For decades, I’ve enjoyed buying fake designer purses. In Los Angeles, there was a stall in downtown’s Santee Alley that specialized in selling faux purses that actually looked real, and beginning in college, I bought $10 “Gucci” bags from that vendor with regularity and zest. But now, thanks to rabid crime — the likes of which I’ve never seen in this city — for the first time, I’m afraid to wear my fake designer bags on the streets of LA.
Go ahead and laugh. Or sneer and accuse me of privilege. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but I’m pretty sure a revolver pointed at me and my fake purse can do much more damage.
I wasn’t always this anxious. I used to enjoy coffee with friends on Melrose Avenue and place my faux Chloé purse right on the table, in full display of every unimpressed passerby and skeptical pigeon on the street.
I wasn’t always this anxious. I used to enjoy coffee with friends on Melrose Avenue and place my faux Chloé purse right on the table, in full display of every unimpressed passerby and skeptical pigeon on the street. But after a string of recent armed robberies of sidewalk diners on Melrose, I don’t even feel safe sitting at a sidewalk cafe and enjoying a cup of coffee that costs more than my purse.
This isn’t hyperbole. The LAPD recently released statistics showing that armed robberies have increased by 75 percent in the past year in the Wilshire and Hollywood divisions. Neighborhood groups, fed up with violent crime, are installing license plate readers because business owners as well as customers are so anxious.
“It’s never been this bad ever,” Krystal Thomas, owner of Cosmo and Donato, told FOX 11 News. “We’ve been on Melrose for about 30 years. This change has been really violent and sporadic.”
In August, a dispute over a shoe raffle resulted in the shooting and killing of an employee at the Fairfax District’s Shoe Palace. The employee wasn’t even involved in the argument. The poor man was outside the store, trying to break up the dispute.
That’s one of the more extreme examples of violent crime at local businesses. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s a particular sense of helplessness and anxiety about sitting at a sidewalk cafe, and suddenly finding yourself confronted with a gunman who demands your wallet, phone and jewelry. It truly lends itself to the question, Is nowhere in LA safe anymore?
Of course, much of the city is still safe (like Ross Dress for Less and some public bathrooms). I, for one, have taken to wearing a decoy fanny pack that only contains old receipts and feminine hygiene products.
Of course, much of the city is still safe (like Ross Dress for Less and some public bathrooms). I, for one, have taken to wearing a decoy fanny pack that only contains old receipts and feminine hygiene products, and stuffing important items, like my phone, keys, credit cards, tissues, hair clips, pens, notepads, snack bags, lens wipers and tweezers in my pockets. I’m bulging at the sides, but no one can tell if I’m sitting.
I try not to think in extremes. I rely on statistics and reason. But news of certain crimes strike at your jugular and render reason irrelevant. On November 28, a Hancock Park mother was robbed as she stood outside her home after walking her baby in a stroller. On December 3, guests were robbed at an outdoor holiday party in Pacific Palisades. It’s a sad day when Angelenos are getting mugged walking their babies or at parties. I didn’t imagine things could get any less safe until I learned that a physical therapy office in Beverly Hills was recently held up at gunpoint by several armed men. Yes, a physical therapy office. In Beverly Hills.
I’ve been to many such offices in the area for pregnancy and postnatal-related muscular issues. Physical therapy offices are supposed to be spaces to work on healing, and to heal safely, under the supervision of professionals. Many elderly people and those who’ve suffered injuries from various accidents frequent such spaces. A physical therapy office is the last place where someone should be robbed.
But the worst crime in recent Beverly Hills history was the murder of wife, mother, grandmother and philanthropist Jacqueline Avant on December 1. Aariel Maynor, 29, of Los Angeles, allegedly tried to rob her home and is accused of killing Avant. The family’s security guard was there at the time; Maynor is also accused of attempting to kill the guard.
This forces me to ask the one question that everyone is thinking, but no one will say: If Jacqueline Avant was killed in her own home in the presence of a security guard, what chance do the rest of us have to stay safe?
It should be noted that, according to the Washington Examiner, hours after Avant was murdered, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón “distributed a fundraising letter seeking to overturn a law that would keep her [alleged] killer in prison.”
My heart broke for the Avant family, and the murder has served as a huge wake-up call for Beverly Hills residents, many of whom told local news sources that they are now spending tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade their home security systems. Others are arming themselves.
There’s a dark air of skepticism about law enforcement and the criminal justice system in LA that I’ve never witnessed before. One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that she was recently chased down the street on Westwood Boulevard by a homeless man who was wielding a small knife and screaming, “I’m gonna kill you!” When I asked the woman if she contacted the police, she responded, “What for? They wouldn’t have done anything about it.”
Last week, Jamie McBride, head of the LAPD police officers’ union, said in a televised interview, “My message to anyone thinking about coming to Los Angeles, especially during the holiday season, is don’t. We can’t guarantee your safety. It is really, really out of control.”
In next week’s column, I’ll describe my family’s terrible experience with robbery in the past six months, and analyze why crime spikes in Beverly Hills pose such a unique problem for that city. For now, I have to find a faux-diamond engagement ring with a center stone just small enough that few robbers would be interested in swiping it. Does anyone know how late the jewelry stalls in Santee Alley are open?
Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer, speaker, and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter @RefaelTabby