Sunday, February 8, 2015

Law and Order in old Los Angeles

El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles

Los Angeles. The wild, wild west indeed. Before the city, there was the 'hell hole of the west', the most violent place at the end of the Pacific Special. The place where everyone went when they had no place else to go. When you were driven out of everyplace else, you went west, just like Horace Greeley told you to. And once you hit Los Angeles that was the end of the road. 
Calle de los Negros

Los Angeles has always attracted the outcast, the misfit, people on the run and people seeking change. There's never been anything normal or ordinary about the city of Angels or the people who inhabit it. I ought to know, I lived there for 8 years. 

The first 'law' in L.A. was a volunteer group of men who formed the Los Angeles Rangers in the early part of the nineteenth century. Unpaid, they lived off the magnanimity of others for their equipment. The unit lasted roughly four years, then disbanded, leaving the already violent Los Angeles without a police presence. The county was overrun with bandits, gamblers, murderers and rustlers driven south by northern vigilantes. The proto-city had the highest murder rate in America, far higher than New York City or Chicago. Vice of all kinds was not only legal, it was taxed. 

The Vigilance Committee was formed in 1836 to fill this void. On October 13, 1854, Pinckney Clifford, a respected businessman, was robbed and murdered by David Brown, a well-known bandit. The city Marshall jailed Brown, but the Vigilance Committee intended to take care of the killer. Mayor Stephen Foster intervened and convinced them to wait for the trial. Convicted and sentenced to hang in January 12, 1855, his attorney convinced the California Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. This caused an uproar, and claiming to have been provoked beyond reason, the Vigilance Group, led by Mayor Stephen C Foster (who had resigned his position to lead the lynch mob) forcibly removed Brown from his cell and hanged him. 
Spring Street 1876

When Foster ran for re-election he was voted back in as Mayor on a landslide. Only in Los Angeles, you say? L.A. was also the first major metropolitan city to recall a Mayor from office, but that, as they say, is another story. 

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GK Parker


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