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Different Walks. Different Talks.

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, October 04, 2007, at 06:57PM
Marcus and The Chief Ed Fuentes

When homeless Marcus Naylor saw a bunch of cops in Skid Row, he decided to ask where he could find a place to stay. He found himself speaking to LAPD Chief William Bratton, who with Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz, was among those who joined the Skid Row Walk. The appearance was part of a day of events noting the anniversary of the Skid Row Safer City Initiative's September 2006 start. Bratton and City officials touted Downtown's dramatic reduction in crime during the program's tenure.

As it happens, I was doing a photo essay for another "Skid Row Walk" earlier in the afternoon. Middle school students from the Valley were touring Downtown and had just left a sensory exercise that taught them to be aware of their surroundings and how they affect you. The students were given a tour of the area that painted a very different picture from the one given on last night's walk.

Opening of the Walk It's safe to say that opinion on what the fifty extra LAPD officers assigned to Skid Row have meant is different depending on who you talk to.

A number of vocal homeless activists see the current efforts as a part of approaching gentrification that they say is taking over an established community. They call the Safer Cities Initiative an example of racial displacement and harassment. That was part of what the students heard as they walked around Skid Row–-as well as a warning not to believe the press coverage.

Spokespeople Earlier in the day, LAPD and the City held a press conference that presented the Safer City Initiative as an important factor in the increased safety of Downtown. Last night, media were given press releases that refer to the Skid Row Walk one of the most effective programs in educating the public about "life and death" in Downtown streets.

Meanwhile, newer residents who supported the Safer City Initiative have been speaking out about how a crime element is in and around the Historic Core as drug activity has been creeping back out into the open.

The students who filed back on the bus that afternoon quietly began to share the impressions made on their walk through Skid Row. They talked about the upcoming movie based on Steve Lopez columns about homeless musician Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, and exchanged stories on what some on the streets had shouted at them in the streets. One student asked a tough question; "Who do we believe?"

The tour organizer knew I've been covering Skid Row for a year, turned to me, asking, "You want to field that one?"

I gave some stats, then shared with them part of what I knew that both supported and contradicted what they heard from the activist. Then, I told them that when they see the upcoming movie, they will already have more insight than most because they saw the same streets in person. I added that asking questions like that is part of how they can educate themselves on issues that even smart adults haven't been able to figure out.

I noted, "It's grownups getting stuck with a life-long homework assignment, and every answer is wrong." The students nodded with complete understanding.


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