Off-Ramp

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Old Myth and Cliches Live On In LA Weekly Story on Escalante Killing

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I don’t know if there’s anything else wrong in Christine Pelisek’s LA Weekly article about the killing of LA County Sheriff’s deputy Abel Escalante, but she perpetuates one probable myth.


She retells how a poor lost family wound up tragic victims of a street gang. The infamous story made international headlines in the 1990s -- leading to many raised eyebrows when I moved to Cypress Park years ago -- but nobody picked up on the follow-up that refutes the myth.

Pelisek writes, “Escalante’s slaying in the summer of 2008 rattled gang-scarred Cypress Park, a working-class neighborhood a couple of miles northeast of downtown. Nestled next to Highland Park and Glassell Park, in the shadow of isolated and upscale Mount Washington, the area has earned dark headlines for Los Angeles before. In 1995, Avenues members opened fire on a lost family that had made a wrong turn into their gang-infested alley. They killed 3-year-old Stephanie Kuhen, a toddler inside the family car.”

Escalante's shooting, which my husband heard that morning, DID rattle the neighborhood, and we DO abut Mt Washington and the Parks. But as KPCC’s own Patt Morrison reported in the LA Times back then, there was good evidence the Kuhen family was not lost, but were looking to buy drugs.

In other words, it was a “drug deal gone wrong,” not a random killing. Of course it’s sad that a little girl was killed, but that killing didn’t prove that your average Angelino was at risk of being gunned down if they made a random wrong turn, which is how it was played in the national media.

Pelisek's writing is also a teensy, shall we say, cliché-infested:

“Maria ‘Chata’ Leon is the Leon family’s drug-dealing matriarch, who moved here from a lawless Mexican village and gave birth to 13 children — a half-dozen of whom became criminals. Her huge brood was for years Drew Street’s incurable disease. Working with the Avenues gang, they turned their densely populated Glassell Park neighborhood, adjacent to Forest Lawn Memorial-Park and just four miles from downtown Los Angeles, into a criminal enterprise.”

A fellow reporter pegged “lawless Mexican village,” “huge brood,” and “incurable disease” as “150 year old cliches used to describe Mexicans and Mexican Americans in L.A.”

Add them to “gang-scarred,” “gang-infested,” “nestled,” “dark headlines,” and “isolated and upscale,” and you’ve got … oh, an LA Weekly magazine article.

(Photo courtesy LA County Sheriff's Department)

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