A seventeen year-old boy was shot and killed last week in north Artesia (also known by its gang territory eponym, "Chivas") riding his bike at 1 am under the 91 freeway overpass, a spot I've drunkenly stumbled through countless times on my way home from hotel parties. There's plenty of unsavory activity going on around there much of the time, but I've never actually had problems. Of course, it's rather obvious that I'm not in a gang. By all indications, this poor kid unfortunately had some gang associations even though he wasn't a member. He "looked like" a gangster, which is to say that he dressed the part. It seems he would probably have eventually outgrown that madness if he'd survived, but he rode his bike at the wrong time and was caught up in a rough spot when someone from somewhere else was on the prowl.
Just like that. Candles, crosses, flowers and metallic balloons in a morbid little bunch under the overpass, right under the spot where homeless people piss. A boy died there.
When we moved to Artesia (1988) a fifteen year-old was murdered in gang violence right around the corner from our house. Things like that happened pretty often for a few years, then it calmed down. Apparently it's picking up again (economic patterns neatly parallel the ebb and flow). Still, for the most part, Artesia's a really nice place to live. Even back when that fifteen year-old was shot, most parts of Artesia were perfectly safe to walk around in at night. They wouldn't usually bug you unless you were from another gang.
Yet to watch local news coverage right now is to think that Artesia is crawling with murderous thugs. North Artesia especially is a bloodbath. There's a subtext to every local TV station report that paints the people under and around the freeway as savages. This image really bothered a relative of mine, not for the sake of the north side but for the city's reputation as a whole. "They're making Artesia sound like some crazy, dangerous place," he complained. "Like it's Watts or something." I asked if it had ever occurred to him that maybe he only thinks of Watts that way because the news coverage of Watts has always been just like it is right now for Artesia. "Oh, well, yeah maybe," he replied, "but you know what I mean."
Yeah. I know what you mean. (...sigh...)