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.


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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.


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Crossing the Streets in East Hollywood

My eyes begin to waver, and my heart seems to nearly stop in its tracks. In a city rushing like this one, it’s even a dangerous act, to stand still in the middle of traffic. If not for rushing engines, a flaming swath of footsteps behind my body threaten to overtake me. Yet in the midst of the crowd, there lies another appointment for me to meet, something beyond what’s written in my calendar.

As I filter through the streets, something divine is at work. On the one hand, I’m just like any of the tiniest specimens that make up the universe, as ephemeral as any other. At the same time, I reflect new worlds within the universe, filled with new possibilities.

Suddenly, going through the day isn’t just about arriving somewhere on time. It’s about being alive in a world that doesn’t always exactly feel like it’s living.

The strangers around me are suddenly not so strange; they’re the closest thing to family outside of my actual family. In the midst of an earthquake or some other catastrophe, they’d be the closest people to push past the apocalypse with.

But before the great inevitable catastrophe–of ruined bones and sunken skin–where would we draw the line between saving others, and saving ourselves?

For myself, feeling for others is as natural as breathing, or as natural as opening my eyes in the morning. Not because it’s as if we’re all made of the same flesh and bone, but because we are all made of the same flesh and bone.

In my heart, I want all of us to live triumphantly, indelibly, indefinitely.

But the truth is that regardless of who might be saved or not: everything has to end. And before then, everything has to fall apart.

This is where it becomes strange. On most days, my little part of Los Angeles feels like the exact opposite of just a moment in time and space. It’s as if the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory have always been there, staring at the stars like they do tonight.

Yet these places have only been a part of my world as long as I’ve known it.

Eventually, through the same process that placed our paths at this certain intersection of time and space, at another intersection, we’ve got to go our separate ways from one another.

Each of us suddenly has to disappear, as if to go back to the untraceable time and space from where we came. Just like all matter in the universe.

I should know this, though. If there’s one thing anyone who lives in L.A. should know, it’s that even a city of stars can’t last forever. All stars are made to shine, and then to burn out and transform.

The death of a star may then seem tragic. But it’s also more than that.

The death of a star is the birth of new worlds; if it wasn’t for the stars that erupted across the skies before ours, we couldn’t be here now, in between clouds, meteors, and the countless other matter making up the galaxy surrounding the little intersection at which I’m standing.

Every street and boulevard, then, every palm tree, all the squirrels burrowing through, and the city-goers who feed them, all of us, whether we’re driving at 95 miles an hour over the freeway, or waiting hours for the bus late into the evening, whether we’re on our way to or with our loved ones, or to rest our bodies after another long day at work — no matter what or where we are — we all have to go, and to keep going.

No matter how much we’d like to resist the movement, the moment has to pass. I’ve got to realize that I’m standing in the middle of traffic, and that no matter how beautiful it might appear, I can’t afford to get lost in its brilliance indefinitely. Not today.

But with this note, I can crystallize the moment for someone other than myself; I can take the radiance I see all around me, and chuck it out into the universe like a satellite in search of other intelligence.

I can also now let the moment pass, to get to that scheduled appointment. I finally submit to the flow, becoming one with the swath of footsteps.

Let’s go Los Angeles.