Support the Coalition for Fair Remapping in Los Angeles this 2020

With all the talk of elections and ‘fair’ counting this week, can anyone really stomach any more politics? Yet eventually it’s never too early to talk about the future for J.T. The L.A. Storyteller. It’s what’s right around the corner. Consider then that the 469 square miles which make up the city of Los Angeles will actually be ‘redistricted’ or redrawn soon. In other words, new maps and designations for vicinities are coming.

Wait. Does this mean that your neighborhood, like the new letter names in place of L.A.’s formerly ‘colored’ Metro rail-lines, is going to be totally remade, completely taking away what you’ve come to know as your specific part of L.A.? Or does this mean that the neighbors you’ve spent all this time getting to know will no longer be counted as your fellow stakeholders at your favorite Neighborhood Council meetings? Probably not, though given that today the L.A. City Council is better known for building luxury lofts and downtown hotels rather than affordable housing and shelter for its unhoused, one can never be too sure.

But in order to complement the decennial census’s updated figures for population counts, the various boundaries for L.A.’s neighborhoods need to be redrawn within the next couple of years. At least, that’s what City Council’s heralded Los Angeles City Charter says:

“Every ten years, the Council shall by ordinance redraw district lines to be used for all elections of Council members, including their recall, and for filling any vacancy in the office of member of the Council, after the effective date of the redistricting ordinance. Districts so formed shall each contain, as nearly as practicable, equal portions of the total population of the City as shown by the Federal Census immediately preceding the formation of districts.”

Yet by the time the last redistricting for L.A. was completed in 2012, when the redistricting commission signed approximately 250,000 residents into each of the 15 L.A. City Council members’ districts, the commission was widely blasted as a parody of accountability and fairness. For one, commission appointees, many of whom were former employees or people with close ties to L.A. City Hall, were handpicked by L.A. City Council members themselves.

For another, those representatives themselves were just pawns, either oblivious or obsequious to backdoor deals to the redistricting process overseen by council members. This was captured no better than by various stories of Herb Wesson–the now termed-out former representative of Council District 10–basically admitting to directing that his district be drawn in favor of Black votership on the south side at the expense of Asian-American voters in central Los Angeles, all the while forgetting to mention that such Black votership was meant to favor him and his political prospects, personally.

Wesson’s debacle led to a lawsuit against him from his own constituents in Koreatown, Lee v. City Of Los Angeles (15-55478), which argued that Wesson basically disenfranchised Asian-American voters there in order to fulfill his own narrow political interests. After eight years, the case is still in court, awaiting a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the lawsuit made one thing clear: L.A.’s redistricting has been little more than a way for various council members to consolidate power over the city, much to the chagrin of its less powerful communities. Even the normally conservative L.A. Times editorial board has called L.A.’s redistricting over the last few decades a ‘sham’ process, and cited the need for a total makeover:

“If Los Angeles had a truly independent citizen redistricting commission, like the ones that serve San Diego, Long Beach and Sacramento, City Hall insiders and political operatives would likely be disqualified from serving on it.”

“L.A.’s last redistricting was a sham. Do better this time”, L.A. Times, 2020

Also fearing a repeat of 2012, earlier this year more than thirty different civic groups, nonprofit organizations, and other activists in Los Angeles sent a letter to the current group of L.A. City Council members calling for a transparent and inclusive redistricting process this next go-round. Their letter notes concerns regarding the recent appointment of commissioners with previous ties to L.A. City Council–as it was the case back in 2012–as well as a rushed appointment process. It also points out that there are no specifications regarding how appointees may be removed if conflict of interest makes their removal necessary, as well as concerns about an accessible process for the public in all forms, including in terms of language access for the multitude of languages spoken by the city’s immigrant communities.

Such issues would be important in a “normal” year, but given that in just the last six months one former L.A. City Council member, Mitchell Englander, has plead guilty to corruption charges while another, Jose Huizar, has been arrested for using his office to satisfy Chinese real estate moguls, it’s anything but a normal year, which is not lost on the coalition members:

“With trust in LA City Hall waning, we cannot afford a repeat of previous redistricting efforts which not only divided communities and resulted in litigation, but further entrenched fierce divisions within City Council.”

RE: A More Independent Redistricting Process for LA, Coalition Letter from 30+ organizations

Still, even with such public calls for transparency, considering that this is the same city hall which responded to a summer of vehement outcries to “de-fund the police” by merely rescinding a scheduled raise for L.A.’s police force this next fiscal year–which, for the record, was initially a raise unilaterally agreed to by the mayor’s office to begin with and not an item that was voted on by the full council–is it better to be cynical that City Hall will budge on a more accountable redistricting process for its millions of constituents this next decade? It just may be.

But what’s also true is that with support from various progressive coalitions in L.A–including some signed on to the redistricting letter to the council–Nithya Raman, a first time candidate for public office, has just successfully unseated incumbent David Ryu. It’s also true that Black Lives Matter-L.A., after a years-long effort to expose eight-year incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey for failing to press charges against a single LAPD officer after more than 600 shooting deaths, has just ousted her. In other words, it’s safe to say that calls and coalitions for a more accountable Los Angeles are only growing louder every year; and in the next two years alone, if City Hall’s council members continue pretending not to see or hear some of these most vocal constituents, then they should expect only further rude awakenings, all of which will be in order. After all, as The Los Angeles City Charter states:

“Every City office and department, and every City official and employee, is expected to perform their functions with diligence and dedication on behalf of the people of the City of Los Angeles. In the delivery of City services and in the performance of its tasks, the government shall endeavor to perform at the highest levels of achievement, including efficiency, accessibility, accountability, quality, use of technologically advanced methods, and responsiveness to public concerns within budgetary limitations. (emphasis mine)”

In the 13th district, to get in touch with Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any concerns regarding his handpicked commissioner for the redrawing of the district, you can find the contact info for his Chief of Staff, Jean Min, HERE.

J.T.

A protester holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall

The Future of the LA Times Depends on Disowning White Supremacy

In November 2016, the world found itself reeling in shock and disappointment that an anti-intellectual, openly racist talk-show host could clinch the hearts and minds of a decisive portion of the electorate to seize the White House. From New York to Los Angeles, newsrooms and editorial chiefs-of-staff across the U.S. conceded they largely failed to take seriously the power of race-baiting among the U.S.’s predominantly white “swing” voters, and promised to be more comprehensive in their political coverage going forward. But four years later, with the threat of a second Trump term on the horizon, in Los Angeles, a clear unwillingness to condemn white supremacy from the L.A. Times shows just how much our intelligentsia still has to learn.

At the height of unrest in Minneapolis and later Los Angeles, when businesses shuttered and police sirens shrieked through nights of “curfew,” the L.A. Times published headlines decrying broken shop-windows and damaged property, with photos of mostly Black and Brown Americans under arrest and awash in turmoil. Meanwhile, on all of the “big five” social media platforms, many saw a different story playing out: window-breakers and vandals were not simply random Black or Brown people, but more often masked, white agitators, so-called “anarchists” with professional training, and Trump supporters exploiting police forces spread too thin attacking unarmed protesters. From L.A. City Hall, Mayor Garcetti responded with armed forces to the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, and once again exposed “democracy” in our city as little more than a poster-board term for government and police organization more ready to defend racial hegemony here than to supply local hospital workers with protective personal equipment in the fight against a global pandemic.

When it came to coverage of these events, or their retelling, scores of people ‘on the ground’ relied on Twitter updates from citizen journalists such as the team at L.A. Taco and StreetWatch L.A., and not on the L.A. Times reporting staff. The biggest reason for this is simply because of the Times’s reputation as an “objective” source, which most experts today agree is just a stand-in term for “coverage without reference to race.” Such coverage by default is not objective reporting for racialized groups, who consistently bear the brunt of police and state violence, but it also plays a major part to obfuscate officials’ roles in acts of violence against such groups.

Consider that Eric Garcetti was originally elected to office in 2013 by only 12.3% percent of L.A. county’s registered voters. Despite such a weak show of support, when protests in L.A. were blamed for damaged property, Garcetti became the commander of an LAPD force that arrested more than 2,700 unarmed protesters in three days, and which at one point jammed those protesters into crowded buses at the height of the worst uncontained respiratory pandemic in over a century.

Garcetti’s mass arrests were an offense against the democratic ideals of free speech and the right to assembly in Los Angeles. But along with Michel Moore and Alex Villanueva, respectively official “chiefs” of the LAPD and the L.A. County sheriff’s department–and backed by Governor Newsom’s National Guard–Garcetti re-branded military law as “curfew.” As the city entered an otherwise undefined legislative realm during the unrest, this euphemization rather easily undermined any notion of democracy in the second largest city in America. Yet the curfew acted not just as a terror for youth, elderly and disabled citizens everywhere who had nothing to do with BLM protests, but also as a restriction on all residents in L.A. County, whether in the city proper or in its suburban respites. The L.A. Times board needed to call this “curfew” out as unacceptable, but instead chose to mostly just “retell” the story, offering virtually no commentary on the larger implications of a military-police state abetted by a “curfew.” Similarly, during coverage of the unrest, the paper relied heavily on officials’ accounts and narratives over the events of the day, even as everyday citizens had far more evidence of aggressive tactics by the LAPD against them than vice versa regarding the danger posed.

Garcetti’s decision to disperse protesters in Los Angeles with SWAT teams and the National Guard also placed him in the same ideological camp of the president despite any “liberal” status. The L.A. Times would thus not have been wrong to juxtapose the way in which whether officials wear red or blue ties, during civic unrest, the vast majority of them side with the state, and by extension, the state’s enforcement of white supremacy. Consider that just a few weeks before the civic unrest the same L.A. Times board published a strong statement lambasting L.A. City Hall’s dirty corruption schemes as exposed by the FBI. Yet smothering protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly with batons and smokescreens was also a dirty corruption of every one of our constitutional rights. Is the editorial board waiting on the FBI for the green-light to make a statement on this?

In any case, renouncing police brutality and white supremacy is not as hard as the editorial rooms may believe. Remember that the very phrase of “white supremacy” itself is not an attack on white people, just as “police brutality” is not an assault on individual police officers. These phrases are observed facts of the structural realities that continually marginalize and criminalize non-white communities in Los Angeles and cities across America. The numbers and stories and data on this have been relayed ad naseum. Yet they still need to be referenced so long as they’re facts on the ground, including from L.A.’s largest paper.

It’s true that calling out such facts ‘on the ground’ should prove difficult for a historically white-owned and white-led paper, especially considering that ownership for decades rested on the Chandler family, an anti-union and pro-white elite dynasty. But it’s for this same reason that acknowledgement of the facts on the ground will be even more fruitful for the paper’s future.

During the height of protests in Washington D.C., when the lights of the White House went dim, Trump and his allies tucked into a bunker, presumably hiding from the “thugs and rapists”–as the administration is fond to label non-white communities–too close to the gates of the White House. In fact they were Black, white and more protesters assembled en masse for Black Lives Matter, and against policies that see mostly white men at both the lowest and highest levels of government consistently face almost no accountability for crimes against the public. In Los Angeles, a similarly multi-ethnic mass has spent the last few months organizing and pleading with officials, looking to have their concerns and proposals meaningfully addressed, only to find at nearly each turn elected officials who are unwilling to meaningfully commit to anti-racist policies and anti-racist budgets. This leaves only the “the fourth estate” to show leadership.

If newsrooms and editorial boards like those of the L.A. Times are serious about an informed populace for a democratic republic, they need to take an active position against the power structures threatening these ideals, including white supremacy. They must do so through consistent anti-racism, including anti-racist stances in their coverage, in their opinion section, and in scrutiny of elected officials’ decisions when they support policies that reinforce racial hegemony. This is not just a matter of what’s been trending on Twitter, but the proven way to hold some of the most powerful actors in our cities and states accountable for their actions.

Taking a stance will not be entirely new or completely innovative, either. In Burlington, Vermont, for example, where the population is more than 85% white, the city recently declared racism a public health concern, which is a good starting point for policy. In turn, continuing to do the opposite, or to remain “objective,” has damaging effects, and only keeps the paper’s credibility and readership low, particularly with non-white communities, a grave concern given the majority non-white demographics of L.A. County. But the fact is that the paper’s low readership has well to do with the impoverishment faced by Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles; it’s not easy for a single mother, for example, to subscribe to the daily news when her first concern is food for her family and keeping a roof overhead. Yet she and millions more like her live here, and the city depends enormously on their labor. Our paper needs to show it truly grasps this.

It’s also true that actively addressing white supremacy each time it rears its head, including in the actions of our local and national officials, will likely to turn some people away. But leaving this battle for scholars and communities of color to keep waging by themselves ‘on the ground’ reeks of the indifference and elitism of the Chandler paper. Moreover, the distinction between ‘just policy’ and policy in defense of racialized hegemony is as important in this election cycle as the distinction between “rebels” and the treasonous, pro-slavery armies they actually were during the civil war.

Less than a century before that war, a small band of white men were written into the nation’s history books as courageous and impeccable ‘founding fathers’ who freed ‘us’ from tyrannic Redcoat soldiers, and who produced the laws of the land which govern millions of citizens to this day. It’s now self-evident that much was omitted from those history books, and that such omissions continue to have consequences. The L.A. Times can thus not afford to continue omitting the legacy of white supremacy from its coverage, just as it cannot afford to ignore the demands for equity made most recently by the paper’s Black and Latinx caucuses. In the same way that Biden has been beckoned to do with his campaign, the paper’s leadership has more than a responsibility to stand in defense of a progressive and inclusive agenda. It has an active interest in it; the future readership of the paper is still waiting to have its concerns meaningfully addressed. It falls on the fourth estate to fill the void. The time is now.

J.T.

To the Skaters Getting Started: We are a team, a family, an adventure

To all my fellow beginners out there, it is never too late to start skating or even to pick it back up again. I was 7 years old when I first started my adventures with skateboarding with no clue where it would take me, but with just one family member who helped me learn the basics! One year after I first got some of the basics, I stopped because I wasn’t motivated enough, which I sincerely regret. But many years later, my skateboarding adventure would see a new beginning at Lindsay Skate Park on 42nd Pl in South Los Angeles.

Gilbert Lindsay Skate park is where I grew as a person, and where I found my second family. To those who live around Lindsay Skate park or any other Skate park, visit them and experience for yourself how skateboarding and its community can help you as a person.

This year, due to the pandemic, my skateboarding had to be put on hold for a while, which wasn’t easy for me because staying home so much was tough and still is. When I was finally able to go outside again, getting back on my board was kind of odd at first because since it was put on hold for a while, certain parts of it became more challenging. Basically I had to relearn everything and it wasn’t easy. Skateboarding is something you must constantly practice or you’ll lose the ability to do certain things. But eventually, after two weeks of relearning everything, I got my style back and felt motivated to go harder, to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. It’s all helped me gain even more experience then I had before quarantine.

So to those who want to quit this amazing adventure that skateboarding can provide for you, don’t because once you see yourself grow you will only continue getting better. In skateboarding there is no shame for who you are or what skill level you’re in. No matter what, you’ll always be welcomed into the skateboarding community like it’s your second family.

To those that think needing help getting started isn’t “cool enough,” you are wrong. The adventures and challenges that skateboarding can bring upon you are not easy, so if you need some tips, just ask someone because it will help you progress in this crazy adventure.

The first skate deck I ever used was a “blind” deck. And if you still have your very first skate deck, be sure to keep it because one day you’ll look back at it and think about all the happy adventures that skateboarding began with. What I see for myself in these crazy fun adventures on my deck is something that will continue long into the future for me. So if you’re thinking of starting this adventure, go for it, and be prepared for the challenges it can bring upon your life. Most importantly, whether you see it as something professional or as something to pass time with, just have fun.

Life is filled with challenges and it can be confusing sometimes because everyone handles the challenges differently, but to those who can use some help with the many obstacles life brings, skateboarding won’t let you down. For myself, as someone who gets confused with life’s challenges sometimes, it’s not easy, but with the freedom of skateboarding, the happy adventures help me with everything else. They can help you too!

IR

IR is a skater and student in the 10th grade through South Los Angeles. He dedicates this poem to all the new skaters out there.