With each episode of Snowfall’s tumultuous fifth season, Franklin has been struggling to keep his once impenetrable crack empire from falling apart. From the cocaine-influenced deaths of Len Bias and a young white man placing the national spotlight on the Los Angeles drug scene in the season premiere to the police raid of the projects in episode four, Franklin has had to put his transition to legitimacy and fatherhood on hold in order to keep the drug business affording him the opportunity at a new life in order. As this latest episode has proven, the streets can take it all away in the blink of an eye.
For the entire fifth episode, Franklin’s business and family is under attack by unknown assailants acting under a coordinated effort to take out Franklin’s organization. In a series of surprise drive-by shootings, Franklin’s secluded drop off point was compromised, his weapons supplier was attacked while his second-in-command Leon was making a purchase, and Franklin’s mother, uncle, and mother of his unborn child were inches away from being killed by a hail of gunfire. Both were orchestrated in broad daylight, and one of the drive-by’s was done recklessly in an area with numerous bystanders. While Franklin and his family is confused about who was targeting them, the brazen manner in which they went about it demonstrated they wanted murder by any means necessary. It also was a terrifying example of the regularity of drive-by shootings during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s.
Once crack cocaine entered the national conversation in the late ‘80s, America was introduced to the gang warfare the L.A. drug trade was built upon. Anyone at any time could become a casualty of war. On July 4th, 1988, 17-year-old Antwon Hill was murdered in a drive-by shooting hours after two other youths were shot and injured after shots rang out from a car into a city swimming pool where people had gathered. A month earlier, 14-year-olds Francisco Plascencia and Hugo Lopez were shot outside Olive Vista Junior High School. Weeks later, 20-year-old Stacey D. Childress was killed after a shotgun and assault rifles rained bullets on a four-year-old who has critically wounded as well as ten more bystanders in a bloodbath similar to what Franklin’s family experienced when they were simply meeting outside to have a civil conversation. This wasn’t even a full year, just one four-week span in the late ‘80s. For the police and other law enforcement, the gang violence stemmed from people battling for drug supremacy.
“The rash of killings that’s occurred is not really gang-initiated, it’s drug-initiated,” said Rose Ochi, director of criminal justice planning for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, speaking with the New York Times in October 1984. “Those who are involved are executioners and dealers.”
While murders in Snowfall are common, never has every central character of the show been under fire within minutes of each other. That was intentional, as the wave of violence is indicative of how the proliferation of crack cocaine caused violence in Los Angeles to increase. According to a joint city and county agency known as Community Youth Gang Services, gang-related homicides dropped from a record-high of 351 in 1980 to 212 in 1984. In the last four years of the ‘80s, L.A. experienced 328 murders in 1986, 387 murders in 1987, 452 murders in 1988, and 554 murders in 1989.
With this season of Snowfall set in 1986, the first year gang-related homicides surpassed 300 since 1980, the carnage of episode 5 is setting the stage for how Los Angeles is becoming more of a warzone.