Cadillac-Corning was renter- occupied units. Sixteen percent of residents in Cadillac-Corning were white, 18% were black or African American, and 59% were Hispanic or Latino. The median household income for the 2000 Census, however, was $28,180. Thirty-two percent of families lived below the poverty level.

* Crossing the street to a surrounding neighborhood is an abrupt change from dense city life to an almost suburban space of trim lawns, ample parking, quiet sidewalks, and large houses. For example, in 2010, 66% of residents in the census tract to the north were white, 9.5% were black or African American, 8.5% were Asian, and 11% were Hispanic or Latino (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2010c). In the 2000 Census, the median household income was $45,641 with only 9% of families below poverty level (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000d). The area to the north included more owner- occupied units and more whites than Cadillac-Corning. Furthermore, according to the 2000 Census, the inhabitants in the renter- occupied units to the north had higher incomes than those in the Cadillac-Corning census tract.

The tract to the immediate west, which includes Beverlywood Estates, had a drastically different composition than Cadillac-Corning, with 93% of all occupied housing owner- occupied (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2010d). The area to the west was 86% white, 1.5% black or African American, 5.5% Asian, and 4% Hispanic or Latino (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2010d). In 2000, this area had a median household income of $114,097, with only 2% of families below poverty level… Many of the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods are upperclass,
white, and Jewish.

* In 1997, Cadillac-Corning was a site for the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, and Assessment) model. The SARA model is a problem- solving policing method in which officers collaborate with neighborhood prosecutors, landlords, and community groups to fight crime, blight, and quality- of- life offenses. The SARA method is now
widely used by police departments nationally.

* In 2003, a blue sign went up at the intersection of Cadillac Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard. The sign boasted the city seal of Los Angeles and the name “La Cienega Heights.” A dozen or so people in a community group voted to rename the neighborhood. They were hoping the new name would “rehabilitate” the neighborhood’s status. But the new veneer has not buried a reputation decades in the making. There are still whispers about Cadillac- Corning at homeowners association meetings in the surrounding wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. A thirty- something white man with dark- rimmed glasses confided to a fellow Beverlywood Homeowners Association member, “I drive Cadillac every day. My wife is terrified.” A young pantsuit-clad woman gasped in response, “Oh my god, I would be scared too.”

* The ideal of the single- family home was central to Los Angeles’s sprawling development (Fishman 1987, 156– 157). Los Angeles was the land where everyone could have a car and where everyone’s backyard was assaulted by year- round sunshine. The first houses were built in the Cadillac- Corning area in the 1920s. Through the 1930s and 1940s, architect and Bel- Air developer Elwain Steinkamp built Spanish- style houses and duplexes characterized by tile roofs, courtyards, and large glass windows (Oliver 1989). The shopping center where a Ross Dress for Less discount store and CVS drug store now stand was a dairy farm at the time. Bill, a Jewish man who lives just south of Cadillac- Corning, grew up in the area and graduated from Hamilton High School in 1966. He
recalled, “Most of the time I was there it was about 90 percent white and about 80 percent Jewish.”

* Property management companies began accepting Section 8 renters (people entitled to governmental low- income housing assistance). Rental prices decreased, and tenants stayed for shorter periods of time than they had previously. Lower- income renters with a shorter tenure may have been to whom Brenda, the longtime resident quoted in the beginning of this chapter, was referring when she said, “When the big management companies started to purchase the buildings and take them over, there just seemed to be a shift in the type of person that you would see living in the neighborhood.” The changes in housing were followed by the demographic change from a Jewish to African American residential area, a shift that was important in the development of Cadillac-
Corning’s reputation.

* During World War II, employment in the defense industry brought large numbers of African Americans to Los Angeles. The rapid expansion of the aerospace industry and the establishment of military bases opened up
new job opportunities. Until 1948, racially restrictive covenants to maintain “neighborhood stability” were common throughout the United States. African Americans were confined to the southern part of the city.

* After the war, Jews also migrated to Los Angeles in large numbers. Jewish veterans from across the nation purchased homes in Los Angeles. Despite being shut out of the WASP (white Anglo- Saxon Protestant) downtown elite by a wave of anti- Semitism in the 1920s, Jews were able to enter retail, Hollywood, and Westside real estate. Consequently, Jewish elites formed a Westside power center around Century City, just west of Cadillac- Corning (Leonard 2003).

Hamilton High School (“Hami High”) opened in 1931. In the mid 1960s, Hamilton and the surrounding neighborhoods were still overwhelmingly white, Jewish, and upper middle class. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) adopted an open- school transfer policy for integration purposes in 1954 (Turpin 1967b). The open- school transfer policy in theory allowed students to enroll in schools outside of their neighborhoods if space was available. It was not until the mid 1960s, however, that the LA School Board actually issued open-transfer permits to minority students.

* Hamilton was central to integration struggles on the Westside of Los Angeles. Jewish and black groups formed (sometime uneasy) coalitions to end school, housing, and employment segregation, white supremacist violence, and police brutality (Eley and Casstevens 1968; Lockard 1968; Greenberg 2006). In the wake of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Red Scare, black and Jewish organizations allied to challenge institutional anti- Semitism and antiblack racism (Collins 2006, 27). For example, when Proposition 14 passed in 1964, repealing the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act, only Jewish and black communities voted overwhelmingly against the proposition (Leonard 2003, 48). The Rumford Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination by property owners and landlords on the basis of ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, physical handicap, or familial status.

On Friday, September 20, 1963, members of the Congress of Racial Equality, local clergy, and black and white students from Hamilton and other high schools began a hunger strike at a Los Angeles Board of Education meeting to protest a special report on de facto segregation. Many of the white students cited their Jewish background as motivation to participate in the protest. A 17- year- old female Hamilton student remarked, “I went to
temple first. Then I thought I would do something more for my religion and my country.”

* Increasing numbers of white parents sought transfers out of Hamilton, especially to the nearly all white Culver City High School. In 1968, 8% of Hamilton students were black (Faris 1970). By 1970, the number of black students reached 20% in a student body of 3,000 students. The same year, Hamilton’s white enrollment dropped 22% from the previous year (Los Angeles Times 1973d). By the 1971–1972 school year, black enrollment had reached 34%, and minority enrollment was at 43%. In 1972 black- white enrollment reached a 50- 50 split (Smith 1972). For the first time in district history, the Los Angeles Board of Education banned transfers of minority students into and white students out of Hamilton in order to “racially stabilize” the school (Greenwood 1972). Only two
other schools were included in the ban, middle schools that were also on the Westside.

* School segregation and housing segregation relied upon one another because housing prices were (and are) tied to the quality of public schooling (Haurin and Brasington 1996; Figlio and Lucas 2004; Kane, Staiger, and Riegg 2005). The transformation from a white to a black Hamilton facilitated a parallel change in Cadillac- Corning, and vice versa. The white migration from Hamilton was later reflected in Cadillac-Corning. As one white parent moving from the area warned, “When the school goes all black, then the neighborhood goes all black”.

* In 1960, Cadillac- Corning was 99.6% white. In 1970, Cadillac- Corning was still about 98% white. The 1980 Census tells a completely different story. Over the course of the 1970s, Cadillac- Corning had become 25% white, 60% black, and 9% “Persons of Spanish Origin” (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1980a). The census tract to the north was 72% white (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1980b). The area to the west, which includes Beverlywood Estates, was over 90% white (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1980c). The average household income (in 1979 dollars) in Cadillac- Corning was $15,802 (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1980d). To the west, it was over $50,000, and 97% of housing units were owner occupied (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1980e, 1980f).

* In 1973, the Los Angeles Times issued a five- part special on Hamilton. The series portrayed Hamilton so negatively that white transfers surged after it was printed, and the Los Angeles Times then issued a statement
highlighting Hamilton’s positive attributes and encouraging white parents to keep their kids at the school…

* The first article was entitled “Boredom and Tension Replace ‘Golden Age.’” The special grieved for the downfall of a segregated Hamilton:

Once it was the very image of an All- American high school on the suburban fringes of Los Angeles. Now it is an urban high school, with all the pressures and troubles which accompany that change in status. Apartment houses and homes surround the rear and two sides of the 21- acre campus, while the Santa Monica Freeway and a somewhat weary commercial district of small stores and businesses are its close neighbors to the front.

Some veteran members of the faculty look yearningly back on that period and call it Hamilton’s golden age. Their memory is of classrooms full of parent- prodded, anxious- to- succeed students who did not question a teacher’s authority and who often bit off more work than they were even assigned. It was, says one teacher, “like an
exclusive prep school.”

After the Golden Age, white teachers, students, and administration accused black students of bringing violence, drugs, conflict, and militancy to school…

The Los Angeles Times articles detailed white students’ fears: “Whites talk in apprehensive tones about being jostled in the halls or not using the bathrooms because they might be beaten up or exhorted for loose change by blacks. . . . White students tend to shun school dances and athletic events at night, largely because they or
their parents fear violence at the hands of blacks. . . . There are white students who stay away from school dances because blacks laugh at the way they dance. One coach, lamenting the problems he has getting some white boys to go out for sports, thinks the youngsters are not only unsure they can measure up to blacks athletically, but are also fearful of them.”

Teachers struggled with educating a racially and socioeconomically diverse classroom. One Hamilton teacher commented, “It’s not unusual to have a kid who is the son of a doctor and another who is from a family of seven and does not know who his father is in the same class” (Los Angeles Times 1973c). Teachers complained that students were less willing to take commands than in the old days, and they exhibited more “attitude.”

In 1970, Hamilton qualified for the first time as an “inner-city school.” The new designation earned Hamilton resources for 13 additional teaching positions. Some of the positions were converted to hire armed security agents instead of educators (Los Angeles Times 1973b). Hamilton administrators started to lock the school’s gates during school hours, and LAPD cars regularly patrolled the perimeter. As black students entered Hamilton in greater numbers, the school became more militarized. Suspensions and arrests of black students rose steeply. Black students complained that they felt as if they were in a prison. A Los Angeles Times staff writer recounted the school’s daily disciplinary routine: “The signal that a security agent is needed is one bell, sounded throughout the school by a control device in the school’s main office. One hears it periodically during the day, and it is a somewhat ominous sound. Everyone knows there is a problem, and maybe trouble.”

* In 1978, LAUSD announced that no student could transfer to a school in which the student’s racial group already made up more than 50% of enrollment.

* By 1984, minorities made up 78% of the student population… Parents threatened to sue the school district unless they investigated the number of students who had illegally migrated out of Hamilton to schools more west and more white. Parents replied that they would just enroll their children in private school rather than return
to Hamilton.

* Jews moved west into the area to gain access to employment and housing. Forty years later, black families migrated west into Cadillac-Corning for the same reason. Currently, Cadillac- Corning is home to recent Latino immigrants in search of the same things— reasonably priced housing, proximity to employment, and quality education for their children. For generations, the neighborhood offered opportunities to groups rejected elsewhere in the city, acting as a narrow passageway into the affluent Westside.

* In the 1980s, Los Angeles street gangs were exploding into popular consciousness. Rock cocaine was about to become big business. During a 1987 court case involving Cadillac- Corning residents, an LAPD officer pleaded with the judge, “Can you imagine meeting 15 year old kids who have $5,000 cash in their back pocket? Or meeting a high school junior who has the keys to a brand new Mercedes?” (City of Los Angeles v. Playboy Gangster Crips 1987b). A probation officer in the Cadillac-Corning area reflected the frustration of the police and the city prosecutors with the juvenile system: “Try to rehabilitate some of them if you can. I tried at first to help some of the kids, but I soon learned that it was a wasted effort” (City of Los Angeles v. Playboy Gangster Crips 1987c). Law enforcement officials had been locking up black youth in Cadillac- Corning, but they argued it had not worked. Probation had not worked either. They wanted a more powerful tool.

Law enforcement would have their prayers answered in the form of a gang injunction. Injunctions are civil lawsuits against neighborhoods based on the claim that gang behavior is a nuisance to nongang-involved
residents. Injunctions then restrict the movements of those labeled gang members.

* If alleged gang members are listed on an injunction, they are not allowed to engage in behavior that is
otherwise legal, including— but not limited to— congregating in groups of two or more, standing in public for more than five minutes, wearing certain clothes, and making certain gestures. They can be arrested if they engage in any of these activities. Alleged gang members can be subject to enhanced sentences of 10 years upon conviction. Gang injunctions are civil orders. Consequently, unless the enjoined are on probation or parole, they are not entitled to public defenders if they choose to appeal the order.

* By 2003, 47% of African American men in Los Angeles County between the ages of 21 and 24 were on the Los Angeles County CalGang Database.

* It is perhaps surprising that Los Angeles City’s first gang injunction was implemented in Cadillac- Corning. It was not the area with the most murders or assaults. Cadillac-Corning, however, was a threat to the boundaries of white, middle- and upper- class areas. Part of the reason Cadillac-Corning was targeted for the injunction is that it threatened geographic racial and class separation and control. Despite the sanitization of race in gang injunction policy, fear of black men and stereotypes about black families were central to the rationale for the injunction. Race is central in the evidence that was presented to attain the injunction. The injunction was meticulously designed to control the movement of black youth by criminalizing activities and behavior that is unremarkable and legal in other jurisdictions. Thus, the injunction shored up racial boundaries.

* In the 1980s, John, a white male, was a city prosecutor assigned to the West Los Angeles area. As we sat in his office on a sunny spring morning over 20 years later, he remembered asking West LAPD officers at the time
what the worst area in the division was. They took him to the corner of Cadillac Avenue and Corning Street. The neighborhood gained its name from the intersection that was infamous among West LAPD officers. In an interview, an LAPD Officer who worked Cadillac-Corning explained, “It was just the two major streets where all the activity was. It was where all the problems were occurring. Officers knew that’s where you go when you want to pick up some crimes.”

* LAPD officer: “It’s funny. If you walked or drove through RD 869 [Cadillac-Corning], you’d think the neighborhood just has young black males by the looks of who dares to walk outside.” In court testimony, he characterized black gangs as far more threatening than Latino gangs:

“They don’t even do the things that you’ll sometimes see the Mexican gangs do, like play football or have a picnic. They have only one purpose in life . . . to profit from crime. . . . Unlike the Mexican gangs where there is a very strict hierarchy and strict decisions as to who will commit a crime, in the black gangs there is less respect for that hierarchy and all the players are scrambling to be the number one guy.” (City of Los Angeles v. Playboy Gangster Crips 1987d)

The greater comfort with Latinos extended beyond gangs into stereotypes about family values, competence, and morality. In an interview, John argued that the police initially ignored black gangs based on assumptions about family structure:

“Hispanic gangs came from families with very strong family values. You’re not supposed to say it but it was real clear that in the black culture they didn’t have that kind of value system that Hispanic families had. And it carried over into the gangs. . . . A lot of times in the early, in the mid- eighties, the feeling was as bad as it gets, and you could call this maybe prejudice in a way, but the black gangs will never get it together. It was like, yeah, Hispanic gangs sold more pot. Black gangs are more ruthless, at the time they were at least, and selling, you know, and selling crack cocaine but they’re not organized. You know, one person will kill another one in a second. And that was true, there was only so much respect for their hierarchy. Law enforcement kind of rested on their laurels thinking they will never get to be really organized because we see in the black community they can’t pull their families together.”

* Early on, authorities saw the PBGs and black gangs generally as a problem. They did not, however, expect black gangs to be able to run an organized drug operation. Regarding the difference between the Italian Mafia, the Brown Shirts of Nazi Germany and black gangs, an officer testified, “All that’s is [sic] missing is the intelligent gang member who has a head on his shoulders” According to law enforcement, black gangs were violent, “ruthless,” savagely aggressive, immoral, and out of control. But they supposedly did not have the smarts that Italian- American gangsters or German Nazis possessed.

Law enforcement quickly realized their mistaken assumption about social disorganization as they tried unsuccessfully to stop the PBG’s flourishing drug trade.

* A Los Angeles Times article, entitled, “Drug- Peddling Street Gang Holds Neighborhood in Fear” mentioned only two murders. One was the murder of a 14- year- old, who the report emphasized was a gang member. The other murder covered was that of the white youth on the motorcycle: “Drug buyers have also been robbed, raped or gunned down, authorities say. In late 1986, a 16-year-old involved in a business misunderstanding with a Playboy Gangster drug dealer was killed by a lookout who, upon receiving a signal, stepped out of an apartment building and fired a gun as the youth drove off on his motorcycle”.

* For years, wealthier whites from nearby neighborhoods had enjoyed Cadillac-Corning as a convenient drug market. However, Cadillac- Corning garnered attention after several white drug patrons were robbed and one
was murdered.

* John mentioned another success to me, regarding property values: “The Realtors were— and by the way, this was at a point when real estate in the city was the highest ever— and in Corning nobody could buy a house or sell a house. It was like the way the whole country is now. Then Realtors were saying, ‘Oh, we’re seeing a change. Property values are going up and the street is looking better.’”

* One community group member commented, “I have been in the neighborhood for three years. I own two buildings. I believe that it is up to landlords to get rid of the neighborhood’s crime problem. Landlords need to raise rents and renovate their buildings to get rid of the riffraff. If any other landlords are interested, talk to me after the meeting about getting together. Thank you.” The predominantly white, home-owning group of residents was also concerned about the neighborhood’s black youth. “They have no respect for cars or anything else. They will not
move for cars that come into the intersection. The other day, a car clipped one of the kids. The driver was black, the kid on the skateboard was also black, so they laughed it off. I fear that if the driver had been another color it would not have been settled so easily.”

* Hamilton High School students are also a reliable topic. Today, Hamilton is essentially a two- track school. The campus consists of the “original school” and two magnets. The two magnets have larger percentages of white students, higher test scores, and better college attendance rates than the predominantly black and Latino original school.

* The majority of the firepower for the 64-square- mile West Division of the LAPD is concentrated within the boundaries of Cadillac- Corning. The local council office assigns a field deputy to drive though the streets and
alleyways of the neighborhood daily to address graffiti. Local media reinforces the stigmatization of the neighborhood by referring to Cadillac-Corning as a “tough pocket” that the good forces of gentrification have
not been able to “revitalize”.

* Throughout the early and mid-20th century, police in American cities strove to keep their distance from the neighborhoods they policed (Garland 2001). Detachment was not only intended as an antidote to rampant corruption but also as a way to shield departments from public scrutiny. Professionalization gave the appearance that policing could be scientifically efficient and apolitical (Lyons 1999). However, social unrest, high-profile cases of police brutality, and consistently high crime rates were a few factors that sparked misgivings about professionalized policing in the 1970s.

Two prominent models that emerged, broken windows policing and community policing, entail distinct roles for community members and law enforcement. Community policing involves cooperation between police and residents in the development of crime prevention strategies. Broken windows policing places emphasis on order maintenance by officers with community members in a supporting role. Despite the traditional theoretical differences in the two paradigms, in practice many urban police forces implement both simultaneously.

* The practice of broken windows policing relies on a racial ideology that connects the dark/foreign other to
unpredictable chaos and criminality. The disorderly people targeted by police are overwhelmingly lower-class, black, and Latino, who are using public space.

* The shoring up of threatened lines developed Cadillac-Corning as a sort of borderland space. Borderlands are places of untamed and destabilizing ambiguity. They are geopolitical spaces in flux. There is a lot at stake, which is why community groups, police, and policy makers dedicate so much time and resources to those spaces. They tried to turn upheaval into stasis and reestablish smudged lines.

* The racist policies and practices that increased the militarization of Hamilton High School and Cadillac- Corning ended up stigmatizing the neighborhood.

* While police had a monopoly on authoritative force, wealthy residents had political connections and
resources that even the police did not.

* I want people to oppose LA’s treatment of youth because they feel it viscerally and ethically, because the knowledge enters them and becomes entwined in their insides— not because investigating murders of youth or locking them up is getting too costly.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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