Brutal, brazen crimes shake L.A., leaving city at a crossroads

Crews of thieves openly make their way to Los Angeles’ most exclusive department store. The thieves follow their victims, including the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star and BET host, to their residences. And this week, 81-year-old Jacqueline Avant, philanthropist and wife of music legend Clarence Avant, was shot at her Beverly Hills home.

After two years of rising violent crime in Los Angeles, these incidents sparked a national debate and led to local concern about both the crimes themselves and where the outrage over the violence would lead.

Expressing her grief over the murder of her 43-year-old Avant, Oprah Winfrey stated: “The fact that this happened, she was shot and killed in her own home, after giving, sharing and caring for 81 years, has shaken the laws of the universe.” 1 million followers on Twitter. “The world is turned upside down.”


A man and a woman pose in front of the camera at an event


Jacqueline Avant and Clarence Avant.

(Mark von Holden/The Associated Press)

While overall crime rates in the city are still well below records set during the infamous gang wars of the 1990s, violent crime has jumped sharply in Los Angeles, as it has in other cities. Much of the violence has occurred in poor communities and among vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, and gets little attention.

However, since the beginning of the pandemic and more rapidly in recent months, crime has crept into the wealthiest pockets and made its way to the center of public discourse in Los Angeles — against a backdrop of coronavirus anxiety, and evolving political perceptions about the role. Police and prosecutors must play a role in society, and now, it’s the holiday season that traditional retailers depend on to stay afloat.

Some question whether this could be a turning point in California, which for decades has been at the center of the movement for criminal justice reform, rolling back tough sentencing laws and reducing its prison population.

Polls in 2020 showed California voters largely in favor of many of these measures, and both San Francisco and Los Angeles elected local attorneys with strong reform programs. However, those concerned with crime and who believed that liberal policies contributed to its rise have raised their voices.

It is a discourse defined by stark differences of opinion and, at times, a widening disconnect between the perception of domestic crime and the reality on the ground.

Things have gotten so bad that he has picked up a gun to work — and desperately wants law enforcement, said Dominic DeLuca, owner of the Brooklyn Projects skateboard shop on Melrose Avenue, a strip mall that has seen burglaries and thefts rise sharply in recent months. .

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “In the past two years, I’ve been split into three.”


An aerial view of the Beverly Hills home of music producer Clarence and Jacqueline Avant.


An aerial view of the Beverly Hills home of music producer Clarence and Jacqueline Avant.


At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michael Moore said more perpetrators should be imprisoned and the policies related to the pandemic that have allowed many peaceful detainees to be released without bail should be called into question.

Moore said the arrests were made in several high-profile “crush and grab” robberies but regretted that all suspects had been released pending trial. Putting criminals in prison without rehabilitating them is not a solution, Garcetti said, but neither is giving up the streets for repeat offenders.

Los Angeles County. It was George Gascon, who missed the press conference with his progressive policies around the prosecution and sentencing of many due to rising crime, but said through his office that he is working closely with law enforcement partners to hold perpetrators accountable for such brazen crimes.

The increased rhetoric marks a departure from language shared by many of the same officials only last year, after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. This has alarmed the activists who have led the protests, who want to see progressive justice measures and hear echoes of eras past when, they believe, exaggeration of crime led to exaggeration of seizure and excessive imprisonment.

“They’re trying to take us back,” said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. We don’t want to go backwards. We want to move forward.”


Melina Abdullah addresses the police committee meeting at Los Angeles Police Headquarters


Melina Abdallah addresses a police committee meeting at Los Angeles Police Headquarters.

(Irrfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Abdullah described Avant’s killing as “horrific and horrific” and said Black Lives Matter is in tears with her family. But she said officials should not be allowed to use Avant’s death or recent property crime to press for more police action, bail or other tough measures against the crime that has proven unsuccessful.

“We need to think about the kind of economic desperation that really leads to property crime and how we can get people out of that country,” Abdullah said. How do we create livable wage jobs? How do we make affordable housing? ”

Abdullah also cautioned against accepting allegations of crimes that may have no basis in reality, something the police have warned against in recent days, with concern mounting about crime trends.

For example, while “home-following” and “smashing and grabbing” trends in Los Angeles, including burglaries on lanes like Melrose Avenue, have caused concern, they do not indicate an increase in property crime citywide.

According to Los Angeles Police Department data as of November 27, this year property crime is up 2.6% compared to the same period last year but is down 6.6% from 2019. Theft is up 3.9% from last year but is down 13.6% from 2019. Burglaries decreased by 8.4. % from last year and down 7.7% from 2019. Car thefts are an exceptional phenomenon, an increase of nearly 53% from 2019.

Most disturbing are the violent crimes. Homicides are up 46.7% compared to 2019, while the number of shooting victims is up 51.4%, according to police data. As of the end of November, there were 359 murders in Los Angeles in 2021, compared to 355 murders in all of 2020. There have been no more murders in a single year since 2008, which ended with 384.


Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stenbrook has announced his arrest in the murder of Jacqueline Avant.


Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stenbrook has announced his arrest in the murder of Jacqueline Avant.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In Beverly Hills, police maintain that crime is rare – and murders like the one in Avant even more so. Police Chief Mark Stenbrook said that despite recent incidents, Beverly Hills remains one of the safest cities in the country.

Crime rates in Beverly Hills were down 2% this year by the end of October. Violent crimes have increased in the past two years by 23% compared to the previous two years, but the total number of such crimes is still small: there were only five burglaries in the city in October, and murders are rare.

It’s not clear what reforms — if any — crime concerns in the Los Angeles area will lead to.

Rising crime rates in the 1990s in California led to policies that tightened penalties and increased imprisonment. The reform movement was an acknowledgment that these policies had gone too far and had wronged them. A Los Angeles voter survey published this week shows that public safety is seen as a less pressing problem than homelessness, housing affordability, traffic, climate change and air quality.

It’s unlikely that crime concerns will completely derail the progressive criminal justice movement, said Jonathan Simon, professor of criminal justice at UC Berkeley Law School and author of “Government Through Crime: How the War on Crime Has Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear.” The reform that began with the death of Floyd.

However, he said, such concern could slow those reforms – and show again “how strong the political value of crime is” and how quickly politicians and others can return to a mindset of “oppression”.

“It’s a strong metaphor now for 40 years,” Simon said.

On Friday in Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills, a few childcare providers sat together over lunch. One woman said she changed her walking schedule earlier each day to feel more secure.

Norma Guzman, who has worked for two decades as a babysitter in various parts of Los Angeles, said Beverly Hills does not compare to other areas in terms of crime.

“If I hadn’t watched TV, I don’t think I would have noticed that the area was more dangerous,” she said. “I don’t think it is.”

But Janet White, a nurse who worked in Beverly Hills for seven years and was walking around Roxbury Park with her boss terrier, felt differently.

“Over the past few years, this area has become more and more dangerous,” White said. “It’s not just a crime; it’s homelessness, and it’s just people’s desire to look for quick money instead of looking for work.”

Robin Ursis, 90, a 42-year-old Beverly Hills resident who walks twice daily along the Beverly Gardens Park Boardwalk, said he wasn’t bothered by the recent high-profile crime streak, which he didn’t consider to be anything new.

“People may have just noticed this, but this has happened before,” he said, noting that his wife was robbed at gunpoint of a white gold Rolex watch more than a decade ago outside their garage. Now, he added, she was wearing a “normal, worthless watch.”

The difference with crime now, Urcis said, is that it takes place in public and is recorded on camera for all to see.

“People in this community don’t feel safe,” he said, “but this has been going on for a long time.”

Pete Nichols, co-founder of community group Melrose Action, said Thursday’s press conference offered few tangible solutions — one reason the Melrose retail community isn’t waiting for City Hall or the LAPD to tackle crime for them. Instead, local dealers are trying to get cameras that read license plates to help police identify thieves driving in the area.

Nichols said that many local dealers and employees saw the August killing of Jaeren Bradford, a 26-year-old shoe mansion employee outside that store as a turning point, and were chipping away cash for the cameras.

“It’s a really horrible situation,” he said.

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