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Gang areas turned tourist destinations

January 16, 2010

Borrowing a bit from the Hollywood star tours, the grit of the streets and a dash of hype, LA Gang Tours is making its debut on Saturday, a 12-stop, two-hour journey through what its organizer calls “the history and origin of high-profile gang areas and the top crime-scene locations” of South Los Angeles. By Friday afternoon, the 56-seat coach was nearly sold out….

Mr. Lomas, who wears long-sleeved shirts to conceal his old gang tattoos, including one slithering up his neck over the collar, makes no apologies for what he calls an unconventional attack on the gang problem. He has little patience for traditional gang counselors and programs that he believes have done little to curtail gang membership.

“The war on gangs in L.A. is like the Vietnam War,” he said, giving an unofficial preview tour to a reporter and photographer. “The Americans thought they had all the answers and were very arrogant in their approach, and assumed they would defeat these poor peasant people. Like that, this is actually an unconventional war and you are going to have to approach it in an unconventional way.” Full story.

I think this is a very positive development– despite its obvious limitations.

First off, it will raise awareness of a problem that people would normally ignore. It makes the gang issue– and the urban blight that comes with it– more tangible and accessible. For all the people who will be taking the tour, their closest contact with gangs before the tour might have been watching Boyz in the Hood or The Wire. Seeing these areas up close will bring an awareness of the poverty that exists in L.A. outside of the mansions and the beaches.

Call me an optimist, but I think that many good things will come of this. In small ways, perhaps. Maybe there will be opportunities for interactions with these neighbourhoods in a way that would never have otherwise been possible. Maybe someone who goes on this tour will return home and volunteer with streetkids. Maybe a politician will take the tour and really get what it means to grow up in these circumstances and push harder for certain social policies.

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