A “Compton” sign sits above the train tracks at the Compton station of the blue line train. (Tatiana Jackson / L.A. Times HS Insider)
California State University, Northridge

Compton: Old story with a familiar tune

 


When people think of the city of Compton, a mid-sized city southeast from downtown Los Angeles, they might think of the images they hear and see in music and film that often show it as a place full of gangs, violence and drugs.

But that was the Compton of yesterday.

Despite how it is often depicted, Compton is a textured city that’s witnessed a revival over the decades. It’s just like other cities, with a cultural boom that includes open mics, farmers’ markets and famous residents who give back.

“I definitely feel like people stereotype Compton, especially outsiders because they think we fight all the time, they think we’re all rowdy, we all got guns, we would all rob somebody or we always shooting and its not even like that,” Matthew Stevenson, an 18-year-old Compton resident said.

“Straight Outta Compton,” a movie based on real events from the late 1980s but released in 2015, has perpetuated negative stereotypes about the area. Many still believe that Compton is a toxic environment and will not let their kids come for events because they are scared for their lives.

Compton was originally founded in 1867 but the African American population did not increase until the start of World War II. Prior to that, Compton was an all-white suburb with inexpensive housing.

The creator of “The Flintstones,” the 41st president of the United States and a Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famer once called Compton home.

But in 1948, the courts ruled racial covenant, agreements that prevented blacks from buying homes from whites, were lifted. As more black people moved around, by the mid-1950s, whites started leaving those areas. When the Watts riots erupted, it sent a flock of whites from the area. Black people from Louisiana, Ohio and Texas moved from the segregated south to Compton for the well-paying manufacturing jobs.

During this time, the unemployment rate for black men increased by 10 percent and fueled a rise in theft and violent crime. By the 1970s, poverty and crime gave birth to gang violence as the Crips and Bloods fought over control of the area.

The Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics shows the violent crime total in 1985 was 2,530 compared to 1,129 in 2014. Despite what the data suggests, people still think of it as [one of the] “most dangerous cities in the nation.”

According to a 2006 L.A. Times article, “Comptons Killings Highest in Years,” Compton had been ranked the most dangerous city in the nation for 30 years. Now, Compton is ranked the 47th most dangerous for violent crimes in L.A. county, according to the L.A. Times crime alert map.

“People stereotype Compton because they live in the past and they only portray what they see what in the news and the news only shows negativity,” 18-year-old lifelong Compton resident Kalen Thomas said.

Although the city of Compton didn’t have the resources then to be considered a stable community, by the 2000s the city changed. Due to limited choices, people turned to athletics, entertaining, politicking, or anything imaginable. Many of the citizens tended to give back to the community not wanting it to go back to the hazardous environment.

In fact, many “famous” people who “make it out” tend to give back to the community, choosing to remember where they came from. Numerous figures such as Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar and YG donate school supplies, totaling $11.5 million just to the Compton schools. Venus and Serena Williams funded a new community center that is now called Yetunde Price.

Compton Mayor Aja Brown, 36, said there have been a lot of changes to the city.

“I think that Compton is being restored to its former glory that many of our parents and grandparents were attracted to Compton for,” Brown said. “We see a huge increase in economic development but just having a place where people can get healthy food… retailers moved into our city, we’ve seen new housing developments occur and we’ve seen more activity in terms of bringing arts and culture back into the community.”

There are programs such as the Delta Sigma Theta Academy, who aim to help young black ladies gain confidence, learn etiquette, and realize their goals. Another opportunity is YG’s 400 Waze Foundation that helps low income families around Christmas or back to school time by giving out money to help families through tough times. As well as the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation that believes “every child has the right to dream and hope to be the person they dream of being.”

Kani Webb, 21, founder of Peace of Mind, runs open mic nights and wants to support the youth through art and education.

“There is two sides to every coin, and to some people they will never see the beauty of Compton. To them we are only stereotypes, and that’s why I created Peace of Mind,” Webb said.

Compton locals recognize the stereotypes that surround their community and strive to shatter these false accusations regardless of violence portrayed in the media. According to a Crash Course video “Prejudice and Discrimination,” it’s proven that stereotypic beliefs mixed with prejudicial attitudes and emotions can lead to discrimination.

1 Comment

  • Reply Nancy Hur July 26, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    very insightful. I haver never been to Compton, but now I definitely would like to!

    Like

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