Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 5

Is it still safe for my mother to go out to open her newsstand? Should I continue to walk alongside her when I’m able to make it to her right as she closes shop? If I do, what are the odds of our walking home safely at this point? Is our community more at risk because of Coronavirus, or because of gun violence on our streets? These are questions I ask myself in the wake of another shooting in the neighborhood which has unnecessarily taken yet another life from our community.

Does poverty meet the definition of a disease? It’s certainly been passed down by many generations and is spreading throughout our country. In Los Angeles, this has become ever clearer with the rising number of tents erected by young, old, Black, White, Asian and more people locked out of housing in an increasingly wealth-driven city. But unlike encampments, shootings in our neighborhood take place more covertly. While they cost families and neighborhoods far more than makeshift tent cities, their scene is registered quickly before vanishing into our memory banks. But we do not forget these terrors once we’ve seen them up close. Death sprawled on the street casts a shadow nearly as long as the night.

A quick search through the L.A. Times HOMICIDE REPORT will show that the overwhelming majority of fatalities in Los Angeles are of Black and Latino males.

It will also show that in the last twelve months, 510 people in L.A. lost their lives due to armed violence, which is a preventable crime. The majority of these deaths don’t make the daily paper anymore, but Fernie’s shooting was the third fatality in less than six months within a 1.5 mile radius for my neighborhood, and the the sixth fatality in twelve months for the East Hollywood area overall.

Are we able to call an intervention with our L.A. city councilmember and other leaders on this situation over Zoom, or does that remain impractical? On the list of priorities for the city in lieu of COVID-19, just where does gun violence inflicted on our young men rank for our city? I know I’m not the only one asking these questions, but if COVID-19 has shown anything, it’s that a community’s net health is determined by every single person who comprises that community. Here is to lifting up once again our call for a better way.

J.T.

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Still Resilient in Los Angeles

JT_Red
Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

In a Box, Hidden from My View, Lies a Record

People, slain,
History books, vanished
Pictures, stolen
Mi abuelito’s pictures.

Flowers, fettered
Names, redacted
Bullet with my name on it.
Warrant for my citizenship, overdue.

Every day, sirens
Us, bleeding,
Suffocating, silenced.
Never, White.

Us, “want rest,”
Trump, “Law and Order.”
Sun, sets,
We pray.

Borders, bellies
Jailing, rapists.
America, bloodthirsty,
Me, ashamed.

Mothers, baby boys,
Mijas, todos
Endless, Wings,
Fluttering into dirt.

Run, hide,
Try, might,
But, surprise.

Bullet with my face on it.

God, bless.
Bless, “hypocrites.”

And then my
Teacher, said:

“SUCK IT UP.”

But me,

I said,

“I
don’t
think
so.”

J.T.

How Footage of Sandra Bland’s Death Desensitizes America

As more footage of the late Sandra Bland’s final hours of life spiral further onto the desks of talking heads and other media outlets, I think it’s important to acknowledge the ability of a film to desensitize and distort the abuse of a human being.

We live in an age and culture where we’ve seen so much abuse on screens in film and television that at certain points it’s merely a spectacle to observe, regardless of whether it’s ‘real’ abuse or not. For this, the comfort provided by the distance and space encapsulated on a screen provides us with a sense of detachment, which is empowering to a degree, but also dangerous.

It’s empowering because we can see and analyze an abuse taking place in a film, but dangerous because we cannot feel the physical and cognitive abuse experienced by the people being filmed. Thus, while some of us might be considerably horrified at seeing a fellow human being treated like an animal on the screen, the feeling of horror provides us with a false or minuscule understanding of the lived experience of having one’s body violated by the hands of an attack in such a way.

The lived experience of having one’s body violated by anyone is a harrowing sequence of traumatization in and of itself, but in the case of police violence, this horror is exacerbated by the fact that the inflictor of that trauma is sanctioned by an institution that literally surrounds and leaves no way out for your escape.

To name just one such instance: When police take you into custody, they attack you not just with their own imposing bodies in uniform, but with the bodies of concrete walls that limit your eyesight, and with the bodies of voyeuristic police cameras watching your every move, and with the bodies of cold steel handcuffs that weigh down your wrists, as well as other instruments that enclose themselves upon YOUR BODY.

We can’t and will never understand such abuse by watching a film or reading a description of it; we can only feel it to understand it, and even that understanding will be limited by the frequency at which we experience such abuse.

Here, it should noted that Black people in America have faced more of this type of psychological, political, and ultimately physical violence than any other group of people since – to quote the great Angela Davis – “the time the first Black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”

At the same time, while it’s fundamental to acknowledge how the color of our skin is extremely important in determining our treatment at the hands of our government, it’s my opinion that racial makeup is still second to the size of our pockets and the wealth controlled by our heritage. To paraphrase Chicago’s Alvin Lau on the success of Tiger Woods: If you’re rich, you don’t have to worry about stupid shit like this.

This is where it gets complicated: as an increasing number of white middle class Americans continue to fall into the cracks of poverty with people of color they once presumed they were ‘above’, the current trends of police and state violence suggest that the rights afforded to such white Americans will also suffer impoverishment.

In California, the vast majority of people victimized by the power dynamic of this country over the last few decades have been black and brown skinned bodies, but there are myriads of poor white bodies in the state and across the country that have been imprisoned as well, and it’s not because of the color of their skin, but because of the scarcity of resources with which they’re able to defend themselves as poor people standing in the way of a government that feasts on poor people.

In turn, at the same time that we become increasingly tolerant of the violent defense of this dynamic when it’s captured and viewed on screen, our country is witnessing the concentration of wealth into fewer and more vicious hands than before.

And in the humble opinion of yours truly, unless we recognize and support the Americans fighting for a better way for our country now – those Black and Brown people organizing – this power dynamic is just the tip of the iceberg in the land of the free and the home of the brave of the future, one piece of violent footage at a time.