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Dispatch: Homicide Car Wash

April 20, 2007 |  1:32 pm

Andrewramirez11

Four days after his son's death, Carlos Ortiz stood on a street corner in Florence, waving rags at passing cars.

The event was a fund-raising car wash to help cover funeral expenses for 16-year-old Andrew, a Cudahy homicide victim (see "Weekend Homicide" below). Such homicide car washes have long been common in crime-racked neighborhoods of Los Angeles, though they may become less so.

The tradition exists because homicide preys on the poor, and bereaved families typically had trouble covering the expenses of a sudden burial. For them, the car wash was both a way to raise cash, and a kind of memorial.

CarwashFamilies of people murdered in L.A. street violence had an especially hard time. That's because victims' compensation funds, which are disbursed by government agencies, were  effectively off limits to those whose murdered son or daughter had been on probation or parole.

The policy sought to avoid rewarding criminal behavior with this money, which comes not from taxes but from restitution fines paid by convicts. But the result was to deny payments to those communities most affected by homicide. Homicide is concentrated among minorities, among young men, and among criminal classes. It happens most often in neighborhoods where much of the economy is underground or illicit, crime is rampant, and there are lots of police, and constant police-civilian contact. Many, many homicide victims have some kind of criminal record. Inside the police units most often covered by the Homicide Report, it is cause for comment if a young man has somehow managed not to accumulate a rap sheet.

The effect of victims' compensation policies, then, was to leave many parents of homicide victims scratching for money to pay for funerals. Even law-abiding parents were denied funds if their dead children had been convicted of felonies. But last year, legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, clarified the victims' compensation rules, ensuring that parents could collect burial money even if their lost loved ones were on felony probation or parole, provided they were not felons themselves. The bill also raised the amount for homicide burials from $5,000 to $7,500, more in line with market costs, said Miles Bristow, spokesman for the state Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board.

Victims' advocates working in L.A. police stations immediately saw a benefit: They no longer have to turn away grieving, impoverished parents of murdered probationers and parolees--a task some said they dreaded. (Now, said one such worker, they only have to turn away probationers and parolees left paralyzed, maimed or comatose from gunfire, since these victims still don't qualify for aid.)

Ortiz wasn't hampered by victim compensation policies. His son was a student at an adult school, and the family has been told they would receive funds. They family's car wash was more a confirmation of tradition than anything else, and to help draw attention to the son who was "barely starting his young little life," Ortiz said. "He was a very gentle guy, very polite."

Born of need, such car washes have now joined other familiar trappings of homicide grief, such as airbrushed T-shirts and votive candles in glass jars.

Friends and family members spent hours Thursday waving handwritten cardboard signs that read "R.I.P. Drew", and yelling, "Car wash!" from the corner of Hooper and Florence avenues. A steady stream of customers crammed money into homemade cash boxes with slots in the lid. Ortiz, a compact, solidly built man with faded tattoos on his neck, yelled loudest of all, flicking his rags in the air, eyes dry and jaw set as he faced down the traffic.

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