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LA Times Misfires on Pico Shootings

Those of us who still read the Los Angeles Times woke up to quite a shock last Saturday morning.
[additional-authors]
February 22, 2023
Photo from Deposit Photos

Writing news headlines is not for the faint of heart. Trying to catch a reader’s attention without sensationalizing or exaggerating the news is no easy feat. It’s even more difficult in a digital era in which the number of clicks on a particular story link can have a seminal effect on that news organization’s success, influence and survival.

But those of us who still read the Los Angeles Times woke up to quite a shock last Saturday morning, when the top story on the Times website came with the following headline: “LA Jews are resolute — and armed — after gunman targets community in 2 shootings.”

The Times deserves credit for providing high-profile and continuous coverage to the two attacks against two Jewish men in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood last week. The gunman had a long history of public and ugly antisemitic behavior and had admitted to specifically targeting Jews on their way to religious services. However, the news that the Jewish community was arming itself in response to these shootings was startling. 

And misleading.

Jewish Americans tend to lean leftward politically and have historically favored more stringent gun control measures by overwhelming margins. (The seminal 2019 Cal State L.A./Pat Brown Institute poll showed that 83% of Los Angeles Jews supported stricter gun control laws.) If Jewish Los Angeles was turning toward gun ownership as a means of self-protection in significant numbers, that would signal a tremendous cultural, political and public safety transformation that would fundamentally change the nature of the Jewish community here.

The article began with the owner of a neighborhood kosher restaurant asserting that many of his friends and customers were now arming themselves in response to the shootings. After the first few paragraphs of the story in which the restauranteur was quoted, the four reporters who authored the piece did not raise the issue of gun ownership again, reminding us that – as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said – the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

Within a few hours, Times editors had realized the problem with that headline, and so the earlier version was quickly corrected to replace the misleading words “and armed” with the safer alternative “on edge”. (Both versions were immense improvements over the headline that ran in the Times’ print edition: “LA Jews ‘always worried’”, using an out-of-context quote from a concerned mother of a teenage girl to make our entire community look weak, frightened and pitiable.)

The Times’ coverage was extraordinarily frustrating, but the quickly-erased headline about “armed” Jewish Angelenos does raise important questions about how we should be protecting ourselves as the threat of antisemitic violence continues to grow. Los Angeles city officials and law enforcement responded with an immediate and visibly heightened police presence in the affected area. But given the increase in gun violence in many other areas of the Southland, it will be difficult to maintain that greater level of protection.

Many Jewish Angelenos would instinctively advocate for stronger gun control measures, but California already has among the toughest anti-gun laws on the books of any state in the nation and additional federal legislation is unlikely in the immediate future.

The debate over public safety inevitably leads back to the question of the level of law enforcement needed to protect our communities. 

It’s possible that better application of so-called red flag laws that provide for more frequent gun violence restraining orders may have caught this particular gunman. But the debate over public safety inevitably leads back to the question of the level of law enforcement needed to protect our communities. While the number of progressives who literally want to eliminate police funding is mercifully small, the overall trajectory in the politics of criminal justice for most of the 21st century has shifted away from longer sentences and toward lesser penalties and rehabilitative measures. The increasing frequency of violent street crime suggests that those trends may be about to change.

Mayor Karen Bass is resisting pressure from her party’s ideological base to reduce police funding. She also recognizes the benefits of supplementing law enforcement with enhanced social service specialists. But the fight over police funding is coming and the Jewish community here will need to decide where it stands.


Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. Join Dan for his weekly webinar “Politics in the Time of Coronavirus” (www.lawac.org) on Tuesdays at 5 PM.

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