Former members of the 18th Street gang pose with customers
during one of the LA Gang Tours on May 8 in Los Angeles.
Tourists who visit Los Angeles often visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to see the footprints of the stars. Now they can also dip their toes into gangsta culture.
For the last six months, an L.A. company, LA Gang Tours, has been offering tours of the city’s hottest gang spots, including the county jail, the birthplace of the Black Panther Party and a lab where graffiti artists ply their trade.
The tours are priced at $65 and, along with seeing the sights, polo shirt-wearing tourists can also take photos with reformed gang members and ask them questions about the thug life.
The idea is the brainchild of Alfred Lomas, a former member of the notorious gang Florencia 13, which has a rich history in L.A. ever since the Zoot Suit Riots of the 1940s erupted between white sailors and Marines stationed throughout the city and Latino youths.
Lomas says the reason South Central became ground zero for gangs is because of massive segregation that occurred in Los Angeles between 1900 and 1960. “There are some gangs that go back three to four generations. There’s no doubt that if you are in a gang-involved family, you’re going to be in a gang.”
Now a minister, Lomas wanted to find a way to stop the violence in the area and create jobs.
Although he is not a supporter of gangs in any way, he does want to capitalize on the fact that “the gang culture has gone mainstream,” as he puts it.
“Gangs like the Bloods, Crips and Florencia 13 came from out of South Central and have spread to Europe, London and South Africa,” he said. “More than 10,000 people in L.A. have died from gang violence, but despite efforts at increased incarceration, the gangs have grown in size.”
Those gangs started out because of segregation in the 1940s and now, thanks in part to gangsta-rap records, have become romanticized to young people the same way Wild West villains like Jesse James and Billy the Kid or mafia kingpins like Al Capone and John Gotti were to previous generations.
Lomas wants to give people the real story.
“Gangsta rap glamorized the gang life,” he said. “We humanize it.”
Part of the way Lomas does that is by hiring former gangland members as guides who can answer questions about their lifestyle.