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‘The Dragons’ of Skid Row: Trans Policing and the Multiculturalism of Los Angeles’ “Open Air Detention Camp’

Authors: Nic John Ramos*, Drexel University
Topics: Sexuality, Ethnicity and Race, Urban Geography
Keywords: Deinstitutionalization, Trans, Policing, Multiculturalism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper explores the creation of a city-ordinance enforced “homeless district” in Los Angeles called skid row that was used to contain and police a group of black and brown trans women the Los Angeles Police Department named ‘the Dragons’ on the eve of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Instead of being antithetical to the logics of racial and sexual liberalism, the paper argues the city’s consolidation of a “containment and mitigation” policy in skid row constituted a “spatial fix” capable of balancing the city’s need to mitigate the twin effects of deinstitutionalization and deindustrialization with the demands by gay and black community leaders to mount community-mental-health-inspired urban redevelopment campaigns based on new ideas of racial and homosexual respectability in West and South Los Angeles. Using historical documents related to skid row and the gay and black community pride campaigns being mounted outside of it starting in the 1960s, the paper demonstrates that black and gay leaders conspired to renegotiate the relationships between inner-city districts to police and contain subjects in skid row that failed to meet emerging ascriptions of racial and homosexual normality meant to acculturate minority neighborhoods into mainstream society. These processes suggest that rather than attribute Wolch and Dear’s concept of an “open-air detention camp” and Wacquant’s “hyperghetto” to emerging patterns of austerity and social conservatism, they might also be spatial expressions of multicultural liberalism.

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