The tour organizer received assurances, he says, from four gangs that they would not harass the bus when it passed through their turf. Paying customers must sign releases warning of potential danger. And after careful consideration, it was decided not to have residents shoot water guns at the bus and sell “I Got Shot in South Central” T-shirts.
Borrowing a bit from the Hollywood star tours, the grit of the streets and a dash of hype, LA Gang Tours is making its debut on Saturday, a 12-stop, two-hour journey through what its organizer calls “the history and origin of high-profile gang areas and the top crime-scene locations” of South Los Angeles. By Friday afternoon, the 56-seat coach was nearly sold out.
On the right, Los Angeles’s biggest jail, “the unofficial home to 20,000 gang members in L.A.,” as the tour Web site puts it. Over there, the police station that in 1965 served as the National Guard’s command post in the Watts riots. Visit the large swath of concrete riverbed taken over by graffiti taggers, and later, drop in at a graffiti workshop where, for the right price, a souvenir T-shirt or painting can be yours…
But aside from its unusual logistical challenges — the liability waiver describes the tour as “inherently dangerous” and warns of the risk of death — the venture has also generated debate about its appropriateness. Chicago has a tour of Al Capone sites and Las Vegas has one devoted to the mob — but this gangland lore is still happening.
“Everybody says we are the gang capital of the world, and that is certainly true, no denying that,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, who has spent decades trying to steer people out of gangs into legitimate work. “It’s hard to gloss over that. But there are two extremes we always need to avoid. One is demonizing the gang member, and the other extreme is romanticizing the gang.”