Hollywood Presbyterean Hospital in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Three Months After Shut-down, L.A. “Reopens” while both COVID-19 and LAPD Budget Remain Uncontained, Posing the Greatest Risk to Black, Latino and AAPI Communities

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 86)

As of the evening of June 11th, according to the L.A. County Public Health Department, Black, Asian and Latino communities still represent more than 70% of 2,629 deaths from COVID-19 in L.A. County, while whites represent 29% of deaths. The numbers might seem commensurate with these groups’ share of the total population in L.A. County, but as before, they are actually still an under-count and not indicative of the whole picture.

Of 66,941 active coronavirus cases reported by the department, L.A. County Public Health Director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, has pointed out that there is still a disproportionate rate of death for ethnic minority groups:

The death rate among Native Hawaiians & Pacific Islanders is 52 deaths per 100,000 people. And among African Americans the death rate is 33 deaths per 100,000 people. For people who identify as Latino and Latinx, the death rate is 32 deaths per 100,000 people. For people who are Asian, the rate is 23 deaths per 100,000 people, and for whites, the death rate is 17 deaths per 100,000 people…We also see that people who live in areas with high rates of poverty continue to have almost four times the rate of death for COVID-19.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, L.A. County Public Health Director

In my native East Hollywood neighborhood, the County is tracking a total of 254 cases, with 38 deaths from the disease so far, while the adjacent Silver Lake neighborhood is tracking a total of 221 cases, with 14 deaths from the disease so far.

But as startling as the numbers for a “natural disease” like COVID-19 in Los Angeles may be, they still fall short of another galling statistic for the county. In an L.A. Times report published earlier this week, data showed that since 2000, more than 78% of people killed by police in L.A. County–98% of whom were shot to death by police officers–were Black and Latino, overwhelmingly males between the ages of 20 and 39 years.

As protests of Mayor Garcetti’s police budget continue into this weekend, then, I wonder if another budget for Los Angeles has actually gone less noticed: The L.A. County sheriff department, which employs roughly as many boots on the ground as LAPD–just under 10,000–and almost 8,000 civilians on staff, was only recently approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for a budget of $3.5 billion through 2020 – 2021.

The L.A. County sheriff’s department patrols cities as close as East Los Angeles & South L.A., and as far as Lancaster and Castaic. The location of their patrol is highly significant since, according to the L.A. Times report, the neighborhoods with the highest number of fatal shootings by police are cities such as Compton, Inglewood and East Los Angeles, home to large minority populations, and where L.A. County sheriffs partner with LAPD to police civilians.

The L.A. County sheriff’s department also runs the L.A. County Jail, which oversees more than 17,000 people, where 80% of inmates are Black and Latino.

Similarly to their counterparts at LAPD, however, they actually seek more taxpayer dollars for their services, and may even have loftier ambitions than what LAPD’s longed-for $150 million raise would suggest. According to the L.A. County sheriff website, the department actually needs $400 million more than the $3.5 billion that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors has recommended for fiscal year 2020-2021.

At 18,000 staff members, the budget the L.A. County sheriff’s department seeks for 2020-2021 would amount to more than $216,000 a year for one staff member. At present, it is $194,000.

To be sure, with these numbers and more projections to consider, only a few things are clear:

At the beginning of the crisis due to coronavirus, there was much we did not know about the disease, no federal guidelines for states regarding testing sites or containment for COVID-19, and much confusion about the best course of action.

Three months later, there is still much we don’t know about the virus, no federal plan in place for testing or containment strategies, and now a litany of discussions about our racialized and punitive society proving more confusing than not for many. As the battles continue, more confusion will ensue, but I believe the time for a break, if not a breaking point, is upon us, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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A man finishes searching through the dumpster bin for cans in Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Los Angeles is Dying in Black and Brown Shades

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 70)

It’s now being recorded in history that in the state of California, “reopening” business and houses of worship comes largely on the heels of white protesters in Sacramento and coastal communities such as Huntington Beach even as a second wave of COVID-19 increasingly places Black and Brown bodies at bedsides in intensive care units across South, East, Central L.A., and more.

Many of the bodies in Los Angeles belong to mothers, fathers, grand-mothers and grandmothers, and form no insignificant part of the more than 100,000 people who have lost their lives across the U.S. in less than four months since news of the coronavirus first became headlines.

They look like the man in this column’s photograph, who is sifting for cans through dumpsters along the famed Silver Lake neighborhood, trying to gain something–anything–by which to live to fight another day.

They took their bodies to work each day, and looked past discrimination and second-class citizenship for decades to still “play by the rules” pursuing an American dream they may have once actually believed in.

But history will show this is not an unlikely about-face for the state of California. One only has to recall that for nearly fifty years the golden state has also been the Golden Gulag, to quote Ruth Wilson Gilmore, with its elected officials voting as recently as 2018 to spend over $15 billion of taxpayers’ money to maintain the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which as of last year housed less than 127,000 inmates. A little bit of math will show that that’s over $118,000 to house just one inmate.

By contrast, what did the state spend for more than 6.1 million students at its K – 12 schools, even before the pandemic? A pinch above $12,000.

The state’s expenditures do not get better across the rest of its educational institutions. To quote David Crane, a lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University, California’s $15 billion allotment to incarcerate its population entails:

7x, 9x, 13x and 39x the amounts they’ll spend per K-12, UC, CSU and CCC student.

All we have to do then is remember which students depend most on under-funded public school districts like LAUSD across the state: Black, Brown, Asian, Native, as well as working-class white children. Indeed, the grandchildren of the many bodies now being prepared for the ground in California.

If long before the pandemic we were funding these childrens’ incarceration as adults more than we were funding their education, it says all one needs to know about why Los Angeles is losing its Black & Brown family members so disproportionately right now.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 66

Today I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the class of 2020.

It’s been over two months and just shy of one week since the shut-down orders in California went into effect, and as this writing series stretches into the end of the school-year, I realize that I would be remiss not to address the class of 2020 for a moment.

Students, let’s be heard:

To be a graduating senior at this time is to trade your one-way ticket for the journey of a lifetime for a one-way entry into the challenge of a lifetime.

It is to leave one of the most familiar institutions in your life for a globe that’s just teeming into newfound uncertainty.

And it is to be introduced, to a world that needs far more exposure if it is to change.

In Los Angeles, over the span of two months, we’ve learned much about the world here that we might have already known, but which, just in case we’d forgotten, has come back resoundingly for us to keep in mind:

The world has come to accept an unacceptable inequality.

The world is profoundly in need of new leadership.

The world needs new voices to lead these calls.

The fact of the matter is, in times of great crisis, much of the world is convinced that the only resolution is to “get back to normal.”

But if normal in this country is far and away a time spent waging wars, incarcerating the poor, and pricing the most vulnerable among us out of their homes, is that a “normal” that we should want to go back to?

This is what our elected officials mean by “normal.”

But if normal in this country is indebting first-generation college students, and maintaining racialized job markets upon their graduation to solidify racial hegemony, and offering all of these students and workers only the most basic benefits and health services in low-wage work, is that a “normal” that’s optimal for us to go back to?

Remember also that normal is a world in which Black, Brown, and white children in the United States still go hungry, in which people over the age of 65 have no health-care during the most important days of their lives, and in which Wal-Mart executives would rather let their full-time employees live on food stamps instead of raising their wages.

I believe the students have to scrutinize this “normality” better than anyone in the days going forward.

I also believe that America needs the students, as well as their parents, to see America for what it truly is in this way.

A world that is not fair; a world that has actually spent an immeasurable amount of time and energy in arresting the development of generations of people, in effect bolstering inequality, and a world which can only grow more unequal if we don’t take this moment, that is, this next decade, to stand for something better.

Class of 2020, I congratulate you, not only for all your hard work leading up to and in spite of this moment, but also because America will benefit greatly from your exposure to this stark reality. In the days ahead, no matter what may lie ahead, I promise you this: my voice will not be far.

J.T.

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Public Education at our Schools Once Again Stands to Lose from Budget Woes Next Year

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 64)

Governments have established virus task-forces, and job task-forces. Where’s the education task-force?

– Austin Beutner

In his address to families and educators this past Monday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner noted the toll on public education posed by Governor Newsom’s proposed budget for the following year, which is said to contain nearly $7 billion in cuts to public schools in California following an estimated $54 billion loss in the state’s income and sales taxes due to these last two months of shutdown.

While the governor originally forecast almost $19 billion in losses for education over the next two years, he is now looking to direct nearly $4 billion from the federal Stimulus bill passed in late March to make up for learning loss during the crisis, which is particularly important for special education students, as well as for districts with large concentrations of low-income families such as LAUSD, where more than 80% of families are living at or below the poverty line.

The governor is also looking to offset the state’s revenue losses by reducing a number of increases in pension payments scheduled for 2020 – 2021 before the crisis, which can save up to $1 billion, as well as issuing up to $2 billion in deferrals or IOUs for 2020 – 2021, meaning that districts can count on being paid back for the money, though at an unspecified date.

These adjustments from the governor’s office account commit up to $7 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges in California despite the crisis, but still fall well short of rescuing the public education system.

The biggest cut would be in the local funding control formula by about 10% under the proposed budget, translating into a $6.5 billion dollar loss for public schools, and forcing districts to pick and choose between prioritizing instruction for English learners, unhoused students, students in the foster care system, and the many more low-income students enrolled on their sheets.

The reduced budget can also entail a shortened school year, more furlough days for teachers and staff, larger class sizes, and a hiring freeze for new teachers.

According to John Gray, president of the School Services of California consulting group, the last possibility of losing new teachers due to budget cuts, whom were already in short supply following the great recession, will lead to a repetition of this history in the years ahead:

Last time, we went up and down the state and dismantled public education piece by piece. We lost 40,000 teachers and they never came back because the recession lasted so long. They left the profession. [If this next round of cuts come to pass] yet again we’re going to just disillusion thousands and thousands of teachers.

In his own remarks, Beutner noted that such cuts could prove catastrophic to the hundreds of thousands of families like those at LAUSD, whose children’s dependence on schools should demand more support from the state’s resources, not less. In his view, failing to support students with the additional resources they need during this time and in the days ahead can prove just as damaging for their future as the coronavirus, yet the issue isn’t being treated with the urgency it demands.

Is it because the harm is silent and unseen, unlike the image of overrun hospitals? Is it because children don’t have a voice, or is it because so many of the families we serve are living in poverty and don’t have access to the corridors of power in Sacramento, and Washington D.C.?

This makes it critical for more families and advocates to stand for this public good, for how its loss can alter the course of too many lives for the foreseeable future. Or, as one mother said of what parents can learn to better support their families going forward:

Mainly we need to learn how to use a computer to support our children, and not stress ourselves out. We also need to have more patience because our teenagers are a little more stressed [right now].

J.T.

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Virgil Village’s Most Vulnerable Resemble Skid Row’s: They Need Testing, Shelter, Relief

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 55)

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director for the L.A. County Public Health department, noted in her meeting with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors yesterday that the stay-at-home orders for L.A. County would last for at least another three months, which sounded about right considering the prevalence of the virus throughout much of Los Angeles, particularly along class and racial lines.

In a recent article for the L.A. Times, readers can learn about the work of nurses and outreach workers along Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, where the public health crisis posed by COVID-19 is only exacerbated due to the sheer density of L.A.’s unhoused population within the area.

In East Hollywood, along Virgil avenue, on any given day there can be found different clusters of unhoused men, mostly but not exclusively immigrants, the vast majority of whom are struggling with addiction and who are sleeping on the avenue’s surrounding sidewalks, just a few feet away from the area’s local grocery and liquor stores. Several of these men, it’s known, used to pay rent for rooms in the area before falling on hard times or being displaced, from which they have still not recovered.

Not unlike in downtown Los Angeles, where million-dollar lofts are built for the ultra-rich in the same mile radius where people erect their tents atop dirt set aside for street-trees and freeway overpasses, Virgil Village’s most vulnerable community is similarly in need of attention, testing, and an alternative to the dirt. To paraphrase the reverend Martin Luther King Jr., if this public health crisis and L.A. County’s extension of the stay-home orders make one thing clear: it’s that a threat to a community’s health anywhere is a threat to a community’s health everywhere.

As with Skid Row, while local police officers, council-members, or other representatives may be difficult to locate during the community’s outreach work for their most vulnerable, it just may be that community’s noise that can inspire these groups into visibility, if not accountability. How would that sound for a daily neighborhood howl?

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 54

One day after Mother’s Day, as I walked past the stretch of Vermont just across from Los Angeles City College, I saw a curious set of signs posted at the local Wesley Health Center clinic. The signs informed visitors that no testing for COVID-19 was available, as well as that there would be no night hours for the clinic until further notice. One sign also asked visitors to try to form a line while others were being pre-screened, but said nothing of the six feet recommended within proximity of strangers.

I mused then about the children just arriving or set to arrive to Los Angeles from their mother’s wombs during this time. It’s an extraordinary historical moment to be born in, and in particular I wonder how so many madres solteras in the community are taking care of their needs given the closure and reduced hours of so many local clinics.

The Wesley Health Center, for one, is a clinic that is already difficult enough to get service at even excluding the crisis. While the clinic’s website states that “We accept most health coverage including Medi-Cal, MediCare, and Covered CA…,” as well as that “No one is turned away for lack of ability to pay,” the fact is that another sign posted on the clinic’s screen specifies that it serves “L.A. CARE MEMBERS.

I know from experience that this means not just anyone under any type of the public coverage listed on the clinic’s site is able to receive care at the actual location on Vermont avenue. I remember walking into the location not too long ago, and being asked to provide my ID. After looking up my information, the staff told me that I’d have to visit the Department of Social Services office in MacArthur Park to figure out where I could be screened, despite my local residence in the area.

It was a significant but ultimately minor inconvenience for me. But I can only imagine how challenging the run-around process with public assistance and more can be for madres solteras just recently arrived to the country, if not for pregnant teenage women in Los Angeles, of which there are more than we can count.

There are likely also more mothers like them on the way. As one writer noted about policies shutting down school and economic activity during the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, “school closures are costly and have economic and social impacts that affect women disproportionately and hurt the poorest families the most…During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, for example, cases of teenage pregnancy more than doubled to 14,000.”

Los Angeles may not be a Sierra Leone, but some twenty years from now, when today’s newborns come of age, I hope that on the matter of access to healthcare for vulnerable communities everywhere, we need to make only less distinctions. They all deserve our humanity.

J.T.

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J.T.

An encampment outside of Union Swap Meet on Santa Monica boulevard in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 49

At the middle of the week, I am staring well and long at days into the future. For a moment I see myself as a sentient being on earth here temporarily before I sojourn towards other celestial bodies. At another moment, I think I’m more like a machine, in need of a tune up before my parts tumble beneath my head like a sack of potatoes.

But I am only as ambitious as those who came before me. I am only filled with as much wonder as the minds of those who wandered before mine.

I look at the streets of my vicinity for a moment, however, and I’m drawn back to reality. I can still remember the first college essay I turned in when I was only a fresh-faced seventeen year old at Pasadena City College. Believe it or not, I wrote about walking through Los Angeles. I wrote about travailing past encampments along Vermont and Prospect avenues before boarding the Metro 181 bus to Pasadena, which took over an hour. And I wrote about the endless disconnection with the great wealth of my city, which seemed mostly to go to waste. I also wrote about the fountain spring of my mother’s strength, and how her cuento helped bridge my way forward past any impediment over the concrete. Professor Kennedy let me know that he enjoyed the essay, and I felt more than affirmed. I felt at home.

I’m not sure if a person is supposed to “know” their destiny, but I do know that they have to believe in it. I also believe that as any first great hit can be a young rap artist’s last, it’s also true that any one of these brief meditations can be my final consolidation with the world.

That said, I’m happy to note that I’m finally putting together the final touches for Episode 16 of J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast this evening, which, if the laws of rewards for great efforts continue in service as they usually do, should mean for readers and listeners that the episode will be available sometime tomorrow. I will feature it here on the site, as well as on Apple, Spotify, & Google Play.

“Know your worth.” Another saying that comes to mind. I don’t know if I fully know yet the worth of J.T: The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, but I can definitely tell you how much I believe it’s worth. But that’s a cuento for another time.

Today also marks one full month with the new Quien Es Tu Vecindario web-page for families, workers, the disabled, and more in East Hollywood. The site now has over 24 “bulletins” for the community with links to nearby resources and other extensions of support. Tomorrow’s post marks the 25th.

Tell your friends, Los Angeles. JIMBO TIMES is neither a bus nor a train nor even a spaceship. It’s a planetary wavelength of over 3.5 billion years’ worth of music, ricocheting marvelously through every end of the galaxy, as far as time and space will allow us to go.

Are you prepared? Then, tell a friend! This journey is meant to be shared.

J.T.

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Black, Latino and Asian communities represent more than 70 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 42)

A report from the L.A. Times yesterday noted the disproportionate death rate for people in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles due to COVID-19, in which my native East Hollywood and other vicinities close to home were featured. According to the analysis:

“Working-class neighborhoods such as East Hollywood, Pico-Union and Westlake all have more than 40 deaths per 100,000 people, which is four times higher than the countywide rate of 9.9 per 100,000.”

Exactly a month ago, The L.A. Storyteller first published data from L.A. County’s Public Health Department showing no more than 20 cases of the coronavirus between East Hollywood and the adjacent Silver Lake neighborhood.

Even at that time, it was clear that the number of cases in these areas was higher, but that limited access to testing and other metrics, particularly in East Hollywood, wouldn’t reveal the greater risks posed by the disease here until a later time. Now, it appears that time has arrived, as the higher-than-average death rate for COVID-19 in East Hollywood and other nearby ethnic communities underscores those risks.

A first-of-its-kind map highlights metrics on the virus, detailing info such as the number of cases, number of deaths, and persons tested.

In terms of persons tested, East Hollywood lags well behind neighborhoods on the west side of the city, but is still ahead of many places in south Los Angeles; Sherman Oaks, for example, has tested more than 1,200 people, while East Hollywood has tested a little over 700. The historic Watts community, by contrast, has tested just 239 people in its community. Manchester Square, only 120.

In terms of deaths, the East Hollywood community has seen 17 deaths. Right next door, the Little Armenia community has seen 23. Sherman Oaks has recorded 4 deaths. Its next-door community of Beverly Crest, 2.

But the most dramatic example of the disproportionate impact wreaked by COVID-19 in Los Angeles can be found through a quick scan of the L.A. County Case Summary, where the data will show that just over 71% of the deaths in Los Angeles in the wake of coronavirus have been of Asian, Black, Latino and other residents here.

While Blacks make up less than 9% of L.A.’s population, they account for 13% of deaths to the virus. While Asians make up under 12% of L.A.’s population, they account for 18% of deaths. Latinos, who make up under 49% of the population, account for 38% of deaths to the virus, while Whites, who make up 52% of the population, account for 28% of deaths.

As with our first report, these numbers are likely an under-count, since as of a little over a week ago, L.A. has tested just over 80,000 of its 10 million residents for the disease.

Every death represents a family. And those passed are nǎinai, gran’mas, abuelitas, tatikner, and more members of the communities that give Los Angeles its glowing spirit. May we honor their legacies with a more equal world going forward.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 40

The mayor of Los Angeles announced earlier this evening that delivery drivers, as well as taxi and other transportation workers like Uber and Lyft drivers, can now be tested for coronavirus, whether they show symptoms or not, in a sign of increased testing capabilities for L.A. county.

On the other hand, earlier in the same day, LAUSD’s Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that reopening schools come fall for the district’s communities would be a gradual process, contingent most of all on one thing: access to testing for COVID-19, not only for the district’s employees, of which there are nearly 75,000, but also for the students they serve, whose numbers, combined with those of their families or households, can reach up to 1,000,000 in Los Angeles.

What kind of access schools will have to testing for the virus is an obviously major question that the superintendent is right to pose publicly; only a few days ago, more than a month after the shutdown orders went into effect in California, L.A. County announced that its testing rates have finally reached the capacity to test up to 11,000 people a day.

But while 11,000 tests a day is a key step forward for the county, it’s also just 1.1% of Beutner’s one million. Moreover, as the superintendent noted in his update, we need to know “who” will pay for over a million tests. Obviously, the answer should be that it’s the state who will pay for it, but thus far, there have been scant details from Governor Newsom as to how schools in the Golden State will resume the school-day come the months of August and September, during which LAUSD will not be the only school district in need; charter schools in California, which are not managed by traditional school districts such as LAUSD, and which oversee nearly 630,000 students in the state, will also need access to testing for the virus this fall.

In other words, it’s all quite a bit of homework that requires time, debate, and consensus building with educators, staff and families alike; if the process is circumvented for “quick fixes,” as such things have been before, then the temporary solutions will once again prove costly over the long term, as this pandemic is making clear of decades of disinvestment in the public infrastructure.

Even so, however the story goes, I believe we’re uncovering something critical, Los Angeles. That is, that we’re witnessing first-hand what our state is capable of–and what it still falls short of–when it puts its best minds to the task of addressing all of the citizenry at a truly basic level.

I believe that many people will continue being dissatisfied with the slow process and progress of their government, and that if the protests against Governor Newsom’s stay home orders show anything, it’s that many Californians aren’t at all interested in the general health of the state, but just in their own.

But beyond that, I also believe that all of this showing will allow many of us to consider and visualize what government can still look like in future days to come because it’s important for us to do just that. I believe that whatever failures are seen today, are what those of us leading for tomorrow can turn into successes.

As always, I believe in the next day, the next cuento, and that I’m not alone in this.

I believe Los Angeles will believe with me.

J.T.

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