I have always viewed any law enforcement officer in the US with respect and the knowledge that he/she is there to help me and is a friendly figure. On our second day in LA we went to the Central DePartment of the Los Angeles Police Department located in Skid Row for a tour. During this experience I was able to acknowledge and understand a different, more objective perspective of the police.
We met with a very kind officer who gave our service group an impromptu tour of the actual station and briefly described the structure of the station and all of the positions. My favorite part was when we went to the parking garage that housed all of the department’s vehicles including the SWAT vehicles. I felt like a little kid impressed and somewhat awestruck by the ‘big trucks.’ The officer lead our group out to the street not even a block away from station and we stopped at the corner to chat about the community’s population and the role of police in this area of LA.
The officer was in uniform and appeared hesitant to walk any further from the station, especially with our group. This is when it became a little more ‘real’ and the perspective of the police officer showed through. He spoke about the significant drug trading business as there is an area in Skid Row called the ‘Box.’ This area is a neutral space for any gang to trade drugs primarily with residents of the Skid Row community. The motivation to continue this lucrative business prevents cross-gang violence in this specific area. If violence had broken out, the space would be ‘cleaned out.’
This phrase hit me with its negative and sterile connotation, although the officer had mentioned other areas of the city that had been ‘cleaned out’ and used it in a positive light. This brought me to thoughts of gentrification and made me think about what a ‘cleaned up’ area means for its native residents. From the perspective of the Skid Row residents, many of whom are living their lifestyle that is not ‘hurting’ anyone around them, I wondered who is this really helping?
Some people walking on the street yelled at out group and the police officer. One gentlemen was trying to confront the officer for having us take up an entire street corner. The office was very defensive, approaching the confrontation with authority to be standing where he wanted to. I felt pretty uncomfortable and thought that I was in the way, possibly preventing people from walking past. This experience made evident that police officers are not the most welcomed individuals in Skid Row from the point of view of the people who are homeless and on the streets.
I was left with very mixed emotions and thinking about our walk the day before with Connor. His experience and connection with the community is evidently very different from the police officer. Do you think one person’s perspective is better than another or are they both valid and acceptable?