It’s never too late to get a real job, so here’s one that the Reverend Jesse Jackson should consider in the wake of his embarrassing anti-Barack Obama moment: city lifeguard. A spate of violence — in one case lethal — has wracked the public pools in Los Angeles’s Watts area this summer. Trying to keep order from his lifeguard station, Jackson would have a splendid opportunity to test his claim that what inner-city black youth need is more “government-based policy,” rather than fathers who stay around long enough to raise them.
Watts public pools have a history of anarchy. Last year, Los Angeles city officials hired armed guards and installed video cameras at the 109th Street Swimming Pool in order to protect children and pool staff from out-of-control youth. The 109th Street pool lies between two infamous housing projects and the warring gangs which control them. Many neighboring families avoid the recreational facility, driven away by the local gangbangers’ aggression.
But the usual disorder turned even scarier on the second day of the pool season this June. The pool manager had had the temerity to ask swimmers to clear the pool for cleaning, its water having been rendered dangerously dirty by people jumping in with their clothes on or refusing to shower before entering. In response, up to 30 young men went on a rampage. They overpowered two armed guards and six pool workers, punched the manager as he was trying to escape to his office to call 911, and threw the manager, a lifeguard, and locker attendant into the water. This was not a case of adolescent hijinks: The men were in their twenties and thirties. They were simply unable to tolerate any authority over their own. The police reaction was delayed as officers responded to a report of a man with a gun at another city pool, a report that this time proved unfounded.
The 109th Street pool stayed closed for the next two days, depriving local children of watery recreation during a heat wave. It reopened only after the Los Angeles Police Department agreed to station two armed police officers there, and the city recreation department hired six residents, mostly ex-gang members, to help patrol the pool. Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks observed the charming modus operandi of these community peace-keepers: one “lightly . . . whacked” a boy on the head who did not get out of the pool quickly enough. After the pool had closed and the security force had gone home, teens and kids were still jumping into the filthy water with clothes and shoes on, Banks reported.
A nearby Los Angeles County pool facility saw an even more egregious outbreak of violence last Saturday. Three men tried to rob a 60-year-old man who was sleeping outside the pool at the Ted Watkins County Park, which borders Watts. They beat James Hurst unconscious with a blunt object; he died the next day in a hospital from his injuries. In reaction, the county will station eight additional county police officers at pools in South Central Los Angeles ten hours a day through the summer.
It is striking how quickly elected officials in the inner city call on the police when things go wrong. These are the same “racial profilers” who, according to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and a host of local loudmouths, pose as much threat to the black community as criminals. Turns out that the threat from the allegedly racist police disappears from view whenever they are needed to protect inner-city residents from the real danger in their midst — criminals males. Jackson was one of the first publicity hogs to fly down to Jena, La., the site of a trumped-up media fable about a supposedly racist criminal justice system and its victims — six black high-school students who without provocation viciously beat a white student unconscious. Had Jackson been a guard at Watts’ 109th Street Pool or the Ted Watkins County Park, the chances are high he would have dialed 911 for the cops as desperately as anyone there.