When you’ve been a cop in Los Angeles for as long as I have, you can hear even a vague account of a crime and fill in the details yourself. If I hear that a robbery has occurred at the bus stop at Century Boulevard and Broadway at seven in the morning, I know beyond almost any doubt that the victim is a Latino and that the suspects are black. And if I hear that someone has had his head bashed in at Dodger Stadium, I am just as certain that the suspects are young Latino gang members. No one who’s been following the decline of civility at Dodger Stadium was surprised to see the police sketches of the men who attacked Stow.
Civic leaders and the Dodger organization have condemned the attack on Stow (though Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was oddly, even callously silent for days after the crime), and a $150,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the two attackers.
All well and good, but in all the public outcry over what happened to Bryan Stow, there has been precious little said or written about the genuine nature of the problem at Dodger Stadium, which is that Latino gang members have staked out large sections of it as their turf. Just as they have done on the streets of some Los Angeles neighborhoods, they have announced that they are here, they are in charge, and they will tolerate others only up to a point. Woe be to any baseball fan who, like Bryan Stow, dares to wear a cap, jersey, or T-shirt signifying an allegiance to the visiting team. True, attacks such as happened to Stow are rare, but taunts, insults, thrown food, and abusive language are appallingly commonplace.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has announced that there will be a noticeably increased police presence when the Dodgers return for their next home stand beginning April 14. But even as he vowed to make Dodger Stadium safe, Beck couldn’t avoid putting his foot in his mouth. “All of us set the standards,” he told reporters. “And if you allow fans to misbehave incrementally around you when you attend one of these games then you are part of the problem.”
The world envisioned by Beck is one where unruly behavior is checked with a click of the tongue and a wag of the finger. That world hasn’t existed at Dodger Stadium in more than twenty years. Making matters worse is the Dodgers’ policy that prohibits off-duty police officers and others who legally carry concealed weapons from bringing those weapons into the stadium. Cops attending games run the very real risk of encountering someone they’ve arrested or otherwise angered in the past, and I’d rather not have such an encounter while deprived of the means to defend myself. Yes, all fans must pass through metal detectors upon entering the stadium, so the gangsters are presumably unarmed during the game as well, but if while attending a game I run into someone who remembers me as the cop who sent him off for a stretch in prison, I can only hope that when the last out is recorded I get to my car and my gun before he can get to his.
The Dodgers have hired former LAPD chief William Bratton to advise them on security measures, and I’m sure they’ll pay him handsomely for a suggestion they can right get here for free: Put the gangsters in check, and don’t back down when the confrontation occurs, as it surely will.
If Charlie Beck and Frank McCourt are serious about making Dodger Stadium safe for baseball fans, the focus of their efforts will of necessity be on Latino gang members. They will not admit such a politically incorrect thought in public, of course, but they will rely on LAPD officers to stand up to the challenge posed by these gangsters and reclaim the stadium from them even as the hoodlums squeal about being “harassed” and “profiled.” Every police contact in the grandstand and in the parking lot will be recorded on cell phone cameras and presented as evidence that the police are unfairly singling out Latinos, claims that the local media will exuberantly repeat and endorse.
How will Beck and McCourt respond when this happens? If the gangsters win, Dodger Stadium will come to be regarded, like Westwood Village years ago, as a place that isn’t safe. It was L.A.’s gang culture that killed Westwood Village. Will it kill Dodger Stadium too?