They're Killing Us

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This is Kevin Roderick with this week's LA Observed on KCRW.

If you aren't one of the four million or so people who live within the formal limits of Los Angeles, you probably don't pay much attention to the L.A. City Council.

But you probably should. Those 15 men and women -- more than any other elected politicians -- are to blame for the traffic snarls you encounter trying to drive across LA.

Want to build a wildly out of scale office project that's certain to create more congestion? Well, come on down. The council's members will be happy to take your money and, more than often than not, vote your way.

They're the pols most responsible for the quality of Los Angeles life -– the sorry condition of the parks and libraries, the bumpy streets we drive on.

They're also the ones who decided years ago that the best-policed illegal activity in Los Angeles would be... not stuffing the parking meter.

They are -- by and large, like many politicians -- an indecisive and mushy breed. That helps explain one of the more eyebrow-raising debates the Council engaged in this week.

The subject was violent crime.

Some activists, led by author Earl Ofari Hutchinson, asked the Council to vote in favor of a moratorium on homicide this weekend.

If the gang bangers listen, the killing would stop at 6:01 this evening, timed to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis exactly forty years ago.

The organizers say the moratorium will last for forty hours.

Isn't murder already illegal, you ask? Well, yes. Quite. But the murder rate has been out of control this year, and Hutchinson argued that you have to start somewhere.

Let's just say, there was some scoffing. Joe Hicks, who was deeply immersed in the violence issue as the former executive director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, called it "an incredible silly notion."

The LA City Council, though, approached it with all seriousness – as if the gangbangers were just waiting for some moral guidance from the city fathers and mothers.

So they debated -– for almost an hour.

Wouldn't a weekend moratorium be another way of saying that, when the new work week begins, it's OK to resume the slaughter?

What about asking for a permanent stop to killing?

Should they just ask for a halt to murder, or grandfather in all violent crime?

Someone brought up the war in drugs.

One councilman, Ed Reyes, used the debate to complain about homeowner groups -– and by that he means in the Valley and on the Westside -– objecting to affordable housing.

But in the end, the subject was really about –- killing.

And in the end, the Council watered down its position.

Yes, they're opposed to murder. But what they approved was a squishy resolution that asked for greater awareness and dialogue about the root causes of violence.

Blogs that report on street crime were less than impressed.

"I don't want to seem like a killjoy," posted the journalist Celeste Fremon at Witness LA. "But I don't think asking politely is quite the comprehensive gang violence-reduction strategy we've been calling for."

She thinks it's more telling that the Council has been playing politics with anti-gang funds, squabbling with City Controller Laura Chick over who gets to control the many gang programs that City Hall pays for.

That fight has been lingering on for a lot longer than forty hours, with no end in sight.

By the way, the county Board of Supervisors –- which governs twice as many people, but gets way less attention -– passed its support for the murder moratorium without any fuss.

Even before the symbolism takes hold tonight, there is already some welcome good news. The latest numbers show the raging epidemic of street killing has begun to slow in recent weeks.

Now that makes me feel at least a little safer.

For KCRW this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.