'We want the same things' that everyone wants
Solomon Martin, 71, (far left) was forthright about what he thought about a reporter for The Homicide Report walking down his Compton street last month after a homicide.
"They send you, by yourself? Where are your lights? Where are your trucks? Your cameras?" he demanded. "You can tell your supervisor that I was displeased! Displeased with you coming out here with a little digital camera--a little digital camera--for this! Where are your trucks?" Martin, a retired school-district worker, assumed a look of disgust. "One single reporter," he repeated. "To do a story that will be three lines on page 20."
The story was about 17-year-old Quanisha Pitts, who was killed down the block from where Martin lives. In fact, the write-up didn't appear in the Los Angeles Times print edition, but rather on this web page. But even here, the space was short, and Martin is quite correct in noting that many homicides covered by The Times are afforded only briefs of a few lines buried within the California section, or the scantest mention on the lists published here.
Martin and two of his neighbors, who soon join the conversation, believe murders in Compton in particular get short shrift. They are disturbed in ways that they struggled to articulate by the way media outlets treat stories about the killings of their city's men and women.
"It's the way you report it," said Martin's neighbor, military reservist Walt Graham, 53, (near left, above) who came over from his front yard. "It's just going to be someone killed in Compton, on page 25," he said.
"Just another story. Another minority kid. So what."
In the residents' assessment, there is both too much coverage of Compton homicides, and too little--too much that bolsters stereotypes and promotes indifference, too little that emphasizes the humanity of victims and promotes broad-based concern. "That girl had a brother, a mama," Martin said. "When does this become a national issue? When does it become a priority?"
Somehow, the neighbors said, it always seems that homicides elsewhere are valued differently than Compton's. Media coverage of gang violence in Compton is so powerfully stigmatizing that Martin and Graham, both comfortably middle-class homeowners, said they feel like people assume they are drug dealers just because they live there.
But at the same time, what the media actually says about Compton homicides seems stingy. Celebrity homicides are covered differently, they contend, as are those rare killings in nice neighborhoods, such as that of the college student killed in Westwood years ago. "When does the value of life in this community matter as much as in another community?" Graham demanded. "Is the life of that young lady any less important?"
The effect, said Martin, is to create an impression that people in Compton are somehow different--that their concerns can somehow be discounted. "You let them know that we want the same things as people in Torrance and Beverly Hills," he said. "We don't want to worry about someone shooting up our house. We want the same protection."
"You tell your editors to get down here, that they don't have to be afraid of us," he concluded.
"Yeah," added Graham. "We might even invite them in for tea. We do drink tea, you know!"
(Above, the manicured lawns of Compton. Homes on the street where Quanisha Pitts was killed sell in the half-million-dollar range, neighbors said.)