Restless Teens Find Violent Streets.
By Tom Danehy
MAY 29, 2000:
"He's pretty fly for a white guy..." --Offspring
Casey is one of those kids who, if you gave him three wishes, all three would be that he could be an inner-city dude. At least for a week or so until the reality of the situation sank in. He has probably spent hours in front of the mirror, practicing how to say "Motherfu----!" without sounding like Pat Boone. He wants to be down so badly his orthodontically straightened teeth ache. But it was his misfortune to be born white into a two-parent family which resides (the ultimate indignity!) in the Catalina Foothills. Still, he can dream, can't he?
He's a high-school junior who attends either Catalina Foothills or Sabino, or maybe Canyon Del Oro. (He agreed to be interviewed with an understanding that his identity wouldn't be easily discerned. He doesn't think that he's done anything wrong, per se, but at the same time, he doesn't want his parents to get upset, lest they take away his use of the Mercedes on the weekends. And isn't that a problem we all went through as teenagers?)
He's a pretty good student, a former jock who drifted away from sports and into other pursuits. Weekdays are spent getting through school and staying on his parents' good side so that on the weekend he can hop in the car, head for the southside, and hang with the homies.
Technically speaking, they're not his homies. If he were to hang with his actual (geographical) homies, he'd probably be at the Skyline Country Club, attending a cotillion or something. No, these homies are more philosophical (if the sense of the word "philosophical" were any looser here, individual letters would be dropping out onto the floor). They listen to the same music, talk the same language, flirt with the same danger. They're black and Hispanic and (sorry, Casey) lily-white, but they share a passion for posturing and shit-talking, and seem reasonably content in the knowledge that they're targets from both sides of the law.
This meeting at the lowest common denominator as thug poseurs is definitely not what Martin Luther King had in mind when he spoke of white children and black children playing together. Indeed, if this is where 40 years of civil rights have gotten us, we have yet to overcome.
On this day in early May, Casey is about as stereotypical as a human being can get without imploding into a lump of self-parody. Leaning against his Honda (his weekday wheels), listening to Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," he's got the canary yellow baseball cap on backwards, the matching FUBU baseball jersey, baggy black pants, Luggs shoes, and a gold chain from which hangs an oversized Jesus on the cross. I can't resist.
Have you seen the Offspring video?
"Yeah, it's wack."
You're listening to "Big Pimpin'." Have you ever seen a pimp?
"Naw, not really."
Do you buy a lot of rap CDs?
"I've got 'em all."
Have you ever been to a rap concert?
"Naw, they's shootin'."
Yes, they is.
In many ways, Casey's is merely the latest manifestation of a phenomenon which dates back decades in this country. It starts with the music and spirals outward from there. From Gatsby types headin' down to Harlem to catch Cab Calloway to post-war Louis Jordan-inspired Swing Kids eliciting gasps from their Big Band-loving parents, and then on down to rock-and-rollers co-opting all forms of black music to allow the entire Baby Boom generation to throw a class-action screw you at their square folks.
Rock gave way to hard rock, which begat electric blues, which devolved into heavy metal. But when heavy metal faded into an embarrassing jumble of hair bands in the mid-'80s, disaffected young people looked for something to latch onto. What they found was rap, an angry urban sound which shocked even their Motown-loving parents and was therefore an acceptable form of expression, as long as they didn't actually have to drive through the neighborhoods described in the songs.
This current crop of wannabes isn't all that different from previous generations, with one exception. Societal and familial breakdowns, coupled with the aforementioned distance between urban rap artists and suburban rap fans, have left this group adrift in a phantom world of faux toughness, disconnected from everyone except their fellow urban aficionados. They want to talk the talk and maybe even walk the walk, but they don't want to be there when the shooting starts, in which case they'd have to turn and run the run.
Now, that explains Casey. We're still working on people who listen to Limp Bizkit.
IT'S JUST AFTER 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in late October, 1999. Pima County Juvenile Probation Officer Francisco Morales is sitting in a car outside a convenience store on 12th and Irvington. For months Morales has been screaming out to anyone within earshot of the worsening conditions on the city's southside, but all he would get in response was an occasional vague nod and the wringing of hands.
The things he was warning others of he had seen with his own two eyes, far too many times. Tonight he would get it on film so that the jaded members of the Video Generation might better understand what was fomenting in Cruiser's Alley, a roughly rectangular area bordered by South Sixth on the east, Irvington on the south, South 12th on the west and I-10 on the north. Cruisers will make a circuit of the area, with traffic sometimes so heavy it takes several hours to cover the six miles.
He turns on the camera and what it records at 10:18 p.m. is uneventful. A couple cars drive in, the drivers disembark, go into the store, then come back out after a short time and drive off. It's less than two hours before weekend curfew for all those under the age of 18, but it might as well be mid-afternoon. The real action is still hours away.
Morales turns his camera on again just after midnight. Now the parking lot is beginning to fill up. Young people have parked their cars and are milling around, listening to Bone, Thugs and Harmony bumping on one stereo and Juvenile blasting on another.
Cars are driving into the parking lot. One has an obviously drunk, overweight girl wearing a hopelessly over-matched tube-top sitting on the frame of the passenger's side front door, trying desperately to look cool while hanging on for dear life to both the sunroof and what's left of her dignity. Another girl is standing up on the back seat, her head and shoulders poking up out of the sunroof. Both girls are breaking the law by not being seated inside a moving vehicle. The former has also broken several laws of decency and could be charged with a failed attempt to defy the law of gravity.
Though the videotape's picture is dark and jerky, it contains some clearly disturbing images. Boys far below the drinking age stagger back and forth with 40s of malt liquor in their hands. Girls for whom Christina Aguilera is a senior citizen strut around, well past curfew if barely past puberty, displaying too much skin and too little sense.
Morales is not the only one there with a video camera that night. A carload of men from San Diego pulls in, its occupants offering girls alcohol in exchange for a little dance on film, maybe a bootie shake or a nipple flash. The girls almost fight for the chance to expose themselves, some doing it and then turning down the alcohol.
By 2 a.m. the store's parking lot is in gridlock. Dozens of cars, parked every which way, the owners and occupants thereof in absolutely no hurry to go anywhere. Off to the side, a couple guys scuffle. One guy swings his fist even though it is clamped around a 40. Some of it spills out as he staggers forward after the missed punch. He straightens up, then shares a laugh with the guy he had just swung at.
Too giddy to hang on to any fury (or perhaps too drunk to remember why he was mad in the first place), he stumbles away into the darkness.
The raid begins at exactly 3:18 a.m.. A squadron of cops and sheriffs descends upon the parking lot. The party is over, but the fun is just beginning. If anyone had ever taken the time to copyright the phrase "We weren't doin' nothin'," that person, too, would have passed Bill Gates in overall wealth. It is a shocked and indignant crowd which is herded together, handcuffed with the newfangled, creepily efficient plastic ties, then made to stand around for processing.
Dozens of people will be arrested or legally detained at the convenience store. Up and down Cruiser Alley this night, more than 400 people will be arrested, including 167 juveniles. Scores will be cited for curfew violations, some as young as 13. One hundred thirty-six young people will be charged with alcohol violations. Parents will be called and not all will be thrilled to learn that law enforcement is on the job.
"That's probably the most amazing thing about it," says Morales, sitting in an office on the campus of Sunnyside High School, where he occasionally shows the tape to community groups. "Some parents are angry at the police, either for waking them up with the phone call or for 'bothering' their kids. We get yelled at all the time.
"It's like 'My daughter has my permission to be out until 3 a.m. You have no right to hassle her.'
"Ma'am, it's against the law for her to be out past midnight.
"'Well, it's not against my law!'"
Another surprising thing, according to Morales, is that a large number of kids who are detained or arrested are not from the southside. "We get Salpointe kids, Sabino, Sahuaro, Marana Mt. View, Rincon, CDO. They come from all over," says Morales.
Sometimes the parents will astonishingly ask if the cops can just give the kids a ride home. Other parents will show up at the command center, walk up to their hootchie-lookin', gonna-be-on-Maury-Povich-any-day-now daughter, give the kid a hug, and start in on the cops. Why aren't you out arresting real criminals? Why are you only on the southside? Why aren't you shoving a flashlight in my mouth to keep me from saying any more stupid things?
"I know it's probably not funny, but we all have our favorite stories from sweeps like this," Morales recalls. "One time we had a girl with a friend of hers. She was all scared and she gave us her home phone number. We called the house and said, 'We have Susie down here at the command center on 12th and Irvington. Could you come get her?
"Well, the mother said, 'There's no way. She's upstairs in her bedroom, asleep. She has a friend staying over.'
"We urged her to go check the daughter's room, and sure enough, she comes screaming on the phone that her daughter is gone. We told her to come down and get her. When she arrived, she noticed that her daughter was wearing someone else's skimpy outfit. The mother was pretty upset."
Another time a 15-year-old boy was driving a brand-new, high-priced car. They grabbed the kid up, called his folks, and were told in no uncertain terms by the kid's father that they should let the kid go.
I know he's driving that car, the father reportedly said over the phone. I rented it for him!
But all is not light-heartedness and stupidity. One car contains three twentysomething guys and three 13-year-old girls. When asked why they were in the car with grown men, one of the girls replies, "They asked us to get in. And it was a nice car."
Morales took the tape from that night, edited it down to about 18 minutes, then put on the background of the tape, apparently without a hint of irony, the violence-tinged song "Forgot About Dre," which features white rapper Eminem. The song is on the album, Chronic 2001, with "chronic" being a street term for exceptionally strong marijuana.
He had been showing it at neighborhood gatherings, faculty meetings, and law-enforcement seminars. It bolstered his argument that there was trouble brewing in the area, although the general reaction was still mild concern rather than shocked involvement. That all changed early Easter morning, when two separate shooting incidents left three people dead at the northern end of Cruiser's Alley.
CASEY HAS HEARD of the night captured on tape by Morales, but he wasn't there at the time. He was in San Diego with his parents that weekend. He didn't want to go, but he's somewhat glad he didn't get caught up in all of it. Still, he's defiant as to the meaning of it all.
"It's pretty weak, if you ask me. Kids cruise on Speedway. Why don't they go after them?" he asks, unaware that, in sharp contrast to his penchant for all that is hip and new, that particular ditty is a Golden Oldie in these parts. "I think it's racist," he adds, apparently proud to have taken some kind of stand.
"From what I hear, it was like any other night. Kids were just out having a good time. They weren't stealin' or bangin' or nothin'. They weren't breakin' any laws."
What about curfew?
"That's not a real law!" he snaps. "It's...artificial." He smiles at his having snatched the word out of thin air.
As for the deadly shootings on South Sixth, Casey shakes his head and uses exaggerated hand motions as he says, "That's Sixth, man. I hang on 12th. Totally different."
Hard, but not too hard. Walk, but don't run.
TUCSON POLICE CHIEF Richard Miranda was stung by the Easter shootings. Two blazing gunfights left three people dead, six others wounded, and, as usual, 700,000 people in the metro Tucson area who didn't see or hear a thing. The deaths that night of 15-year-old Robert Moreno, 17-year-old Juan Lujan, and 21-year-old Robert Luna bring the total of gunshot fatalities along South Sixth in the past five years to a staggering 18. Nearly half of that total occurred in the one-mile stretch between Ajo Way and Irvington.
"This can't continue," says Miranda. "We've got to put a stop to it and our Safe Summer 2000 is the first step."
The aforementioned program is putting extra manpower on the streets and adding a new wrinkle in the fight against the violent crime which seems to accompany the cruising and carousing. One by one, businesses along the cruising strip are legally declaring that they don't want people parking and/or loitering on their property after business hours. This prevents cruisers from pulling into a tire store parking lot, setting up shop, and hanging out into the wee hours.
In response to the Easter killings, the Tucson City Council created an ordinance which will allow police to cite or arrest people who loiter on the property of closed businesses. South Tucson already had such a law on the books. The council will also draft an anti-cruising ordinance fashioned after one in effect in Tempe.
Says Probation Officer Morales, "This will help a lot. It's not the only thing we can do, but it's a great start."
Morales also has a video tape of two highly inebriated young people standing in such a parking lot on South Sixth Avenue, waving gang signs at passing cars, grabbing their crotches, and yelling threats. A motorcycle cop arrives on the scene and, under the old system, can only shoo them away, on down the road. Under the new system, they could be arrested for criminal trespass.
Chief Miranda is quick to point out that the vast majority of young people who cruise and hang out aren't breaking any laws, at least not until the curfew hits. He also backs up Morales' contention that they come from all over and congregate on the Southside.
Morales adds, "It's true. Not everyone is out there to break the law. Not everyone is drinking. But that whole situation sets up an atmosphere where violence seems to be a natural outcome. We've had (18 dead in five years); how many shootings are acceptable?"
While he sees the new efforts working, Morales is concerned that they might have an unexpectedly negative impact. "There is a possibility," he explains, "that if we get the kids off the streets, it might lead to an increase in house parties, and they can often be even more dangerous to deal with. Then you've got innocent neighbors and all kinds of property damage. You'd be surprised at the number of parents who go out of town and just leave their kids in charge of the house. It could get real bad. And the summer is always the worst. You have to figure if people can get killed on Easter..."
CASEY HAS A chance to spend a few weeks in Hawaii this summer, but he's not sure he wants to go. "I'm going to be a senior next year and then I have to start worrying about college and everything. This might be my last fun summer."
He's heard all the stories about the crackdown and he almost got stopped a couple weeks ago after curfew, but he and his buddies slipped past. He's going to keep going down there, nevertheless.
"It's really stupid," he growls. "Kids have been doing this forever. Cowboys will have desert parties, people will cruise Speedway, we'll cruise the southside. And you can't stop it. If they shut down the southside, they'll go to Speedway. If they shut down Speedway, they'll go to Oracle. It'll be like squeezing Jell-O though your fingers.
"And if they close all the streets, we'll still find a place to hang out. We could have parties at people's houses." He pauses, his eyes twinkling. "My parents'll be gone for a while this summer."
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