Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013)

Taking space in Los Angeles has been of increasing concern for this blog and its author, making it crucial to research what the process of taking social and political space in the city has looked like in the historical periods before this one.

To this end, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (2013) has served as an engrossing read on the complicated ways that people have taken space from one another, alongside one another, and through one another’s influence in Los Angeles, and which should satisfy any reader interested in the intersections between race, class and culture in urban settings like those of L.A.’s.

Edited by USC’s Josh Kun and the University of Oregon’s Laura Pulido, Black and Brown is comprised of nearly fifteen different feature-length essays which set out to establish a lasting conversation on some of the most meaningful interactions between Black and Latino Angelenos during the last seventy years; the post World War II era, the Immigration And Naturalization Act in 1965, and Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, for example, are just a few eras discussed by several featured authors.

Reviewing each essay would prove worthwhile for readers of JIMBO TIMES, but it’s also true that a moment with just one of the essays should still give readers a strong sense of what to expect from the rest of the book’s analyses. For this, I’d like to reflect briefly on a few excerpts from Gaye Theresa Johnson’s essay, entitled Spatial Entitlement: Race, Displacement, and Sonic Reclamation in Postwar Los Angeles.

Johnson discusses a period that previously seemed folkloric to The L.A. Storyteller: L.A. in the 50s. She foregrounds her discussion with an important note on the various methods of taking space, citing the difference between the construction and destruction of public housing in the United States in the post WWII era over a twenty-year period:

“Between 1949 and 1973, scores of Black and Latino communities were destroyed to make way for the postindustrial, suburban sensibilities that would characterize the modern U.S. city. Between the Housing Act of 1949 and 1967, 400,000 residential units were demolished in urban renewal areas across the nation, while only 10,760 low-rent public housing units replaced them.”

One might think of this forceful taking of space during the post WWII era as a 20th century case of gentrification. But instead of avocado toast symbolizing the inevitable modernization of urban cores housing ethnic communities, it was the dawn of the freeways that promised “overall improvement” of the city over time. The irony, of course, was that freeways spelled immediate and irreversible loss of housing for working class communities of color. Johnson cites an earlier L.A. historian, George Sanchez, on what displacement for the sake of modernization would suggest in historic terms:

“Sanchez has argued that local and federal officials used ‘applied social science research, fiscal policy, and direct intervention,’ to justify the evisceration of neighborhoods like Boyle Heights [for the development of the East Los Angeles Interchange] and, in the process, redefined postwar terms of racialization through the suppression of interracial spaces.”

So, just what does it matter anyway, if freeway development and car culture in L.A. were established nearly 70 years ago? As recently as 2015, nearly 70% of people who drove to work in L.A. drove there alone. This is significant because in a city where people spend so much time by themselves in a car, only to spend the next portion of the day at work, before getting back to the freeways in their insulated vehicles once again, the city’s infrastructure steers people away from ‘the soul’ and character of its culture. Or, as Johnson’s analysis implies, the infrastructure not only disconnects us, but it actually erodes the possibility of more democratic ‘public spheres.’

“A common sphere of congregation, what Jurgen Habermas has referred to as the ‘public sphere,’ can be a crucial site of discourse among community members, where private interests are set aside and democracies are enacted in order to determine collective good.

Taking ‘social and political space’ in this context is therefore a process of people making a claim to the environments around them by whatever means available to them. ‘Collective good,’ by extension, can be thought of as a complement to the African proverb that ‘it takes a village,’ in that it takes a village in democratized communication to determine collective good. As a a result, when people are denied access to such spaces by forces of state power and its local subsidiaries, they get creative. Or, they get active.

“Scholars of working-class resistance have argued that ‘subaltern counter publics’ are sites where oppressed groups assert their humanity and refine their articulated opposition to dominant discourses about citizenship and social membership.”

Nearly eight months ago, when the Back to School Party made its way through El Gran Burrito, the ‘driving force’ of the event’s planning was the idea that for a community which was often overlooked and passed over for the city’s more vogue terrain, that community deserved to have a space, even if the space was unconventional, temporary and limited in other ways. Just as important was that it was crucial to put together the event for the neighborhood precisely because it was difficult to do under normal circumstances. Thus, as Johnson describes L.A. city officials in the 50s taking both time and space from predominantly working class ethnic communities for the sake of ‘the greater good’ of the city’s freeways, it becomes clear how so much of Los Angeles has only ever been a matter of what might be called “space wars.”

“…In Los Angeles, the zoot suit violence of 1943, the eviction of whole communities from long-standing vibrant neighborhoods, the relocation of Japanese citizens during World War II, police repression of interracial spaces, and systematic segregation facilitated by federal mishandling of the Fair Housing Act were enduring reminders that public spaces were, at best, contested terrain. Though segregated Black and Latino communities in L.A. during this period were expanding, the symbolic place of these groups in postwar Los Angeles was diminishing. Therefore, claiming and enacting social space, both material and symbolic, was an important measure of the limits and possibilities of social membership.”

Moreover, the postwar era in Los Angeles would see Blacks, Latinos and Japanese treated as marginalized groups encroaching on the dominant order, therefore leading them to face some of the first modern waves of ‘multicultural’ institutionalized racism in modern U.S society, which was also a key shift away from the more historic Black vs White racism seen more generally across the country at the time:

“Gerald Horne has argued that L.A. displayed a ‘rainbow racism…not solely or predominantly of the typical black-white dichotomy that obtained elsewhere. In the immediate pre- and postwar era, studies revealed that in factories where Mexicans were categorized as ‘colored,’ Blacks not only worked with them but were also given positions over them. In other plants, Mexicans and whites worked together. Further research indicated that white workers often accepted Blacks and objected to Mexicans; still another pattern was found showing that white workers accepted Mexicans but objected to Japanese.”

Johnson goes on to point out that while the state sought to keep the groups contained in the workplace, the airwaves of the radio were coming into formation; as a result, despite de jure segregation in more formal settings, 50s Jazz and Blues rhythms would spark the way towards space for youth of all backgrounds to coalesce; at shows, White, Black and Brown kids danced together in some of the only instances of proximity with one another throughout The City. Strangely, the state would attempt to contain this phenomenon as well:

“…local politicians and municipal arts administrators created the Bureau of Music in order to encourage patriotic citizenship, prevent juvenile delinquency, and promote acceptable music. But it was too late: the Blendells, Willie G, the Soul-Jers, the Jaguars, Joe Liggins, Don Tosti, the Premiers, Johnny Otis, and many others had already created a soundtrack of spatial claims concomitant with the articulation of other forms of spatial entitlement. What resulted were new visions of social membership among working-class people, whose basic citizenship rights were relentlessly compromised by the repression of working-class coalitional politics and the growth of white suburbia.”

As 1950s containment gave way to the radical 60s, teenagers in Los Angeles would discover some of the first sound-waves of interracially influenced rhythms; similarly to the way Chicanos in the 40s were inspired enough by Jazz players and their Zoot suits to fashion the look into “Pachuco” suits for themselves, Chicano musicians in the 1960s would be influenced by Black soul during the decade prior. The result was Pachuco soul, which was a key achievement for both Black and Latino audiences:

“By celebrating the sociopolitical and cultural identities that both Blacks and Chicanos identified with, the creation of Pachuco soul and its performance became a means to project an alternative body of cultural and political expression that could consider the world differently from a new perspective: its emancipatory transformation. This sonic legacy reverberated in Thee Midniters’ ‘Whittier Boulevard’ in the 1960s.”

Once again, the discussion reaches close to home; I think about the creation of POC Today in 2017 as a platform for people of color to portray themselves as opposed to only being portrayed, which was also a form of celebrating these communities, or what can be thought of as self-love turned love for the collective whole. The media project has been on hiatus, but POCT’s intention will continue to take space in the days to come.

As Johnson makes clear, the process of crafting a world through the airwaves with all of these projects will follow in the legacy of similar claims of space by people in prior generations, with hopes of achieving, once again, extraordinary value for future generations to look back on.

“These articulations of spatial entitlement, sonic and symbolic, were often articulated in moments when the loss of space meant devastating losses of wealth for communities of color, wealth that was rarely regained. Considering the unrelenting efforts to keep Black and Brown people from recognizing their mutual stakes in a just future makes these spatial claims all the more remarkable.”

In that regard, Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition is an excellent read that gets the full nod from this Angeleno. Readers can order a copy through the web, or, as I do, see if the Los Angeles Public Library can lend it to you first!

J.T.

How LAUSD’s Teacher Problem is a Moment of Truth for Progressive Future of California

Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; PC: Namekian Blast
Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; P.C: Namekian Blast

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – MLK Jr.

I: Standing with Our Teachers

This week national attention will continue following the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) over the bevy of tensions with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) called out in their five-day work stoppage at over a thousand K-12 public schools in the union’s first strike after nearly thirty years.

Demonstrations led by the union throughout the past five days have enjoyed broad support from parents, fellow union workers, and much of the public at large, but their most lasting effect will be the framing of UTLA’s struggle with LAUSD as a matter of ‘the soul of education.’ I would like to consider with readers the essence of education in Los Angeles by posing the following questions:

How is it that the second largest city in the United States, which is renowned globally for its film culture, sports teams, university and star-power, is unable to successfully matriculate less than half a million kids in Los Angeles each year? By extension, how is it that the state of California, known as the fifth largest economy in the world for a gross domestic product of over $2.7 trillion as of 2018, spends just a pinch above $10,000 per student at LAUSD and similar school districts under its governance?

A stroll down the public memory lane of California’s politics can tell us quite about how we arrived to this juncture.

II: Prop 13’s Legacy on Public Education

The year was 1978, and according to state department info, California was just over half of its current size at an estimate of 22 million people within its jurisdiction.

California was also a far whiter place to be, with just over 70% of the state’s population identifying as Caucasian. Latinos in the state made up just over 18% of the population, while Black, Asian and Native Americans each made up less than ten percent of the pie.

Public data also show that in 1978, about 55% of California’s 22 million residents were homeowners. As of the fourth quarter of 2017, of the roughly 40 million people in California today, the percentage of homeownership is actually the same, with 55% of the state’s current residents being homeowners. The rate alone says much about the power dynamics held in the state over the last forty years, but we will look at it later.

For now, all we need to know is that it’s amid these circumstances in 1978 that along came a figure by the name of Howard Jarvis, a businessman and Republican who described himself as “mad as hell” at property tax rates in California. Across a barrage of television ads and interviews in support of the proposition, Jarvis rallied about “a revolution” in California tax laws.

Prop 13 was that revolution, drafted to reduce the amount of property taxes that the state would be allowed to collect from homeowners and ‘commercial property’ owners or corporations by almost 60%.

Proponents of Prop 13 argued that it was a tax relief meant to disentangle home and property owners from unfair tax burdens each year, while opponents countered that the initiative would cripple public goods such as schools, parks, libraries, public transportation and other tax-funded goods.

On June 6th, 1978, despite repeated warnings from then-governor Brown and other civic leaders regarding Prop 13’s effect on the public sector, California home and property owners overwhelmingly passed the bill with nearly 65% of the tally.

As a result, over $7 billion worth of public revenue was taken right out of the budget for the following fiscal year. Needless to say, summer school for 1978, among other programs, was immediately taken off the schedule following the bill’s passage.

If a similar tax reduction were passed in say, June 2020, it would be the equivalent of $27 billion out of the budget, or over a seventh of the $209 billion budget proposed by incoming Governor Newsom earlier this year, which allocates nearly $81 billion towards funding for public education in California.

$27 billion taken out of public education in the 2020-2021 year would wipe out funding for over a third of California’s schools, immediately leaving nearly 2.5 million students with no access to a basic education as mandated under U.S. law.

But the most noteworthy effect of Prop 13 is its hold on taxes in 2019. For example, today a Californian who bought their property in say, 1980, pays the same property tax for their home or commercial space that they paid in 1980.

They can then lease out that space to a Walgreen’s or Starbucks–and again–due to Prop 13, pay the same taxes on the property as they did when Jimmy Carter was president. While this has been good for that owner–saving them tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–what they avoid in taxes is money that never goes to support local schools, libraries, public transportation, and other public goods the surrounding population depends on.

Or, as Jennifer Bestor puts it in one interview regarding Prop 13’s tax rate for a certain commercial property in her neighborhood:

“We’ve got about 15,000 square feet of space. And it’s only paying $9,337 a year in property tax. I’m not an assessor but I would expect to pay about $75,000 or more a year in property taxes. Essentially, they’re getting a $65,000 free ride…that’s six and a half kids who could be educated for the amount of money that they’re escaping.”

Prop 13 has set the tone in California for more than forty years since passage. But the property taxes saved for home and business-owners are a major part of how the fifth largest economy in the world ranks 41st in the States on per pupil spending. Now, UTLA teachers beg the question of just how much Californians values a universal education. Although it’s not an outright contest of public education versus private property, Prop 13 makes the two issues inextricably tied.

III: Charter-School Growth

Currently, LAUSD is reported to hold over $2 billion in its surplus or reserves, which the superintendent and several LAUSD board representatives insist are meant to keep the district from bankruptcy over the next three years, particularly due to a growing pension deficit. Nevertheless, UTLA is demanding of the district a significant reduction in class sizes, more resources to schools such as full-time nurses, counselors and librarians, and last but certainly not least: a cap on the growth of charter-schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed schools that “compete with” LAUSD schools for funding.

It’s a significantly different set of demands than those of the last work stoppage by the union, when in the Spring of 1989 UTLA walked out on LAUSD under the leadership of organizer Wayne Johnson. In a recent interview conducted by the L.A. Times with the union’s old organizer, Johnson commented on the difference between his union’s strike and current struggle between UTLA and the district:

“‘UTLA keeps saying it’s not about the money. With us, it was almost 90% about the money.’”

What Johnson means is that most of the tensions between his union and the district centered on wages. But one can argue that it’s still about the money, although this time in terms of LAUSD’s expenditures over the course of the next ten to twenty years. Simply put:

Under the current trend of charter-school growth in Los Angeles, which tend to be non-unionized, contracted-out or ‘freelanced’ schools, LAUSD stands to see a significant reduction in costs for running schools over the long-term. This is because a school that offers no retirement benefits or health-care coverage is far cheaper to run than a school that’s consigned to exactly those benefits.

Supposed proponents of charter schools, like the Washington Post editorial board, argue that charter schools offer “options” to low-income students like those of Los Angeles. But this is an obfuscation of the facts. While it’s true that charter schools offer an alternative for parents to LAUSD’s often outdated and overly bureaucratized system, it’s also true that charter schools are sporadically based, stripped down versions of public schools that operate like different islands to each other.

That is, there is virtually no connection between one independently run charter school and another. This means that in the case a certain charter school fails to meet the needs of a certain student, parents are left with “options” for other charter schools that could function completely differently from their first choice, and which may be similarly under-equipped to meet the needs of their child, or even less so. For the Post to argue that this amounts to “options” then, is hollow and misleading. No wonder it’s owned by Amazon.

Moreover, the argument that charter schools merely “create options” ignores the fact that privately run schools funded by public tax dollars are fundamentally a challenge to the traditional model of public education as a profession for teachers and “a right” for students and their families. There is also thus far no convincing study proving that charter schools in Los Angeles are “on average” better than traditional public schools for matriculating students and their families.

Still, should charter schools bear the total brunt of the UTLA’s ire? One can see why the union would press for more regulation of charters for fear of job security, but are the schools in fact the existential crisis they’re often made out to be?

The fact is that LAUSD’s pro-charter board representatives have thus far refused to draw a line in the sand to relieve the teachers union of their concerns with respect to the growing privatization of the district’s finances through charter-school growth. Now, UTLA has pushed the issue by bringing a national spotlight to the discussion, and whatever extra leg of support Sacramento provides LAUSD as a result of extra public pressure will be by and large thanks to the union’s mobilization.

After all, if Jarvis’s “tax revolt” of 1978 showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing like a good ole push for ‘revolution’ to stir things up with the status quo, in this case LAUSD and Sacramento’s under-funding of the public good.

Of course, Prop 13’s legacy would ultimately prove to work merely for one sector of the electorate, with consequences for future home and property owners alike. And as Wayne Johnson himself would concede, the gains made by his teacher’s union were largely gains to the benefit of just the teacher’s union. A subsequent set of questions thus emerge:

Exactly what are negotiations between UTLA and LAUSD supposed to accomplish? That is, will the gains be solely for the union to claim as it’s been in previous struggles, or are students, parents and other members of the community in fact a part of the ‘soul of education’, and thus a part of the solution going forward?

IV: The future of Los Angeles and Other Major Cities

Information regarding the costs of the failure to adequately educate young people has long been publicly available. A study released in 2006 points out the financial losses that accrue for the state following the dropout of a single high school student. Similarly, J.T. has noted that as recently as 2008, the graduation rate at LAUSD was only 48%.

In 2019, while the district is closer to an 80% graduation rate, the fact is that the vast majority of its graduating classes are not college-ready and thus less likely to obtain four-year degrees in the six years following the receipt of their high school diplomas.

Simultaneously, today there exist endless studies documenting the disparity between how much California spends on the imprisonment of its population versus what it spends on educating that same population; by extension, the ‘school-to-prison-pipeline’ is a far better known phrase to the electorate than it was just ten years ago.

It’s therefore clear to enough of California’s electorate that there’s a problem with these and other disproportions in the state’s spending, except that since time immemorial there’s been an economy to pay attention to: rent, taxes, gas prices, Twitter and Facebook, and on.

This is not to look over the steps that voters in California have taken over the last decade to reinvest in the public interest, however:

In 2012, Californians passed Prop 30, which temporarily increased sales taxes and raised income taxes on the wealthiest to support “emergency funding” for the state’s school system.

In 2016 and 2017, Los Angeles voters passed Measure M and Measure H, respectively. Measure M increased sales taxes in the county to develop more public transportation in the city, while Measure H increased sales taxes to develop services for L.A.’s homeless population.

In 2018, California fended off Proposition 6, sold as a “gas tax repeal” that sought to reverse a voter-approved tax increase to repair roads and infrastructure throughout the state.

But problems remain looming. 2018 in California was also a year in which rent-control advocates were soundly defeated at the ballot box when nearly 60% of voters rejected Proposition 10, which sought merely to give cities authority to enact local rent-control ordinances in response to California’s growing housing crisis.

This is of concern because as it should be clear by now, the issues of housing and the right to property are fundamentally related to the issue of public education in California. In an analysis of another challenge facing the district over the next few years, that of diminishing enrollment, writer Christopher Weber points out:

“The downward trend in enrollment is due to skyrocketing housing costs that keep families with school-age kids out of the city and the growth of charters — privately operated public schools that compete for students and the funds they bring in.”

Consider one more facet of this political battleground in the Golden State. At nearly 40% of the state’s demographics, today Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in California. Whites, meanwhile, at 37% of the state population continue to shrink in numbers. What’s also true, however, is that the vast majority of Latinos in California are not home or commercial property owners. Many of them utilize public transportation, play soccer at public parks, and check out books and movies at the state’s public libraries. It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that nearly 75% of the students at LAUSD today are Latinos.

Thus, in 2019, demographically speaking, it’s no longer Jarvis’s California. But structurally, the system he and his contemporaries left behind still holds, creating our present dilemmas with regards to the public sector. Except that if there was any doubt as to whether we’re ready to confront this past for the future of the state, the past week should make it clear: the conversation on justice through education is not going away any time soon; it’s here to stay.

Or, as one Mr. Razo, of Telfair Elementary in Pacoima, recently noted to the L.A. Times:

“We have so many entertainment companies and professional sports teams,” Razo said. “I went to a Rams-Packers game and the ticket was $350. What if just 10 cents from every sports ticket sold went to public education?

J.T.

Super Pan Bakery Has Gotten An Extension

Super Pan Panaderia with 'Matriarch' by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles
Super Pan Panadería covered by ‘Matriarch’ at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles

The 20 year old Panadería in the “Virgil Village” community has now gotten an extension for its relocation. At least until December, families in our community can continue to quench their appetites with Doña Elvia’s fresh pan dulce, hot tamales, and bolillos con huevos.

It’s a key victory for the pueblo that comprises the ole neighborhood, but now with the extension secured, some of us are left wondering: might the Panadería be able to simply stay after all?

The fact of the matter is that maintaining a small business like Super Pan in cities like Los Angeles is increasingly difficult. While gentrification in the community compounds the trouble involved in maintaining the bakery’s “appeal” over the years, even if the buzz-word was removed from the equation, rising inflation and the cost of living since the bakery’s opening in the early 2000’s without an increase in backing or security for its services continue to undermine any effort to keep its place in the community.

I think of another small place close to heart, in Mama’s caseta, which is less than four blocks north of Super Pan on Santa Monica boulevard.
In over sixteen years in the vecindad, regardless of whether the stand’s revistas and literatura turn a profit or not, we’re required to pay insurance fees for its footing before we can even submit a reapplication for permission from the city to maintain its location on the boulevard.

Once the stand clears the permitting process, as with most other things in life, taxes apply, but at no point in the process is there an accounting for the stand’s aggregate time in the community, or for its ability to make ends meet despite market ‘trends’, health or other issues which can impact the owners’ ability to stay in business; the stand is thus locked in a tax system which never offsets the burdens it places on small business with anything other than permission to keep operating. It thereby turns into an increased burden in itself for business owners to deal with, among other challenges they face in an increasingly expensive city to live in.
Is it any wonder why mujeres like like Doña Elvia and Mama have such a mystical spell about their place in the community, then?

Each year new hurdles are placed in from them as small businesses owners, but they continue to rise with their small places to claim their time under the sun. With their heads up high, they greet their customers loyally, serving each of them with gratitude in their gestures, and placing their faiths in the forces beyond them to continue with all of it through another day–and if they’re bendecidas enough–through another year. How then could we not honor these people, Los Angeles.

The extension of the deadline is a sign of good faith for what lies ahead, but there is in fact much more work left to do for the pueblo. Still, for now, please celebrate with us by visiting a small mom and pop shop near you with while you can! They are dreams come true today, and with them we move onto yet more dreams, for tomorrow. If somehow they can manage to do it, we can too, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Our Petition for Super Pan Bakery of the Virgil Village is now LIVE

“She collected observations as one would collect ice-cream sticks: a youth riding a wobbly bike on the muddy shoulders of the street; a skinny cat roaming through the tall bird-of-paradise stalks; two comadres chatting between a fence; an old crooked bird man who fed his flock of pigeons daily. The desire to be on the other side of the fence, to run away and join them, was so strong, it startled her, just like the buzzard bell ending another recess.”

– Their Dogs Came With Them, Helena Maria Viramontes

One day we were teenagers, just trying to make our way home without forgetting our books at the 7-Eleven, either because we had put them down in trying to avoid looking overly studious with over-sized backpacks, or because we just didn’t take backpacks to school to begin with, being too cool.

The next we were at a crossroads, either turning the other cheek as police raided the homes and pockets of our classmates and peers, or going down in a blaze with them for trying to stand at their side without the social standing to back us.

Today we’re at another junction, as the influx of new wealth and power make their way through the streets which for decades we’ve called home, transforming their characters and erasing their pasts for a new crop of city-goers in a new time of city-going.

But to be clear about the question of change: the fact of the matter is that the neighborhood has been in the midst of transformation since the earliest steps our parents took through its intersections when they first arrived en masse to Los Angeles during the 1980s in an effort to make for new lives here.

The technology since that time has also been in the midst of transformation; the way human beings have connected with the rest of the world has come a long way from the days of the first home computers and beepers and payphones. My peers and I were born in the 1990s, arriving just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which placed us at the end of an arms and technological race between two empires that spawned formidable, reverberating technologies across the world.

While the smartphones we use today now change our perception of the world at light-speed, the atom and hydrogen bombs before them, followed by the freeways not long afterwards, also altered time and space in ways that moved people, including our people–that is, our immigrant and working class communities all over the U.S. and the world–to and through cities like Los Angeles.

But now another social and technological shift is underway again, and the question is not whether we can keep another neighborhood in Los Angeles from being taken from its past, because this has definitely not been the case here since the city’s foundation, throughout its annexation, during the boring for Mulholland’s aqueducts, amid the aforementioned scientific innovations, or at any other point.

The question is whether we can manage to facilitate these changes in a way that doesn’t come at the complete expense of others, and in a way that benefits more than just one group over another.

It’s also a question of whether the people in the “less affluent” groups like the one described here can muster the collective social and political strength necessary to take a stand in this regard. I would argue that our Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito this past August was a STAND, which makes it so that calling attention to Super Pan Bakery’s displacement from the Virgil Village is now a direct follow up to that same STAND.

I also believe that while there’s much debate in cities throughout the U.S. about just what kind of change is inevitable, it’s clear that it’s increasingly difficult for institutions and owners to take space from others without people calling attention to their place in the historical timeline of the environment in question.

Today then, calling attention to displacements like the one now facing Super Pan is a matter of claiming the history of our community here for our own sake and development.

At the time of this writing, we now have a petition with our first 137 signatures supporting the family at Super Pan Bakery in their bid for more time to relocate at the FOLLOWING:

https://www.change.org/p/mitch-o-farrell-help-super-pan-bakery-of-virgil-village-get-more-time-to-relocate

Only ten years ago, 137 signatures would have required far more work to put together over the course of a few days, if not a whole week, but now we can publish a petition online calling for our people just minutes after deeming it necessary. In the 15 days before the deadline for Super Pan’s relocation is up then, we will continue to rally support from the various members of Nuestro Pueblo throughout L.A., California, and across the world who believe in our Panaderias with us.

This next week also includes a meeting with a representative for local Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, getting more of us involved in the effort, and which we’ll have notes about in our next update. In the meantime, I hope we can garner the signatures of each reader of this blog for our petition, and that you can also spread the word to your own networks and peers.

Thankful for each step in this process, and each of you,

J.T.

Preserving Los Angeles Is Critical to Our History

IMG_2075
L.A. Times Building; J.T., 2015

This past June all L.A. Times staff and personnel moved from the historic L.A. Times building in downtown Los Angeles to a new headquarters in El Segundo after the Times’s lease expired with the building’s owners at the end of the month. The building was sold by Tribune Media, the former owners of the L.A. Times, to the Canadian real estate Onni Group in 2016.

Now The L.A. Times building as it stands on 1st and Spring street is slated for a seismic redevelopment if the Onni group has its way, as the firm looks to convert the 1973 Pereira installment of the building into a high-rise residential and retail space.

Preservationists have called on the L.A. City Council to grant a landmark status to the structure, the cornerstones of which were erected in 1937, but even if approved, the specter of demolition of at least some of the structure will still loom large. The city council can ‘encourage’ or incentivize the Onni group about how to move forward with its redevelopment plans, but the firm is not known for its preservation records. What a show of the power of ownership in the face of the public interest.

When I visited Chicago in the summer of 2016 it was an eerie sight to observe an absolutely empty Tribune building in the middle of the city’s highly developed downtown area. Now, as our very own media company here on the West coast meets the same fate, the swiftness with which modernization undermines the foundations of our institutions dawns once again. And yet, Los Angeles does not have to go the way of Chicago. If the city’s leadership can consider the long-term benefits of preserving this piece of our local history, future generations just may get to experience the magnitude of the structure for themselves.

Indeed, when much of the leadership in California likes to tout the state as a beacon of forward-mindedness, the act of preserving our history should be a no-brainer. And if L.A. Times reporting and storytelling has shown me anything over the years, it’s that someone is always paying attention to the movements swirling through our society, and that the more we can place the parcels such movements leave behind into perspective, the more fully we can grasp just where we come from and thus know ourselves better.

Moreover, this same forward-mindedness, or respect for both present and future, is what many of the movements against gentrification in cities like Los Angeles are also centered around: to resist displacement for the sake of chic new markets is not just to be facetious, it is to herald what is already here, what is already provided by what’s (t)here, and what might still be borne from its preservation when measured not by market values, but human values.

J.T.

East Hollywood Can Do Better By Its Kids

The following writing places another recent loss of life in “Virgil Village” within the context of the ongoing changes through our community, among vecindades all across Los Angeles, and across major cities everywhere in America.

In a picture of the collage of the memorial and candlelight vigil, one of the writings can be found to read:
fuck white people.

On seeing that note, while I couldn’t endorse the statement, I could trace immediately where its sentiment came from. In 2018, with the prevalence of smartphones, videos, and the news flowing trough these mediums, there’s been an increased attention to everything absurd everywhere, but by far there’s been growing attention to what’s called white privilege in America, or the way white people have access to rights and space that none-whites don’t, which has had the effect of dramatically transforming how communities everywhere in this country perceive their standing in a way not seen since at least the radical 1960s.

The most concerning effect of these changes has been the increased backlash from white America to the scrutiny of white privilege, including the rise of white supremacist groups, their gatherings, and the networks developed by these phenomenons.

Young people across America with even remote access to smartphones have been able to access information about these ‘backlashes’ through different lenses like those of the meme, the Facebook video, or the hashtag, to see repeatedly how the institution of white privilege plays out daily in the United States. News-clips of police unfairly targeting Black and Brown bodies, or news-clips of rhetoric slandering immigrants, the religion of Islam, and others, show daily how white America continues in its penchant for hating on others.

The message has been clear and consistent through each of these data, so that if there’s ever any doubt in a young person’s mind about the racialized power dynamics of the United States, the evidence is ubiquitous: white people’s ‘rights’ are first and above all. A law of the land. And because these power dynamics are daily made known, the great divide they create between “us and them” encloses itself around young people to a degree and frequency unseen for generations through this country.

‘It’s us versus them.’

In pueblos like those of our communities, this problem is only compounded, not because of these data pervading over screens, but because of data on the street, in the gentrification of the urban neighborhoods that our families and their predecessors were once only relegated to.

Let us be totally clear here: the neighborhood which makes up these blocks, like neighborhoods all through East and South Los Angeles, took generations to develop in the particular ways that they have been. That is, going as far back as the 1930s, the neighborhood has always lacked a certain type of quality due to the certain groups of people who were known to live here, which is to say Black, Brown, and Asian people, many with special needs, and other ‘minorities’ dealing with the ‘lower-rung’ economics that often came with starting or restarting a life in L.A. in the 20th century. As outsiders, the majority of these groups were discriminated against or merely ‘forgotten’ by the city’s, and by extension, the country’s leadership.

This is why, for example, in the late 1940s and 1950s, the 101 Freeway, among others, tore its way through East side neighborhoods to open up a path for more of Hollywood’s commuters to get to downtown Los Angeles and Santa Ana–because the people on the East side were Chicanos and Asians of humble means who would simply have to get out of the way; it is also why the same freeway tore its way through our own vecindad in that process–because the people of our neighborhood–the Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and others–were also people of humble means who would simply have to get with the program or get lost.

Half a century later, from 1998 – 2000, that same humility of means for the people of la vecindad played a major part in why the local police force, the Rampart division, saw a grand total of 70 of its police officers indicted for decades’ worth of charges on corruption when its special task-force, the ‘CRASH‘ or ‘Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums’ unit, was found to have perpetrated scores of unprovoked shootings and beatings of our youth in their patrols through our neighborhoods, the planting of evidence and framing of those same youth, stealing from the department, perjury, and more.

Twenty years later, of the 70 officers implicated by the investigation into Rampart’s ‘CRASH‘ unit, only five of those officers are known to have been terminated as a result of the findings; the humility of means of their victims in these crimes has much to do with those numbers.

There is also a ‘flip’ side to such histories: the fact is that through each period before today’s, to any discrimination against the character of a people there has also been a resistance and opposition.

In Rampart’s case, two years after the indictment of its CRASH unit: “Defense attorneys [were] still scrutinizing thousands of convictions that might have been tainted by Rampart wrongdoing, and plaintiffs’ attorneys [were] awaiting settlement decisions in a hundred and fifty lawsuits and claims against the city.”

In the 1950s, when it came to the construction of the freeways in East Los: “Residents did fight back, flooding public meetings and picketing construction sites. But unlike the mostly white and politically powerful neighborhoods that killed plans for a Beverly Hills Freeway, L.A.’s Eastside couldn’t stop the bulldozer. By the early 1960s, all seven of the planners’ freeways crisscrossed the community.”

And in a similar spirit of resistance, the oldest ‘gang’ in Los Angeles, the White Fence gang of the Boyle Heights area, was formed in the 1940s as a way for Chicano youth in that part of The City to defend themselves against their white counterparts when the latter targeted and attacked them without penalty from law enforcement. To be sure, the documented Zoot Suit ‘Riots’ of Los Angeles in 1943 speak precisely to how this played out.

We are of course not in the 1940s or 1950s anymore, but these periods are still relevant to us not only because of the parallels between them and the state of violence in the U.S. against its ‘others’ today, but also because of their legacy for both white and nonwhite Angelenos when it comes to occupying spaces in proximity to one another today, as we do increasingly in the 21st century.

For historians of Los Angeles, then, or for anyone with an interest in how the city came to be, and how it is still coming to be, there’s a responsibility to make these histories and others known.

The same day as this most recent tragedy in our neighborhood, the White House made a press release dated for May 21, 2018 entitled What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13. The memo references President Trump’s State of the Union speech, when he called upon as his guests the parents of two young women who were killed in Long Island, New York by alleged gang members, whose son’s death the president proceeds to list handpicked details of for his audience.

The memo then follows this account with brief mention of other cases and selected details from their records as to how alleged gang members behind them carried out their crimes. It is a thinly veiled form of propaganda designed to rile up support for an official dehumanization of youth identified as ‘gang members.’ But rather than hailing from an ‘alt-right’ website or some neo-nazi’s basement, the statement is listed as the official position of the executive branch of the United States.

Of course, the memo is from the office of the same president who just last summer had the audacity to claim after the white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia, which cost Heather Heyer’s–a Jewish woman–her life, that between the white supremacists whose intention it was to attack and the counter-protesters who defended themselves from their assaults, there were “good people on both sides”.

It’s likely that the youth at the heart of our community’s most recent loss, like most of the people in the neighborhood, did not hear about the memo, but it’s also likely that over the last year and a half in particular, he and several of his peers did hear about the litany of racist, misogynist and ableist put-downs from the president who as a candidate for executive branch promised to ‘build a wall’ between the United States and neighboring Mexico, as if there isn’t one there already.

Yet even through the days of the president’s candidacy and on through his administration’s memo last week, neither his uninspired words nor those of his staff could actually so much as graze the curb of the street that my peers and I stand on, let alone graze us; they are words made for televisions we turned off years ago for having nothing to do with our day to day means of survival. It is the histories on which such statements are built that do and have had a lasting impact on our communities, however. Jeff Sessions looks to be John Wayne in the 21st century, but this time the natives are gang members.

It is a central concern of this writing that in the city of Los Angeles in the 21st century, many of the natives of the neighborhoods here are so-called ‘gang members’ and that their families, who have made life through the intersections of their barrios daily and over decades, now find themselves increasingly cornered by an enemy of far greater proportions than any other clique in the gentrification of la vecindad.

The influx of middle-class types making their way through these blocks, who’ve never encountered people like them before, is sanctioned by the state and seemingly immutable.

To be clear: I’m not implying that the youth whose passing this writing discusses was any kind of ‘gang member,’ although he may have been perceived as such. What I am pointing out is that in occupying a space in this neighborhood the youth was part of an environment which for decades has been considered ‘less than’ worthy of many of The City officials’ time and concern, if not only worthy of contempt by many of the city’s police forces. Furthermore, I am also not implying that the newcomers of the neighborhood view la vecindad in this diminished light, but I do believe it’s important that they be aware of how this has been the case for communities here since before World War II.

As with the freeways in the 1950s, the redevelopment of the neighborhood by means of its gentrification happened quickly, that is, in our perception of it, and with such normalization from the city’s leadership that it can be difficult to understand or interpret altogether, but because it’s taking place at the same time that the hordes of data aforementioned make their way through so many of our screens, one sentiment seems to make perfect sense in it all:

fuck them.

In a recent essay for The Atlantic on the increasing inequality characterizing America, writer Matthew Stewart reflects on just why people might feel so much resentment towards his class, which is upper ‘middle-class’ and overwhelmingly white.

“We live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.”

It has circulated throughout the neighborhood that the shooter who took the life of the youth referred to in this writing was a white man acting in self-defense. It’s a damning circumstance to consider under the context, but one can see how the color of a man’s skin when he takes the life of another ultimately changes nothing about how the latter’s loss will be felt.

One can also see, however, the way in which to the young people who have just lost their friend, everything–including the presidency, the policing, and the gentrification which is welcomed by so many of the local ‘elected’ officials whom are supposed to represent them–all actually adds up to place them, the youth, in defense.

This was the case in the 1950s when the residents of Boyle Heights stood against the freeways. It was a defense of their neighborhoods. And it was even true in 1943 just as well, when Black and Chicano youth in Los Angeles defended themselves against the Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome projected onto them by the Navy’s sailors at that time.

The fact of the matter is that many of the lives of the youth in our neighborhood are in danger; even if they and their families have made their way through these intersections for several lifetimes, they are all at the risk of being displaced. It’s a subtle form of the warfare of wealth, but warfare nevertheless against the character of their humble means like that which their predecessors saw.

And in resisting that warfare, as I do in solidarity with my peers all throughout Los Angeles, it does not mean it’s time to prepare for 1992’s Los Angeles to make its way through the streets again.

Rather, it means that all of the members of our community, old and new alike, need to seek an end to the collective violence inflicted on our respective communities together, with the shared goal of transforming the current trend of redeveloping our streets only to displace our families into redeveloping these streets for the purpose of coalition-building with families.

It’s only in this way that all of us–from the so-called ‘gang members’, to the Senior citizens, to the children with special needs, to the single mothers, to the young professionals from far away starting over in L.A. and more–will be able to share the endless intersections between us in true harmony, honor and respect, and free of the great division that is so frequently trying to be enforced upon us.

I am willing to stand for it. Indeed, I have to. But I know I’m not the only one who is willing to do so and that gives me hope: we can and have got to do better together Los Angeles. But the work begins now. Every day another future depends on it.

J.T.

La Gentrificación del Pueblo Continuará

Hasta que el pueblo se levanta y dice ya basta.

A walk through any neighborhood is the most effective way to survey its culture. This afternoon through my own, at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenue, I took a moment to photograph the complex above, which is now in the process of redevelopment. Around the abandoned buildings, power lines idle next to nestles of leaves from high trees branching out through the air. East of the complex, less than a minute of walking distance, is Lockwood Elementary school, where my old friends and I went to school, and where now even some of the children of those old friends go to school.

Today Lockwood Elementary is no longer just one school, but ‘two in one,’ as the site is now split between the traditional Los Angeles Unified School District program (LAUSD), and a charter school overseen by Citizens of the World – Silver Lake Charter (CWC), which serves ‘qualified’ students whose enrollment is based on a ‘lottery.’ The irony here is that Lockwood Elementary is actually not located in the famed Silver Lake area, but instead in what’s known officially, according to the LA City Clerk, as ‘East Hollywood.’

In any case, when my peers and I finished fifth grade at Lockwood, our next stop was Thomas Starr King Middle School (King MS). King was located East of Virgil boulevard on Fountain avenue, and at just under a mile away from Lockwood, if one made the trek to King MS on foot from say, Madison and Willow Brook Avenues, they might reason that the school was actually better situated to serve students located in the wealthier Los Feliz area.

An urban policy planner might say that this distance would be an easy fix, however; all the parents at Madison and Willow Brook Avenues had to do was drive their kids to King MS. Of course, that just meant such parents had to be able to afford a car, which wasn’t always the case for many of the single mothers who oversaw many of my peers and I. In 2008, according to the L.A. Times, the median household income for families in East Hollywood was $29,927, while only 13.4% of adults in the neighborhood had a college degree.

Even so, at just under a mile of walking distance to the school, the daily trek couldn’t be that bad of a slog, right? Some mamas did it. Indeed, some had to. There wasn’t a whole lot of support for them otherwise.

When my peers and I finished at King MS, what followed was John Marshall High School (JMHS) for ninth through twelfth grade. At just about two miles walking distance from the old apartment complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, Marshall High School was unquestionably farther east of Virgil avenue, and unlike King, which the aforementioned urban planner could argue was located between ‘East Hollywood’ and Los Feliz to serve both areas, Marshall High School was definitely located in the Los Feliz and Silver Lake areas.

As such, it was definitely designed to serve the students of parents within that area. According to the L.A. Times, in Silver Lake, the median household income in 2008 was almost twice that of East Hollywood’s, at $54,339, with nearly three times the rate of adults in Silver Lake with a college degree at 36.2%. In neighboring Los Feliz, the median household income was $50,793, and Los Feliz had more than three times the rate of adults in East Hollywood with a college degree, at 42.7%.

Despite lacking much in terms of income versus these neighboring areas, and hailing straight out of our homes as “first generation” students, many of my peers and I made it in through the gates at Marshall, either by carpooling with one parent or another, or by taking the Metro 175 bus for those of us who could catch it early enough in the mornings.

Only 48% of the class that my peers and I entered into Marshall with in 2004 would walk out of the school with their diploma in 2008.

Was that paltry graduation rate planned? With ten years of hindsight from the day of graduation, it’s clear it certainly wasn’t planned against. From the time my peers and I were at Lockwood, all the way through our time at Marshall, there wasn’t exactly a cultural plan from the urban policy planners around us and the elected leadership corresponding–Mayor Garcetti was the local Council Member for East Hollywood from 2006 – 2012–to get young people from East Hollywood successfully onto college and back.

Should that have been the work of urban policy planners in the first place? One may argue that it was not; yet it’s precisely that same lack of accountability which leads me to believe that in a significant way, the neighborhood surrounding the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, like many neighborhoods all across Los Angeles, was either supposed to get with the program, or just get lost. Parents in our vecindad were supposed to run with the market, or get Left Behind.

Similarly, today’s redevelopment of the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues is a matter of getting with the program. Except that the program of the new complex at the intersection will be one of sleek buildings, the flaunt of which will be accentuated by bold fonts, and the grounds of which will be guarded by steep fences shrouding the complex in seclusion and high visibility all at once, thereby earning its ask for the unenviable rent prices it’s destined for. Rent prices that virtually none of the trabajadores now reconstructing the complex day by day, nor any of their vecinos in the pueblo surrounding the complex, will be able afford for them and their children, or that even their children’s children might afford.

Asi es. Y asi sera, me dirian tantos compadres en los trabajos por ahi. Pero asi es hasta que nosotros decimos no mas, Los Angeles.

There is reason to nevertheless be optimistic about challenging this lack of accountability, or this lack of protection for so many working families in neighborhoods like this one. Everywhere in Los Angeles is growing a resistance to this old order of power, which has stifled pueblos like those of my peers and I, and our movements, throughout The City for decades.

I’ve got a feeling, then, that even at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenues, even if asi es, y asi sera, a resistance to pricing out the pueblo and its children can grow here too. It may not do so overnight, nor even over the course of tomorrow. But it will rise and make its voice heard, one day at a time.

Indeed, it has to, Los Angeles.

Asi es. Y asi sera.

J.T.

Deed Restrictions in Los Feliz and East Hollywood

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents showing how cities like Los Angeles were developed over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the years just before World War II. The archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by city and county officials of the national Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); to learn more about the HOLC, readers can visit Design and Violence, where my treasure hunt for the documents began.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated from 1939. It’s fascinating to see the old vecindades distinguished by their racial and class makeup. For example, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the absence of “foreign families” or “negros” based on the “deed restrictions” banning their presence, as well as single-family residential zoning, lead to a “high green” or attractive rating for the HOLC:

“[In Los Feliz] …Deed restrictions cover both improvement costs and racial elements. Zoning is single-family residential. Conveniences are as available as is desirable in a multi-car garage neighborhood. This area was subdivided some 15 years ago, and was engineered and platted to contour resulting in well arranged and improved streets. Construction, maintenance and architectural designs are of the highest quality. Population is of a high character and many of the city’ s wealthiest citizens reside here. Values shown above are somewhat conjectural as size and location of homesite affects prices. This also applies to rentals as quality of tenant is a large consideration. With a convenient location, ideal building sites and high caliber deed restrictions, this area should continue indefinitely to attract a substantial type of resident. On the basis of present development and future prospects area is accorded a “high green ” grade.”

By contrast, in East Hollywood, for the ‘concentration of Jewish families’, along with 5 & 6 room dwellings, or apartment buildings with 5 to 6 units, a “medial yellow” or “only fairly” attractive grade is accorded.

“[In East Hollywood] …There are no deed restrictions and zoning, while mainly single-family, also permits all types of multi-family residential structures in different parts and is also “spot zoned” for business and provides for numerous institutional developments. Two of the largest hospitals in the city are located within the area. Conveniences are all readily available. This area was originally largely occupied by the old Sullivan Farm and was subdivided approximately 25 years ago. Divided by and surrounded with business thoroughfares this far-flung area contains a miscellaneous array of multi-family residential development; however, the pre-dominating type of residence is 5 & 6 room dwellings which are generally of standard construction and fairly well maintained. It is said to be one of the community’s best rental districts. Rumors of scattered Japanese and Negro residents were not confirmed as none were located except upon the business thoroughfares. There is a concentration of Jewish families between Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. east of Western Avenue. The population in general is heterogeneous, as is also the aspects of the improvements. There is a fair percentage of owner occupancy and many homes are still occupied by original owners. There is a decided trend at present toward business and income properties; however, it is thought that the major part of the area will remain predominantly single-family for many years to come. The area is accorded a “medial yellow” grade.”

Such standards beg the question, just who is the HOLC describing these conditions to?

That is, just who determines that ‘negros’, ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduce the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality.

With these frameworks in mind, I was excited to read about just how the vecindad my family and I would come to call home during the eighties when mom and pops arrived here fared ‘in the ratings’.

In the eyes of the HOLC, the neighborhood was considered ‘blighted’ for 15% of its residency consisting of ‘foreign’ families, and for 10% of it consisting of ‘negros’, as well as for the neighborhood’s multiple family dwellings and bungalows. This led to a “medial red” or mostly unattractive rating.

“[In East Hollywood] …The few deed restrictions which have not expired are irregular and largely non-effective. The major portion of area is zoned for single family dwellings, but multiple family dwellings are permitted in scattered sections. Conveniences are all readily available. This district was subdivided over 25 years ago as a popular price home district and has largely maintained the characteristics. Many of the improvements are of substandard construction and maintenance is spotted, being generally of a poor quality. Scattered throughout the area are a number of small “B” grade apartments, bungalow courts and other multi-family dwellings. The population is highly heterogeneous with more than a sprinkling of subversive racial elements, there being several concentrations of Japanese and Negroes within the district. There is also quite a Jewish population adjacent to the synagogue which is located in the northern part. While by no means a slum district, the area is definitely blighted and is accorded a “medial red” grade.”

On the one hand, it’s astounding to think that there used to be more Japanese and Black people in the neighborhood. But it’s also sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed violently displaced such communities from the area. When one considers these events and the subsequent or concurrent modernization that followed or accompanied the war, such as the building of the first freeway in America in the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940, one can see how modern development has always been a matter of some violence on communities and restrictions of their space for the benefit of wealthier, more privileged groups.

It’s rarely ever easy to take another field trip through the historical foundations which led to our modern dilemmas with access to space. But in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Redlining in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles we know in the 21st century is not just some place that arrived from out of the blue one summer day, but an environment built out through specifically racist laws, designations, and customs over decades of policy, especially during the 20th century. During the 1960s, subsequent waves of civil unrest against such policies struck in several U.S. cities, among them Watts, Newark, and Detroit.

In 1965, a traffic stop by white police officers in Watts led to the arrest of two Black men, Marquette and Ronald Frye, and even their mother, Rena Frye, which angered a nearby crowd of predominantly Black residents, who witnessed the police officers roughhousing the family. When more officers arrived, who used their batons to threaten the crowd back, they fanned the flames of what would turn into six days of a war-zone in Watts, leaving 34 people dead, including at least 26 civilians killed by the LAPD and the National Guard, overwhelmingly Black but also Latino residents, whose deaths were deemed by police forces as justifiable homicides.

When the people of Watts took to attacking police cars and looting storefronts over six days of unrest, was it strictly a matter of Black people protesting police violence? It was not, because police violence had a certain way of being located in a handful of neighborhoods over others. Enter the redlining practice. In L.A., as in “sister” cities, redlining was a discriminatory practice by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which was a government entity, that dissuaded loan services or bank assistance to African-Americans and other minorities based on how “desirable” or white their areas appeared on a racial map, shown partly below.

Redlining Los Angeles - UCLA Luskin

“The Home Owners Loan Corporation designated minority neighborhoods (those shaded in black and gray in the map in this section) as being unfit for home financing, which, with racially restrictive covenants, excluded people of color from the housing boom that afforded many white households their first house.”

SOUTH LOS ANGELES | SINCE THE SIXTIES BY PAUL M. ONG, ANDRE COMANDON, ALYCIA CHENG, SILVIA R. GONZÁLEZ

How were such racial maps created? As Mike Davis points out, the racial makeup of many neighborhoods in L.A. were formed by racial covenants, or Klansmen sympathizers and supporters in Los Angeles who exerted pressure on Blacks, Asians, Jews and others to keep out of what were then white neighborhoods in the city.

The absence of explicit Jim Crow segregation laws in a northern city like L.A. notwithstanding, racial covenants were most active and effective during the early 1920s up until just before the 1950s. Thus, for African-American children born in Watts during the 1950s, the predominantly Black and under-served population of their community wasn’t spontaneously or deliberately located there, but forced to live there due to racist policies, as well as racist judges looking the other way on those policies.

The Kerner Report

In 1967, less than two years after the war-zone in Watts, a police-raid at a Black-owned night club in Detroit led to the arrest of up to 85 African-Americans, which then quickly escalated into racial rioting throughout the city. After five days, at least 43 people were killed and thousands more were injured. In response, president Lyndon B. Johnson called for action, including the formation of the Kerner commission, whose task was to examine the root cause of the rioting, as well as ways to prevent more such violence going forward. Among the commission’s findings, when it came to the issue of housing inequality in the United States, it found that:

“[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”

U.S. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968

In our major cities, that condemnation was due precisely to redlining. Redlining concentrated home loans in predominantly white neighborhoods while restricting them from those of ethnic minorities, leaving only poverty to concentrate in the latter. Enter the resentment. Then, the rebellion.

In 2018, any Angeleno taking a walk through neighborhoods like Watts can still feel the legacy of L.A.’s redlining and the relative lack of accountability concerning the issue, as well as the anger and frustration towards such acts of sabotage and abandon against a people and their community.

Yet with reports such as UCLA Luskin’s South L.A. Since The Sixties, which examines how much “progress” the city has made in Watts and South Los Angeles since the Kerner report and other studies, the spirit of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz lives on. From there, our work continues.

J.T.

South Los Angeles since The Sixties

UCLA Luskin - SLA.png

“More than a half century since the Kerner Commission, the history of
South Los Angeles continues to be laden with broken promises and only
modest improvements. Despite the huge efforts of residents, activists
and others, the burden of under-investment and neglect continue to
limit economic opportunity for too many Angelenos. This prescient
report serves as an important reminder of the profound challenges
that remain.”

We have to know this, Los Angeles.

J.T.