The city of Los Angeles is in the grip of an ‘apartheid system' that has divided the area along racial lines, according to British filmmaker Nick Broomfield who lives in LA and has made his latest documentary on how a serial murderer went undetected for 30 years in the city's South Central area.
“There was no investigation, because these people are being treated by non-human beings. The police are representative of the political system, they don’t do it by themselves, and they can get away with it.
“The answer to how is it possible over 200 women disappeared and nothing really happened goes to the heart of the apartheid system in place here.”
Pressed on whether he really means a state-sponsored division along racial lines, Nick Broomfield describes the differing drug laws to support his case.
“They’ve made crack possession a felony offence, and cocaine – which is the white drug – a misdemeanour. If you got a felony conviction, you lose your right to vote.
“These drug laws, which came in under the Reagan administration, I think, are the new Jim Crow laws, which means incarcerating a large part of the black population, disenfranchising them, breaking up communities.
“You don’t see young black men in South Central, they’re all in prison. Crack has torn the hearts out of the community.”
Nick Broomfield finds no comfort, either, in the prospect of black figures being given the opportunity of political representation for the area…
“Most of the black politicians who represent those areas tend to be bought off, ‘or they represent particular pressure groups,” he sighs. “The political significance of the black communities has been destroyed.”
His film ‘Tales of the Grim Sleeper’ tells the story of Lonnie Franklin Jr, a South Central resident who was arrested for the murder of more than 100 victims, potentially making him the greatest serial killer in US history. He currently awaits trial.
After news crews gathered like bees around the scene of Lonnie’s arrest, Nick spent longer talking to local residents, including the accused man’s friends, and discovered that their biggest sentiment was not so much fear as embarrassment at what had occurred.
“He was a popular figure in the community,” remembers Nick, who overcame the residents’ initial distrust with the help of several well-placed intermediaries. “The residents were embarrassed by him, and by their new notoriety.”
Even before the grim findings, this area was perceived as a no-go zone by almost all of Los Angeles’ wealthier residents, something that Nick says goes back to the 1970s.
“For most white people growing up in LA, South Central is somewhere you don’t go. Kids get told all these stories. You’re going to get killed, something terrible’s going to happen, etc.
“So even amongst my more liberal friends, their shock on seeing the film was meeting these articulate, nice, rather good-looking people.”
It is clear where Nick’s sympathies lie in this film – not for him the deliberately neutral stance of a filmmaker whose only responsibility it is to lay out the facts, and leave the moral compass in the hands of the viewer…
“I don’t claim to be a disinterested storyteller, it’s far more of a diary experience and how I feel about what I see.
“In this case, the more I liked the people, the more involved and the more angry I became.
“They were getting such a raw end of the deal. You get a sense of the powerlessness in South Central, where you could have someone superbright, doing incredibly well and they don’t have a dog’s chance.”
In this crime hotspot where gunfire can be heard constantly, was Nick Broomfield ever worried for his own safety? The veteran filmmaker, who’s faced off Courtney Love and Sarah Palin and survived, chuckles…
“They’re very bad shots. I was more worried they would hit us by accident. But I was determined not to run. My DP frightened himself with stories and left after three days, so my son took over.
“He’d been filming in the Sudan, so he wasn’t bothered.”
'Tales of the Grim Sleeper' is in selected UK cinemas now, with Nick Broomfield conducting Q&As. Click here for info.