THE CITY - April 2018

What can Brown do for you?

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel

Written by Christian Hazes, Staff Writer

“A wall of bullets comin’ from

AK’s, AR’s, “ayy y’all duck!”

That’s what momma said when we was eatin’ the free lunch

Aw man, goddamn, all hell broke loose

You killed my cousin back in ‘94, fuck yo’ truce!”

Kendrick Lamar – “m.A.A.d city”

The picture painted here is the perfect epitome of how many know Compton: crime, poverty and perpetual gang violence. Aspects that are all vividly chronicled by the many rappers that the city has produced. Accommodating roughly 100,000 inhabitants, the sunbathed city just south of Los Angeles was long seen as the most dangerous city in the United States. Not surprisingly, until recently the election campaigns for mayor always consisted of the same ingredients: get rid of drugs, get rid of gangs and get rid of (police) violence.

The major point on the agenda during last year’s city elections? Fixing Compton’s pothole problem.

That’s one hell of a U-turn. Although the city still struggles with crime, poverty, and unemployment, Compton seems to be heading in the right direction under the aegis of Aja Brown; the young, black, female mayor is steering the city towards a bright future.

Here are some lessons straight outta Compton.

“It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war

Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy

Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door

Beefin’ with Pirus, only death settle the score”

Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry”

The seventies of the previous century were, to a great extent, the catalyst of Compton’s problems in the years to follow. Crips and Bloods gangs started selling drugs and the police department responded with military tactics, showing a fondness for excessive weaponry. On top of the problems that already existed, a vicious circle of ever-growing street violence was the result.

It is not hyperbolic to say that solving Compton’s problems was, and still is, a Herculean task. Nevertheless, there is always someone who is up for the challenge. The redeemer of Compton came in the form of Aja Brown. Her mom grew up in one of the poorest districts of the city, her grandma was killed during a gang robbery, and she became the city’s youngest mayor ever in 2013.

Dealing with Compton’s infamous gang-related problems was one of Brown’s paramount priorities. An initiative was launched which allowed Bloods and Crips to hand in their weapons to the police. The hundreds of gang members who did, received money as compensation. In addition to this, Brown managed to get prominent Bloods and Crips leaders on speaking terms. Men who had refused to speak to each other for decades were brought face to face in a municipality building. Another important aspect of her gang intervention strategy was to focus on prevention rather than cure. For example, Compton’s youngsters receive education on how to refrain from succumbing to the art of peer pressure.  

From having 36 murders in Brown’s election year the number had dropped to 13 murders two years later, the lowest in over 20 years.

“Nigga, I was rehearsing in repetition the phrase

That only one in a million will ever see better days

Especially when the crime waves was bigger than tsunamis

Break your boogie boards to pieces, you just a typical homie”

Kendrick Lamar – “Black Boy Fly”

Being born in the city called Compton used to be seen as a curse: you were trapped, doomed to fail. So social immobility had been another adversary of Brown’s.

She started by battling inequality, thus shifting the power structures that existed in the city. Instead of the predominant white masculine elite, power had to be distributed in such a way that it reflected Compton and its inhabitants. Brown focussed on combining quality with diversity, herself being the perfect personification. She has multiple university degrees in the field of social and urban planning.

Brown is aware of the fact that she forms an exception; most “Comptonians” do not hold any degree at all. Still, she set about invigorating a sense of membership, enhancing the involvement in civic activity and increased transparency between residents and the upper echelons of Compton’s leadership. Which was the catalysts for a radical political purge, a thorough redistribution of power.

The fact that Brown is the first female mayor of Compton in over 40 years, according to her, could not have been a better example of why another one of Brown’s action points with regard to emancipation is justified and indispensable. Female leadership is invaluable according to Brown and, many girls from a young age on are being involved in societal projects that teach them relevant management and leadership skills.  

Compton is currently going through a profound metamorphosis. Gang affiliation, violence, crime, and squalor kept the city from maturing. But, Aja Brown has started nurturing the city. Besides reducing crime and bridging social gaps, police departments have been reformed, budgetary deficits and unemployment have evaporated, and social housing thrived. All part of an all-encapsulating 12-point action plan, designed to elevate Compton. Compton’s status quo of being eschewed is part of history now. In fact, ample people and businesses want to move straight into Compton in 2018.

Needless to say, it is not an easy task turning one of the most notorious places in the U.S. to a Garden of Eden. Hopefully, Compton is able to complete the metamorphosis. 

It seems that Kendrick was right after all: “We gon’ be alright!”

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