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Sneaky Sneakers or Urban Myth? : Council: Nate Holden says shoes on wires signify gang territory and seeks a law for quick removal. Police find theory dubious.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Are those sneakers, tied together and dangling from cable and utility wires around the city, menacing covert signals that drugs and other crime have moved into our neighborhoods? Or are they just silly pranks?

Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden, known around City Hall for his remarkable ability to see things others cannot quite glimpse, believes those shoes are insidious symbols of expanding criminality.

“It’s been known for some time that gang members throw their shoes over telephone wires or power lines indicating that this is their specific territory and that drugs can be bought or sold in that area,” the councilman said.

The posting of these nefarious sneakers must be stopped, Holden said, and he will ask his council colleagues this week to contractually require cable companies to immediately remove those shoes when they appear on overhead lines.

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Although Holden said he has received numerous complaints from residents in his Mid-City district about these terrifying athletic shoes, Los Angeles police have an entirely different take on the matter.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I’ve only been on the job 22 years,” said one homicide detective from an area known for gang crime.

And another: “I’ve heard that rumor, but I don’t put much faith in it.”

LAPD spokeswoman Lt. Sharon Buck said simply: “I don’t buy it. Not true.”

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If, as Holden says, residents around the city believe their neighborhoods are turning into drug supermarkets overnight while every reliable statistic shows that crimes--including those involving drugs--are down, then perhaps he has discovered Los Angeles’ latest urban legend. After all, those myths appear mysteriously, spread spontaneously and contain elements of horror or humor. Plus, they do not have to be false, but most are.

Still, Holden is unwavering.

“There must be some fact to it,” he insisted. “Maybe someone who bought or sold their drugs told someone that [the dangling sneakers] led them there.”

Holden said he does not know the extent of the hanging shoe problem, only that residents in his district are scared of them and, he says, “They have reason to fear.”

Holden praises the Department of Water and Power and the Department of Public Works’ street lighting bureau for removing the shoes when they find them. The problem, the lawmaker says, is the cable operators who attach their lines to the city’s power and street light poles.

Those companies do not believe it is their responsibility to remove the sneakers, Holden said.

“We want to get them to take those shoes down as soon as they go up--just like we do with graffiti,” he said.

So, Angelenos may soon say farewell to threatening overhead sneakers, just as they have to graffiti.

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Or maybe not.


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