A brand new shiny Walgreens just opened this past Friday at the crime ridden intersection of 5th and Broadway — a part of Downtown LA’s Historic Core that has resisted change from its gang and drug infested past even as the rest of downtown continues to revitalize. The grand opening on Jan 31 at 10 am was an event marked with DJ music, balloons, free food samples, and lots of smiles and cheer. The celebratory mood inside stood in stark contrast to the seedy elements that still lurked outside as the daily east-west migratory pattern from Skid Row to Pershing Square continued as usual uninterrupted. However, given Walgreens’ different operating strategy from “the problem” Rite Aid across the street, the new Chicago-based drug store is hopefully a sign of more positive changes to come for one of Downtown LA’s worst intersections.
While attending the grand opening for Walgreens, I was confronted with a belligerent homeless individual who almost gave me a beat down. A terrifying encounter no one should have to experience.
While standing outside taking pictures of the store’s facade preparing for this blog story, a large thuggy man with a muscular build approached me on my left side along the 5th Street sidewalk. He asked me while walking up to me, “Are you taking pictures of me?” Already feeling threatened by his tone, I replied “No I am not.” He then asked with the same accusatory tone, “Are you taking pictures of anything at all?” At this point, I realized something bad was about to happen (call it intuition), and as I replied “I’m taking pictures of the sign,” he forcefully grabbed my right arm before I could even finish the sentence.
However, as an automatic self-defense reflex, I swung my right arm upward quickly breaking away from his strong grip. I immediately darted to my left along the sidewalk away from him with the goal of running into the Walgreens store as that was the only place I could think of that would offer some kind of refuge. Just as fast as I darted to my left, he immediately came back at me trying to either grab or hit me, which ended up feeling more like a hard slap on my arm. Given how alarmed I was (and the adrenaline pumping through my body), I could feel how hard he hit me but the sharp pain was quickly overtaken by fear.
As I ran inside the store, he was right behind me screaming but stopped just short of crossing the threshold of the store’s front entrance. By this point, people inside — including employees and customers — were obviously alarmed as well and I could hear someone yell for security. The homeless guy was determined, however. He wasn’t just going to leave just like that. He continued screaming at me from the front entrance, “Don’t you ever fucking take pictures of me again!” As I grabbed my phone out ready to dial 9-1-1, he became even more perturbed and said, “Oh, you gon’ call the police (poh-lease) now muthafucka?”
Luckily, that was the last thing he said before taking off. I was not about to leave the store without knowing exactly where he was going. So I watched as he crossed 5th Street toward Rite Aid before crossing Broadway heading toward Pershing Square. A few employees asked me if I was okay. However, the whole event quickly became the pink elephant in the store as everyone tried to go back to “business as usual.” Ironically, I had just spoken to a Walgreens employee a few minutes earlier (before all this happened) about Downtown LA being “so cool” and “the best new place to live!” I was embarrassed, to say the least, as he witnessed this event happen to me — the guy who just told him how great Downtown LA was.
Anyway, this is a departure from my usual blog posts, which are more informative news articles and less personal tales, but I felt I just had to document and let others know what happened to me given the substantial nature of the event. My hope is that Walgreens will be the first positive change to this intersection leading to many, many more with the eventual goal of completely cleaning it up. Broadway is a long street through downtown, but lots of positive things are happening on it especially by 9th where a slew of high-end retailers have opened along with a major road diet coming soon. I remain optimistic that with enough time, Broadway will clean-up nicely — as NYC has been able to do — becoming a street filled with high-quality shopping, dining, and entertainment instead of the drug and crime infested mess we deal with today.
The funny thing is, there was an LAPD cop car parked on Broadway right outside Walgreens when all this happened to me. To the LAPD, please stop wasting our taxpayer money on performing ridiculous jaywalking stings and start doing your job protecting our citizens and catching the real bad guys.