It’s Now Time to Ask if Gentrification is a Fourth Wave of Jim Crow Policy

Just shy of 200 years after President Andrew Jackson signed into law and enforced his long-coveted Indian Removal Act of 1830, ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1832 recognition in Worcester v. Georgia that forcibly pushing the Cherokee nation west of the Mississippi river citing hastily-drafted genocidal state laws would be an illegal violation of the Cherokees’ sovereignty, today Black, non-white immigrant, and Indian families in cities all across the U.S. increasingly comprise the overwhelming majority of makeshift “homeless” encampments underneath American “freeways.”

At the same time, for a growing number of pockets in Los Angeles such as Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, East Hollywood, and Leimert Park, where Black, Asian, and Latinx spaces have historically been segregated due to zoning laws, racial covenants, and more, gentrification now acts as an additional, entirely legal form of exclusion. The process of taking land in these areas, once considered subpar for their “racial elements,” then remaking it to fit wealthier, whiter city-goers, almost uniformly prices non-whites out of areas some have called home for generations. Being now so widespread throughout L.A., gentrification has driven non-whites out of the city and towards less developed vestiges of the South-land such as the Inland Empire or Palmdale, where “older” white racism still controls most policy-making, including policies like denying apartments to those formerly convicted of a crime, which disproportionately affects Black & Latinx renters priced out of Los Angeles. In fact, L.A. and California’s gentrification have been noted to drive non-whites entirely out of California, in a mass exodus for Black families in particular which scholars have identified as “reverse-migration,” to the historic U.S. south, where legacies of the official Jim Crow still fester. To borrow a definition for the historic term from Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia:

“Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.”

What is also now widely recognized as the “second” Jim Crow, starting roughly in the fifties and becoming more pronounced over the 1960s, was racialized credit access, or denying loans to non-whites in the United States, particularly for Black people, which placed white home-owners ahead of non-whites by several generations and continues to this day. The “third” Jim Crow, as documented by Michelle Alexander, was the rise of what is now known as the prison industrial complex, or the policy of investing in the incarceration of Blacks and other non-whites, fueled overwhelmingly by the “war on drugs” initiated by President Nixon in the early 1970s; as recently as the last ten years in the U.S., non-white communities accounted for more than two-thirds of the approximately 2.3 million people now still incarcerated within the states, despite accounting for approximately just two-fifths of the population.

Today, in the “post-recession” era following the predatory lending crisis of the final years of President W. Bush’s second term in office–and through the initial years of President Obama’s first term–a new wave of disenfranchisement by way of gentrification, combined with city budgets dedicated to luxury developments, tourist hotels, and policing, is pushing more non-white communities out of major cities in the U.S. towards lesser-resourced areas; the phenomenon is becoming so pronounced that it merits a reassessment of gentrification as a set of policies in the present moment given L.A.’s historic forms of disenfranchisment for non-white communities.

A century of civil rights violations can go by very quickly, though not without excruciating details, often also accompanied by different forms of resistance. The Cherokee nation knew this 200 years ago when they adopted the English concepts of “sovereignty” to make their case before an ultimately unreliable U.S. Supreme Court, and–while they’re still owed land and restitution–continue to herald sovereignty as an inalienable right of all aboriginal tribes in the United States, as indicated by their support earlier this decade of the Standing Rock Sioux resistance to the North Dakota Access Pipeline. And so, to build “a more perfect” resistance to evictions, displacement, banishment, and other forms of erasing Black & Immigrant communities in Los Angeles, let’s first consider a few instances in L.A.’s development over the 20th century, when non-white communities here abundantly faced, but also resisted reduction of their way of life and second-class citizenship at the hands of racist policies and their proselytizers.

I. Anti-Black Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Black beach-goers in Santa Monica circa 1925, from the Tessa collection at the L.A. Public Library

In 1925, when racial covenants, along with the Klu Klux Klan and the LAPD attacked Black homeowners and beach-goers who preceded white residencies in the cities of Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Bruce Beach, to try and scare them away from these areas, Black communities there organized and fought back, even if only to come away with very partial victories against the white power structures formed against them:

“[Black-developed] Bruce’s Beach met its demise at the hands of the Manhattan Beach city council, which deployed eminent domain to dispossess Black property owners of their homes in the mid 1920s. Though it took years of litigation, the court eventually awarded the Bruces $14,500 in compensation…When in 1927 the city tried to formally segregate the space, the NAACP held a wade in protest and forced the city to revoke any sort of overt racial separation, though the lot remained barren and largely unused for decades.” – “Fighting for Leisure: African Americans, Beaches, and Civil Rights in Early 20th Century L.A.,” Reft, KCET

Black organizing against white supremacy in Los Angeles would re-surge again in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and a century after the outset of the “roaring 20s” Black Lives Matter organizers in Los Angeles and across the U.S. have entirely shifted the political dialogue from white narratives of the health crisis posed by this year, to the much older conversation of racial inequality in this country. BLM-LA also continues to fire up the electorate in Los Angeles even post-election.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles, June 2020; Photo by Brett Morrison/Flickr

II. Anti Japanese American Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Japanese Americans herded at Union Station to be sent to Concentration Camps, February 1942; Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

In February 1942, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the rounding up of Japanese Americans to be placed in concentration camps, high-profile opponents of the ill-advised and racist campaign were few and far in between. But some did make their voices heard, including the Reverend Emery Andrews, a Baptist minister and former emissary to Japan, who wrote in 1943 that:

“[F]uture historians will record this evacuation–this violation of citizenship rights–as one of the blackest blots on American history; as the time that democracy came the nearest of being wrecked.” – Andrews, “An Interpretation”

Student leaders at the time also made their voices heard against the Concentration Camps. At Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, student newspaper editor, Elizabeth Ginsburg, voiced her opposition to rounding up Japanese Americans for “relocation camps”–as they were called at the time–in an op-ed, and also visited one of her best friends, Susie Hattori, when she and her family were held at the Santa Anita-racetracks in the San Gabriel Valley, to show her solidarity with them.

“‘It was shocking: They were in horse stalls,'” Ginsburg recalled. “‘We felt it was a terrible injustice.'” – “Boyle Heights celebrates its ethnic diversity,” L.A. Times

While at least 100,000 Japanese Americans would overwhelmingly peaceably accept their relegation to concentration camps, together with later generations in Los Angeles, they would also help form one of the current city’s most persistent organizations advocating for the preservation of L.A.’s racialized past in the Japanese American National Museum. In 1980, Japanese American activists also went on to form the Little Tokyo Services Center, which to this day deploys an array of senior services in Little Tokyo and downtown L.A., and which even develops low-income housing for working-class communities across Los Angeles.

Little Tokyo Service Center Founders, circa 1980

III. Anti Mexican American Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Mexican American youth beaten and stripped of pants in downtown Los Angeles, June 1943; Courtesy of Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

In early 1943, with the Japanese out of the way, anxious white hysteria in Los Angeles led to increased targeting and attacks against Mexican Americans in the city, culminating with the arrest of 17 Chicano youth alleged to be members of the 38th street “gang,” based on weak evidence accusing them of murdering a fellow Mexican American youth at “Sleepy Lagoon.” In a quickly concluded trial, the openly racist Judge Fricke convicted every last one of the Mexican American youth with sentences ranging from a year to life in prison.

But writers and activists, including the legendary historian Carey McWilliams, rallied and formed the “Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.” By 1944, the committee successfully argued for each conviction to be overturned based on the fact that racial prejudice during the trial was the only evidence for which there was a case to be made during the entire debacle. As professor Frank P. Barajas points out about overturning these convictions at the time:

“This was no small achievement considering the enormous influence of the Hearst press and the L.A. Times and their harping on the gangster theme.” – Barajas, The Defense Committees of the Sleepy Lagoon

Just a single generation after the humiliating trials of the zoot suit rampage overseen by the white establishment, in 1968 the Chicano “Blowouts,” otherwise known as the East L.A. walkouts, inspired a wave of organizing, ultimately leading to the creation of such critical spaces as Black, Brown and Asian ethnic studies departments.

Students protest during a walkout at Roosevelt High School, Devra Weber, 1968; from the La Raza Photograph Collection, courtesy of the photographer and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, ©Devra Weber

And just this past August, activists– some of whose early years of organizing were informed by those same walkouts, not to mention by student organizing in 1994 opposing Governor Pete Wilson’s Prop 187–watched Governor Newsom sign Assembly Bill 1460, making ethnic studies courses a requirement for graduation at the CSU. Timing could hardly have been better. For the fall semester this year, the University of California admitted its largest Latino class in the UC’s history.

IV. White Gentrification & Mutli-Ethnic Resistance in Los Angeles in 2020

Cancel Rent, Los Angeles Tenants Union, July 2020

Today, a new civil rights era, most recently in response to police violence, but also as the result of years’ worth of work by organizers, is increasingly bringing together Black, Latinx, Asian and working-class Jewish and white communities across the U.S.

In Los Angeles, this is probably no better demonstrated than by the L.A. Tenants Union, a multi-ethnic, horizontally led coalition of activists fighting–and winning–for renters. The organization is quickly growing in chapters and membership, but make no mistake about it: The L.A.T.U. was not founded by a narrow analysis of renter’s rights, but by a larger lens studying the historic role gentrification plays in making the city less accessible to its historically working-class communities. In the words of L.A.T.U co-founder Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal:

“Gentrification is displacement and replacement of the poor for profit. Gentrification is not a natural or inevitable process. Gentrification is human-made, and often aided in large part by government policy.” – Rosenthal, “101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union,” Commune

But while the L.A. Tenants Union has placed gentrification at the center of its work in resistance, up to now most scholarship on the issue has largely studied it as a “buzz-word.” A recent book authored by three scholars titled Gentrifier (2017) only goes as far as to define gentrification as “the reinvestment of real estate investment money or capital into dis-invested, devalued, centrally-located neighborhoods, which fosters a new infrastructure for middle and high-income residents.”

Left out of that very definition is what actually happens to the working-class poor within such areas or neighborhoods, who are overwhelmingly people of color. But in a post-Trump environment, it’s also important to reconsider the way gentrification has intermingled with a larger “white backlash” which has shown no signs of slowing down over the next decade. Nestled in a larger context of what leftists would more readily identify as U.S. imperialism, or policies backed by armed forces whose revered “founders” were slave-holders at the same time that they advocated for total annihilation of Indians from their native lands, gentrification strikes at the core of what it has historically meant–and what it increasingly means–to be a non-white working-class person of color in the U.S.: to watch, almost in “real-time,” how institutionalized racism continues to remove and dispossess non-white culture of space in major cities like Los Angeles, reminiscent of U.S. removal policies advocated by such legends as Thomas Jefferson in the first decades of the colonies, as well as the policies in the official Jim Crow South which sparked the historic Civil Rights movement of the 1960s:

“This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.” – Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, December 29, 1813

V. An extended look back at Discrimination in Los Angeles since 1920, and then some

“Japs Keep Moving – This is a White Man’s Neighborhood,” “Japs Keep Out,” and “Member Hollywood Protective Association” in Los Angeles circa 1920; courtesy of the National Japanese American Historical Society

In the 1920s, when white supremacists in Los Angeles used racial covenants, police badges, and renowned newspapers and film studios to demonize Black and Immigrant people as “undesirables” who drove down “property values,” their tactics foretold of a legacy of white exclusion of non-white people in the form of redlining maps 20 years later.

Redlining maps would separate wealthier white communities from working-class Black, Asian and Latinx communities, as well as from working-class white and Jewish neighbors nearby, and for decades, the California Realtors Association would persistently use media to maintain the “separate but equal” doctrine inherent in redlining, and also to discredit any effort challenging their maintenance of segregated housing as a “de facto” condition of life, or something that, ‘just happened.’

Front page of the May 6, 1948 edition of the Los Angeles Sentinel after Shelley v. Kraemer, when the U.S Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

But it must be made clear that redlining and the restriction of housing for whites only–which acted as L.A’s. and California’s unofficial Jim Crow policies–were not just tasteless, staid government and municipal codes supported by private groups such as the California Realtors Association. They also actively disrupted and sabotaged peaceable integrations of white and non-white people in working class neighborhoods. This is because redlining was not only assigned to communities where Black and Immigrant workers made up the majority of residencies, but also wherever they made up even only a portion of them; in other words, redlined neighborhoods included Black, Immigrant, Jewish, and also white, working-class people and laborers.

It’s the inherent ideology of whiteness in federal redlining policies, then, advanced and abetted by lower municipal or city officials, that also must be studied more closely for its reverberations even into the present moment. Because even if — its language of “racial elements” aside — redlining didn’t explicitly encourage racism against non-whites in Los Angeles, it certainly made room for it, as historian of the Library of Congress, Ryan Reft, has noted about the number of white hate crimes against Black home-ownership and neighborhoods in Los Angeles following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, which outlawed those racial covenants that were harassing and displacing Black beach-goers in L.A. back in the 20s:

“During the 1950s, six bombings and four incidents of arson against black homeowners were recorded in Los Angeles County by the County Commission on Human Rights. During the same period, out of 95 “racial ‘housing incidents’” nearly 75 percent were against African Americans with the rest divided between Japanese and Mexican Californians.” – Reft, “How Prop 14 Shaped California’s Racial Covenants,” KCET

Enter 1965 in Los Angeles. Less than nine months after the predominantly white electorate in California voted against Fair Housing in the state, that is, against banning racist discrimination in home-sales–which the California Supreme Court would deem unconstitutional two years later anyway–by summer of the mid-1960s, the over-policed and largely unemployed Black families of Watts and South Central Los Angeles under Mayor Yorty had survived twenty-plus years of a uniquely Californian, L.A. brand of redline and racial-covenant inspired racism. When LAPD’s 77th street division still couldn’t keep their hands off Black bodies there, then, a generation of resentment pushed back. But Los Angeles’s political leadership had actually been warned about such tensions repeatedly, as far back as twenty years prior.

In a June 24, 1943 article on the L.A. Times regarding a commission studying the “underlying causes” for racial unrest in L.A.–that is, after white U.S. Navy sailors attacked Mexican Americans in downtown Los Angeles “for wearing zoot suits,” a Black community leader is reported to have informed city and state officials that conditions were ripe for more discord if the city did nothing to curtail its racist policies, particularly regarding derelict housing conditions for L.A.’s Black communities:

“[Williams] told the jury about the increased housing problems facing the Negro districts as a result of the recent influx of more than 30,000 Negroes who have come to Los Angeles to take good-paying defense jobs. Williams said that the present housing facilities of the Negro district are entirely inadequate and reported that he told the jurors a good deal of the gang problems could be traced to this source.” – “Negroes Testify at Hearing on Zoot Suit Riots,” L.A. Times

Tragically, in 1968, three years after the LAPD and National Guard swarmed the people of Watts, the U.S. Kerner Commission would really only so much as echo Williams’ notes on L.A.’s and other major cities’ inadequate responses to the needs of their non-white communities, particularly in terms of housing and employment opportunities:

“[C]ondemned by segregation and poverty to live in the decaying slums of our central cities, the goal of a decent home and suitable environment is as far distant as ever.” – Kerner Commission, 1968

And yet, even with this information at hand, by the 1970s neither federal, nor state or municipal officials in Los Angeles would move considerably to develop decent, discrimination-free housing for the Black, Brown and Asian communities that came to the rescue over the course of World War II when L.A. desperately needed them as essential workers for the city’s — and California’s — manufacturing and agriculture economies.

Rather, a generation after the war to end all wars, federal and city resources from the 1960s through the 1970s were devoted to another war abroad in Vietnam, as well as to the suppression of Black communities with programs such as COINTELPRO, which litigated and destroyed anti-racist coalitions such as the Black Panthers. Moreover, like racial covenants in the 20s, and redlining in the 40s, unrest over the Vietnam war, and the concurrent Civil Rights movement in the 60s inspired “back-lash” not just from state and city officials, but also from civilians, who once again organized to wage anti-Black and Immigrant policies in major cities across the U.S..

In Los Angeles, for example, predominantly white homeowners from the San Fernando Valley led efforts against integration with Proposition 1 (1979), which cancelled plans to bus segregated Black students stranded in schools within South Central (including Watts) to better-funded, whiter schools in the San Fernando Valley. As noted in Daniel HoSang’s Racial Propositions (2010):

“[In 1979,] In Los Angeles…a mass of white parents voted by a margin of 73% to put an end to school busing in the city, which was only instituted in 1977 and thus not even off the ground yet.” – “Racial Propositions,” J.T. The L.A. Storyteller

Let’s also not forget another major citizen’s led back-lash against non-whites in Los Angeles and California during the seventies, Howard Jarvis’s Prop 13 in 1978, which reduced massive amounts in revenue from property taxes for the state for funding and maintaining public parks, schools, libraries, and more spaces where non-white communities were increasing in number.

A barrage of ads and newspaper editorials from the 60s to the 70s showing white homeowners “rebelling” against such taxes, which implicitly meant “fighting back” against the growing diversity of California, also inspired less “noble” causes than those of Jarvis and L.A.’s SFV area parents, such as the Nazi party in Los Angeles showing up to anti-war marches to, let’s say, show their “support for the troops.”

Nazi supporters in Los Angeles at Wilshire boulevard, 1968; Courtesy of Tessa Collections at L.A. Public Library

VI. Gentrification, the Ellis Act, and a Looming Eviction “Crisis” of Staggering Proportions

Housing being destroyed at 1178 Hobart blvd in Little Armenia, of Mitch O’Farrell’s district; December 2020

After 52 years since the 1968 Kerner report, and two generations since four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King to within an inch of his life were acquitted on national television in 1992, in 2020 still too few Black and Latino youth, as well as AAPI and Indigenous youth, in South Central, East or Central Los Angeles and beyond, have been given much reason to believe they’ll fare substantially better as adults than their predecessors from prior decades; a growing number of the places that constitute their neighborhoods are being torn down, at the same time that new generations of “homeless” encampments are going up, showing how thehistoric wealth and opportunity gaps between white and non-white futures that began in the early twentieth century in Los Angeles are only roaring into the twenty-first.

A hundred years after 1920, while the non-white groups among the county’s 9 million residents today have certainly made some gains in spite of white covenants, concentration camps, hostile courtrooms, the firebombing of their homes, less access to health insurance, police harassment, incarceration, dis-invested schools, and more, these groups still predominantly constitute the most dispossessed communities in Los Angeles. There is no question that Black people in Los Angeles, and in California overall, have suffered the worst discrimination over the course of the modern state’s 170 years in business, but Indigenous and non-white immigrant communities, especially Latinx and Asian ones, have also been left behind by city and state governments they’ve historically worked hard to support. It will also come as little surprise that the same disproportions of wealth and access to space in Los Angeles is the trend nationally; according to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population. Similarly, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and people who identify as two or more races make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population. – “Racial Inequalities in Homelessness, by the numbers”

Moreover, the health crisis in 2020 has only exacerbated historic policies of discrimination in housing and access to space for non-white communities in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, the UCLA Luskin Institute estimated that as a result of the failed federal response, up to 449,000 people in L.A. County who suddenly lost their jobs amid shutdowns this year–overwhelmingly workers of color–are now at risk of being evicted from an estimated 365,000 housing units once Governor Newsom’s emergency order is lifted sometime in 2021.

This eviction tidal wave is also apart from the damage already done to ethnic, working-class neighborhoods by Ellis Act evictions, which destroy rent-stabilized housing, and which have only accelerated over the past two decades, including this year despite the health crisis and emergency order. In other words, the possibility of hundreds of thousands of more encampments, erected by non-white families in particular, along sidewalks and freeway overpasses in L.A. is pounding incessantly at the door.

Encampments along the 101 Freeway in East Hollywood; Mitch O’Farrell’s District; December 2020

Thus, the policy of enabling posh, white gentrifiers to remake space and thoroughfares in historically ethnic neighborhoods at this time is not only hostile to people of color for the obscene way it whitewashes former “slums” in L.A. that couldn’t have survived in Los Angeles if not for resilient Black, Latinx and Asian labor for more than a century, but also for how it entirely disrupts the fact that 100 years since racial zoning laws in Los Angeles were innovated to delineate communities for their Black, Latinx, Asian or Jewish “undesirables,” there has still been no official recourse from either the federal, state or local government to correct for an almost total betrayal of their duty to ensure fair housing and equal opportunity for these communities regardless of their skin color, surnames, or pocket sizes.

Moreover, gentrification in cities like Los Angeles has not been just an “inevitable” development either, but a planned series of events that have required city-approval by L.A. City Council members and their staff at each turn. Yet to date, there is no bylaw, or provision at L.A. City Hall’s Planning and Land Use committee, which is where all proposed building or “make-over” projects in L.A. go before they’re approved, requiring city officials to consider cultural and socioeconomic factors, along with community participation, in zoning and business permit decisions.

As a result, dispossession of the “older” L.A. which gentrification drives is not just an aesthetic issue, but an anxiety-producing, psychological pitfall that can feel like an attack on non-white residents for how the process normalizes–relatively quickly and matter-of-factly–erasure of their culture in neighborhoods they were once only segregated in, but which they’ve since called home and “kept alive” with very little, if any support from the city.

At the same time, another storm brewing over L.A’s most vulnerable communities is also on the rise; even before the mass of evictions estimated by UCLA, eviction attempts this year have already ramped up in Los Angeles, as recent tensions at the College Hotel in East Hollywood showed, when a manager tried to scare out an elderly Latina woman whose husband–and co-renter–recently passed away, by calling the police on her. It is considered illegal under the temporary stay-at-home order which is supposed to protect renters until January 2021, but LAPD is still being called to oversee removal of tenants, who are overwhelmingly people of color in working-class communities.

Aggression against vulnerable renters this year has also correlated with another “back-lash” in the form of increased clean-up “sweeps” of the unhoused–34% of whom are disproportionately Black people–on L.A.’s sidewalks due to L.A. City Hall ordinance. Clean-up sweeps include destroying unhoused people’s belongings, as well as their arrest, even despite this being the year of the “shelter-in-place” order.

In 2017, even the United Nations deemed such actions of hubris or slap-dash removal of L.A.’s unsheltered communities without providing comprehensive access to transitional housing and services as totally inadequate responses from our elected officials. Fortunately, as during previous instances of inhumane policies towards L.A.’s more vulnerable communities, tenants unions and other organized residents in the city have sprung up to largely fill the role that’s supposed to be the city, state and federal governments’, amassing protective “squads” of the unhoused in the face of surprise clean-up sweeps overseen by LAPD, and protesting as well as advocating for L.A.’s unhoused residents with social-media hashtags highlighting the need for “services not sweeps,” and “homes not zones,” from L.A.’s elected officials.

L.A. City Council officials discussing the legality of homeless “sweeps” in Los Angeles, September 2020

As seen in previous decades of blatant discrimination in Los Angeles, compounding these issues is the fact that, like racial covenants in the 1920s, and redlining in the 1940s, gentrification and other forms of city-sanctioned removal and reduction of space for L.A.’s ethnic, working-class communities are also not simply staid and tasteless policies. Recall that similarly to the days following Shelley vs Kraemer (1948), when random fire-bombings of Black homes in the 50s saw a major uptick, the process of dispossessing non-white groups of their homes and cultural hallmarks today, not to mention a few feet on the sidewalk, in a city which has historically left them to fend for themselves, just reinforces racist doctrines and beliefs. Such policies ultimately inspire less sophisticated, but equally offensive and sometimes even more harmful forms of “back-lash.”

Take the recently defaced “Map of the Motherland” mural by LA_Steez in Echo Park, for example, where in a community that over the last two decades has been whitewashed of its Black, Latinx and Asian roots, the crossing out of the indigenous person’s face and disparagement feels like something right out of a post-card from the mid-western-bred L.A. Chamber of Commerce over a century ago, which eagerly invisibilized California’s non-white and indigenous roots in order to entice whites from the mid-west to get on over here.

As a result, amid the racialized eviction “crisis” looming over the next few years, as well as the destruction of rent-stabilized housing for predominantly non-white communities via Ellis Act evictions, growing clean-up “sweeps” of the unhoused, and more, gentrification must be reassessed for what it increasingly implies about any efforts to create equity between Los Angeles’s white and non-white communities today; that there is no equity, but only acceptance of increased inequality as a ‘de facto’ condition of “evolving” cities in the 21st century.

It’s therefore incumbent on scholars and analysts to begin to question whether gentrification is ringing a new wave, or merely supporting prior forms of L.A.’s ‘unofficial’ Jim Crow or race-based exclusionary policies. Because if studying Los Angeles as a historic set of institutions and policies over a few decades suggests anything, it’s that business and home-making in the city has never been a neutral affair–nor uninformed by racial doctrines and ideologies–and that it’s still not today. 

Gentrification and other forms of reducing space for ethnic working-class or the “poor” in L.A. may actually just be revitalized policies of racial dispossession, constituting a “fourth” wave of Jim Crow segregation, and therefore, a ‘new’ civil rights issue around which to organize. There may be push-back against such an argument, but that should be welcomed; in order to improve theories for future movements of resistance against policies of dispossession, all options for the terms by which to identify such policies should be on the table.

After all, in 1960, before the onset of the historic Civil Rights movement, when the “Greensboro Four,” or four Black college students in North Carolina sat for a cup of coffee at their local Woolsworth restaurant, they did so not driven by a demand for uprising, but by a basic desire to be included in a city they saw themselves as no less in. Today, while gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles may not entail “WHITES ONLY” signs being posted on posh, new storefronts, white wealth — given way to by Black, Immigrant and Indigenous people’s labor for centuries — increasingly acts as a buffer just the same, separating L.A.’s non-white communities from lands they’ve tilled for over a century, and recalling L.A.’s history of unofficial Jim Crow over the 20th century. It is time for the exclusionary policy to be reexamined.


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.


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.