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Crime and the City

By Gary Phillips | 4/3/2014, midnight
I love crime. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no ski-mask-wearing hoodlum crouching in the shadows of that alcove you’re ...

I love crime. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no ski-mask-wearing hoodlum crouching in the shadows of that alcove you’re passing, salivating to pounce and snatch your hard earned money. I like my crime on the page where it can be dissected and examined; hunting like a neural scientist with their electron microscope for the impulses that drove a person to do that crazy thing they did. That’s one of the reasons it wasn’t a stretch for me to utilize experiences gained as community activist to campaign in penning crime and mystery fiction. For real, life is ripe with material for hard-boiled stories. Certainly one of the richest loams for excavating these gems of corruption, double-dealing, bribery and more is Los Angeles and the Southern California region.

Take for example the recent conviction of State Senator Roderick D. Wright for voter fraud and perjury. A racially mixed jury found him guilty on eight felony counts. It was determined that Wright didn’t live in his district in Inglewood, and lied about being a resident there. The prosecutors maintained he further perpetuated the falsity by voting in Inglewood and having his driver’s license reflect that address, while he actually lived in Baldwin Hills. Mind you, Wright is not the only politician to assert a questionable residency for eligibility’s sake; just the most recent and visible one to get caught.

Wright rented the Inglewood pad to his so-called “common law step-mother,” Wanda Sanders. He also moved some of his stuff into the house’s back bedroom. Wright testified that these factors, based on another case involving a politician from Northern California, met legal requirements of residency. Sanders lived with Wright’s father until he died, and she considers him a stepson. On the stand, she tried to be loyal and do the “I don’t remember” bit in many of her answers but had to acknowledge she’d never seen him stay the night at the Inglewood property—the back house she lives in and some apartments in front. Though under cross examination from Wright’s attorney Winston McKesson, she also noted she’d been out of town frequently during the first years of her residency there and he may have stayed at the house then.

Common law mother-in-law, now that’s a Jim Thompsonesque (you may not know his name, but Jim Thompson was a master of the twisted tale in books like “The Grifters,” where a con-woman mother betrays her con-man son, and “The Killer Inside Me”—both of them made into films) turn of phrase if there ever was one. But, unlike other Southern California elects, he’s not accused of misappropriating funds, having hoochies parading in and out of his office, or snorting blow off their firm backsides. By comparison, Wright’s infractions are lightweight. As has been suggested in this publication and elsewhere, his case has the taint of selective prosecution given the harsher crimes currently being committed by those in and out of public office.

A look at his case suggests what lies beneath the surface; what’s to be unearthed regarding the machination of others. Jim Thompson biographer Robert Polito said of his subject’s work in the book “Savage Art,” that his books explored the outer and inner realities of his main characters. With “Crime and the City,” I too hope to offer takes in commentary, reviews, and fictional excerpts on the outer and inner realties of crime and corruption, the intersections of race and the criminal justice system, as well as the various permutations of the strange in Southern California.

Gary Phillips is a novelist, and the president of the Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. He can be followed at www.gdphillips.com.