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Another World, but Still Downtown

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, February 19, 2007, at 05:18PM
Sixth Street Bridge -- Western Approach Eric Richardson [Flickr]

After the rain cleared this afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed off toward the river, intending to take advantage of the clearing sky to take more shots of Downtown's historic bridges.

I made it over to the river, but didn't take a single picture. Instead I ended up spending an hour and a half standing with a woman who had blood dripping down the side of her face. She had been in a fight. A broken bottle had left a quarter-sized gash in her face that blood was streaming out of. LAPD had responded. She had refused treatment from paramedics. But now she said her attackers had returned and wanted help.

It was a situation that seemed strange and other-worldly to me, but it is an all too constant presence in parts of Downtown. It's a sad illustration of the situation we face as those who care about Downtown.

Much more after the jump. Click Read More to continue.

The block between Mateo and Santa Fe is where the 6th street bridge elevates. On each side of the bridge access roads connect those two streets. I was walking down the northern access road when Mary (not her real name) approached me. She was a black female, probably 30'ish. I thought she was going to ask for money, and was prepared to avoid her.

Instead she asked me to call the police. Blood was streaming down her face from three or four different gashes. I dialed 911 and when I finally got an operator I let Mary speak to her. I started to piece together the story as she talked.

A Sequence of Events

Mary had gotten out of county jail a day earlier after serving 80 days for a parole violation. The attack had occurred because of a man, perhaps one she had been working for or to whom she had been attached. Two females had come at her with broken bottles in the area under the bridge and she had taken some serious blows.

Someone had called the police, and LAPD had responded with a half dozen or so cars and paramedics. For whatever reason, Mary had refused all of their attempts to help. With the suspects having fled before they arrived and an uncooperative victim, LAPD had little else they could do but leave.

Soon afterward Mary says her attackers returned. That was when she fled and when I first saw her and called 911. Two men happened by that Mary knew and the three of us stood there waiting with her -- Mary glancing around, constantly on the lookout.

After twenty minutes or so we finally saw a car with lights on it. It turned out to be Metro Sheriffs, over to check on a report of someone playing chicken on the train tracks. They radioed the situation into their desk, who called LAPD and made sure a car was on its way. They waited with Mary and attempted to calm her down, largely unsuccessfully.

Finally LAPD arrived with two cars. The officers were the same as had responded to the original call, and they were a bit exasperated at what they could do now that they couldn't on the original call. There were still no suspects to be found, and Mary still didn't want help, though she was still bleeding pretty seriously. They checked out a tent Mary said she thought the suspects might be in, but found no one there. After again trying to get Mary to go to a hospital, the officers again had to leave with nothing resolved. I made my way on at the same time, certain there was nothing I could do to help the situation. As I walked away Mary stopped me.

"White boy," she yelled. "Thank you."

I told her she was welcome and continued on.

The Bigger Picture for Downtown

To me this situation illustrates clearly the situation we face as those who care about Downtown.

First, Downtown's problem isn't homelessness, it's the criminality and lawlessness that hides among the homeless population. We have to continue to care for those who are truly down on their luck. At the same time we much have no tolerance for those who bring lawlessness into Downtown. As I wrote before, LAPD's Safer Cities Initiative must be continued. There is no defense for those who prey on the needy and the dependent.

Second, law enforcement can only do so much when faced with people who refuse their help. Many of those on the street don't trust the police or our hospitals. They don't want to allow treatment and there's little that can be done to force it on them.

And finally, we have to continue to fight for all of Downtown, not just the parts we live in. It's only a mile or so from my apartment to where this all took place, but it might as well be in a different world. My day to day life has no need to interact with life under the bridge and along the river. If I wanted to I could ignore the problem areas of Downtown and be completely oblivious. As a Downtown, though, we must not do that. That attitude of "out of sight, out of mind" is what created Skid Row. Regardless of whether we make our way over there or not, it's still part of Downtown and still needs our care.

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