Better Get Used to It: The Ferguson Effect Is Real

Back in November 2010 I reported in this space on the murder of Aaron Shannon Jr., who at age 5 was shot and killed in his South Los Angeles backyard. Such a killing is horrific under any circumstances, but it was all the more so in that it happened on the afternoon of Halloween, and that Aaron was wearing his Spider-Man costume in joyful anticipation of trick-or-treating that evening. Compounding the horror even further was the motive for the crime: retaliation against a street gang to which neither little Aaron nor anyone in his family had any affiliation. Aaron’s death was given some media attention, but to judge from the level of public outcry, his life was held as less valuable and his death as less tragic than that of Oscar Grant, the young black man who in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2009 was shot and killed in Oakland, Calif., by an officer with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department.

Grant’s death at the hands of the police led to days of rioting in Oakland, scenes that were repeated in July 2010 when the officer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter rather than murder as the mob would have wished. On the day after the officer was sentenced, a vigil was held in front of a South L.A. police station, which I described near the conclusion of that earlier column:

On Nov. 6, [2010] a candlelight vigil was held at the LAPD’s 77th Street police station in memory of Aaron. Less than a hundred people attended, judging from the brief video report shown on the local news. There was no screaming, no hysterics, not even calls for vengeance against the two men accused of killing Aaron. And there most certainly was no mob rushing off to the nearest Foot Locker store to help themselves to the latest models from Nike. And if the two men accused of murdering Aaron somehow manage to beat the case or bargain for a reduced sentence, that too will be greeted not with outrage but rather with sad resignation.

And now the time for sad resignation has come. Though one of the two men accused in Aaron’s murder was found guilty and sentenced to 128 years to life in prison – this after two hung juries – the second was recently sentenced to just 25 years for his role in the crime. I don’t bring this up as a criticism of the prosecutors who handled the case or the detectives who investigated it. By the standards of gang crime in Los Angeles, where witnesses are often reluctant to testify out of fear of the gangs, this was a satisfactory outcome: two men involved, both sent to prison, albeit one of them for less time than would seem appropriate. The sad resignation comes from the realization that the incarceration of Aaron’s two killers won’t matter much to the quality of life in the area of Los Angeles where the little boy lived out his abbreviated life. The Los Angeles Times informs us that the Florence neighborhood, with 83.5 incidents per 10,000 residents, is currently 13th in violent crime on the paper’s list of more than 260 neighborhoods in L.A. County. Ignobly heading that list is Chesterfield Square, a neighborhood whose stately name suggests placid, tree-lined streets. Some of the streets may be tree-lined, but the neighborhood is anything but placid: the violent crime rate there is 139.4.

Crime numbers such as these prompt the question: What’s to be done about it? And this is where we return to sad resignation, for the answer is, not enough. Both the neighborhoods mentioned above are patrolled by officers from the LAPD’s 77th Street Division, one of 21 patrol stations in the city. Year in and year out, 77th Street is among the leaders in violent crime in Los Angeles, as reflected in the fact that six of the ten most violent neighborhoods in the county are within its borders. Seventy-seventh Street Division led the city in murders last year (as it does most years), and though the total of 53 was significantly less than the numbers seen in the late ’80 and early ‘90s, it was a 10 percent increase from the previous year, mirroring a similar rise in murders that occurred in the city as a whole. Overall violent crime in Los Angeles was up 20 percent in 2015, with robberies up by 12 percent and aggravated assaults up by 27 percent.