LA Gang Tours is Ready for Business

The tour book just added a little more flair

How's this for a tourist's L.A. itinerary: On Monday, the hop-on, hop-off Double Decker Hollywood fun tour. Tuesday, the Movie Stars Homes Tour. Wednesday, the Strip and Beverly Hills. Thursday, a tour of the streets that gave rise to the Crips, bloods, Florencia 13 and the 18th Street gangs.

Beginning January 16, tourists will actually be able to do all of that. Alfred Lomas, a former Florencia 13 gang member and current intervention worker in South Los Angeles, is spearheading a movement to make the gang tours possible.

"This is ground zero for a lot of the bad in this city. It could be ground zero for a lot of the good too," Lomas told the Los Angeles Times. "This is true community empowerment."

The nonprofit group plans to offer two-hour tours at an initial cost of $65 per adult, with profits funneled back into the community through jobs, "franchised" tours in new areas and micro-loans to inner-city entrepreneurs.

Initially, the routes will focus on South L.A., with forays into Watts and Florence-Firestone.

Lomas, who will lead tours at first, plans to talk about important chapters in the development of the city's core, such as how racist housing restrictions shaped ethnic enclaves and the formation of gangs.

The planning took months and the details are still being ironed out, according to the Times report, but some plans might need to fall to the cutting room floor.

Other aspects may raise eyebrows. Selling shirts painted on the spot by a graffiti "tagger" is one thing. But one backer said he also hopes to stage dance-offs between locals; tourists would pick a winner and fork over a cash prize. It wasn't long ago that organizers decided against a plan to have kids shoot tourists with water pistols, followed by the sale of T-shirts that read: "I Got Shot in South-Central."

"It's going to be fascinating -- but really controversial," Francisco Ortega, a staffer with the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and a neighborhood adviser in South L.A., told the Times

The concept may have some value in "sensitizing people, connecting them to the reality of what's on the ground," he said. "But the other side is that it could come across like a zoo or something. You're being carted about: 'Look at that cholo over there!' It could be perceived as demeaning for the people who are living in these conditions."

Similar tours have cropped in Mumbai's slum of Dharavi and in Rio de Janeiro's "favelas." While operators say they help humanize poverty, critics say they are further exploiting them.

"It's not right to put people on display," City Councilwoman Jan Perry told the Times. But Perry's colleague Bernard Parks, a former police chief, was open to the concept, saying: "It depends on their intent and how they balance it."

The cost of the tour is $65.  For tickets, visit the LA Gang Tours Web site.

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