My 90 minutes in Compton

By Matt Encarnacian

It was straight in, and straight outta Compton for Matt Encarnacian, curious to see what the 'other' part of Los Angeles was like.

Visit Compton to see a different side of Los Angeles. Photo / Flickr, Bill Ware
Visit Compton to see a different side of Los Angeles. Photo / Flickr, Bill Ware

I was there for all of 90 minutes, but it was as if O'Shea Jackson came out to greet me himself.

The man known as Ice Cube would only be so proud of this teenaged Hispanic kid spitting out the same rhymes that took an entire nation by storm almost three decades ago.

"F**k them niggas, man. I hate them niggas," he muttered under his breath about the passing cop car.

Here I was, standing at a bus shelter outside the courthouse in downtown Compton, being shown a living example of the real tension that still exists, almost 30 years after rap group NWA sang about it.

Entering the city of Compton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
Entering the city of Compton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

"I hate them niggas," the adolescent repeats, less than one day before a police officer shot an unarmed African-American therapist who was protecting an autistic patient in his care.

It's been almost a year since Tomica Woods-Wright, the widow of famous rapper Eazy-E, helped deliver the rise and fall of NWA to the big screen.

However it's been over 20 years since African-American taxi driver Rodney King was taped getting beaten by the LAPD in what has now become one of the most infamous episodes of police brutality ever seen.

It was a microcosm of what drove the likes of Jackson to stand up in song.

"A young nigga got it bad cause I'm brown and not the other colour, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority," Ice Cube would later rap.

I hadn't planned on sticking around south-central LA for long. It was straight in, and straight outta Compton for me and a colleague, who were curious to see what the "other" part of Los Angeles is like.

One night we were wining and dining along the finer parts of Hollywood Boulevarde; the next morning we were playing chess outside Mom's Burgers on Compton's West Alondra Boulevarde.

And on face value, it's not far removed from hitting the suburban streets of western Sydney.

Mom's Burgers is a family-owned joint of 30 years with its brioche buns and cheesed-over meat patties. It is almost intentional that the signature "The Chronic" burger is named after Dr Dre's debut manifesto in 1992.

Mary, the host at the counter, boasted that a bunch of Japanese tourists came back for three straight days just to take another bite out of what she called "our hoodie burger". Certainly, its US$10 ($13.70) meals drip with flavour.

BOMPTON'S BEST. #hamburger #food #foodporn #foodiegram #nomnom #gourmet #gourmand #whatsforlunch

A photo posted by Mike Garabedian (@mgarabed) on

A short stroll towards town centre sends you the past the local high school, where lines of barbed wire atop the fences surround a grey building missing a dozen windows.

Palm trees line a wide path towards three main doors to the school, where you can picture security searching through the bags of its pupils like they do in the movies (we're almost in Hollywood after all).

The Martin Luther King Monument in Compton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
The Martin Luther King Monument in Compton. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

Other than doorsteps almost beginning at the curb, the streets are relatively clean, and any fears for the safety of two foreign journalists dissipate as a mural of Barack Obama encompasses the courthouse.

We meet our angered adolescent while waiting for an Uber. He goes on to share his problems with law enforcement with who appeared to be a retired African-American man who had just arrived.

"Son, I'll have you know that I used to be a deputy sheriff in downtown LA," the old man said.

"You've got to get a trade, get a job, and make better use of your life."

With his jaw halfway to the ground, the kid responded: "Sorry to disrespect you, sir."

- AAP

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