The LACC community must now reclaim its campus from the L.A. County sheriff’s department

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 97)

Andrés Guardado’s and Terron Jammal Boone’s deaths at the hands of L.A. County sheriff officers in Los Angeles this past week cannot go in vain: they serve as crucial reminders that the people of Los Angeles can settle for nothing less than reclaiming their spaces from the police state before police cause more harm.

Even at this time of heightened tensions between communities of color and law enforcement across America, the L.A. County Sheriff’s department has shown no willingness to ban or even begin discussing a ban of its fatal policies against Black & Brown civilians, even after killing two Black & Brown men within just days of each other during the week of June 14th. At a meeting at L.A. City Hall this past Monday, June 22nd, L.A. City Council Member Curren Price said of Andrés Guardado’s death:

“He was shot by a sheriff deputy, but as far as the community’s concerned, he was shot by police, by law enforcement…That tragic death just underscores the conversation that’s happening all over this country.”

In East Hollywood, since March 16th of this year, sheriff deputies have guarded more than 1.5 million square feet of LACC’s campus, making it completely inaccessible for thousands of nearby students, workers, and other community members, the vast majority of whom are people of color and immigrants, but who also count African-American, disabled, elderly folks, and trans people within the community.

Signs posted around the campus state that authorized persons must “check-in” with the L.A. County sheriffs to be allowed on campus, but how can that procedure possibly feel safe for Black & Brown people?

At first, the campus’s closing-off was admittedly in line with the uniform policy across L.A. County, under the notion that it was a precautionary measure against COVID-19 infection. More than three months later, however, when much of the city is “reopening” due to data suggesting we may now be getting ahead of the virus–at least, according to our public officials–the LACC campus continues idling by aimlessly, with sheriff SUVs and other vehicles guarding off the entrance. It does not feel safe for Black & Brown people, but is probably the most dangerous to the scores of unhoused residents who set up their tents around the area.

Only a few weeks ago, I recall passing by the campus while an African-American woman sat on the curb on Heliotrope drive, perhaps resting from a jog or workout, only to have two sheriff officers call out to her from behind the fences separating the campus from the sidewalk, presumably to make sure she wasn’t “posing a threat.” It shouldn’t need to be stated that if not for one or two slight gestures, she could have been moments away from being shot, but time after time we forget this is exactly how it happens across America. Moreover, I’m confident that several more of these types of instances have taken place around the campus grounds, but that they’ve gone mostly unreported since Black, Brown, and other working-class communities have simply come to view such harassment as typical of police officers.

Instead of having armed law enforcement encroaching upon unarmed citizens who actually reside in the community, however, LACC’s 1.5 million square footage should now be making space accessible to these groups.

For one, the campus can be used as a testing site for COVID-19, or as a location for limited exercising, as is the case at Dodger stadium and Elysian Park in Angeleno Heights. For another, LACC’s benches should be made accessible once again for pedestrians looking to take refuge from the exhausting rush of car traffic along Vermont avenue, just as its green spaces should be made accessible again for picnicking or meditation. There is also much that can be done with the campus’s air conditioning in order to help the community cool off with the onset of summer. One way or another, it’s time to innovate. But whatever alternative use for campus instead of clustering large groups of people, this I’m certain of:

The L.A. County Sheriff’s department has no grounds to be left as overseers of the college. It belongs most of all to students, student workers, and the various other community members in the vicinity. They form the community in the “community college.”

If any of this sounds extraordinary, remember that even the Los Angeles Public Library community has taken its own LAPL Board of Commissioners to task, calling for the board to divest in police at our public libraries, since police only serve to intimidate and incarcerate our city’s most vulnerable populations there; they also intimidate Black & Brown library workers into “walking a fine line” for fear that they may be confused as a threat by police officers. Only in America.

It’s therefore time for members of the Los Angeles City College community to call for the reopening of our campus, hand-in-hand with the dismissal of armed law enforcement for the benefit of our community and to prevent any more unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life for our families. If the weeks since the unrest in Minneapolis have shown anything, it’s that after marching, there is organizing, making our voices heard, and standing resolutely in our pursuit of a safer world for our being. We deserve it.

J.T.

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EPISODE 17 – RICK’S PRODUCE UPLIFTS FAMILIES WITH FREE FRUITS & VEGGIES

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 84)

In our seventeenth episode, we catch up with Ninoska Suarez, of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, to chat about a major gift for the neighborhood in partnership with Rick’s Produce of the Virgil Village area in East Hollywood: More than 125 boxes of fresh fruits and veggies for residents the past three Sundays through COVID-19, AND THEN SOME.

J.T.

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A candlelight vigil for Cary Rodriguez, 21, at Melrose and North Westmoreland avenues

This Memorial Day Weekend, Honor Lives Lost Close to Home

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 67)

Truly the best way to honor Memorial Day this year would be to end all wars waged by the United States, which take U.S. lives to fight and lose as well as any others.

But another way to honor lives lost to senseless wars would be to consider every life taken by senseless violence inside the nation’s borders as a life worth commemorating as well.

At the local level for yours truly, five years ago this same weekend, a 17 year old named Leonardo Gabriel Martinez was shot and killed at the intersection of Burns and Virgil in the Virgil Village area. Since that day, eighteen people have been murdered no more than two miles from that intersection, the overwhelming amount young, male and Latino. But women’s lives have also been lost due to violence in the area, including one pregnant woman’s.

In a two-week interval this year, between March and April, three men were shot and killed in East Hollywood, while one was stabbed to death.

With respect for each of these lives, which all entail grieving families & communities, listed here are names, age, date of death, and location of decease for homicide victims in East Hollywood during the last five years:

Javier Resendiz, Jr., 27
January 03, 2015
600 block of North Alexandria avenue

Leonardo Gabriel Martinez, 17
May 23, 2015
North Virgil and Burns avenues

Wilfredo Fernando Portillo, 57
March 22, 2016
811 North Virgil avenue

Lauren Elaine Olguin, 32
April 12, 2016
500 North Virgil avenue

Hector Orlando Estrada Maldonado Jr., 20
September 16, 2016
550 North Heliotrope drive

Walter Martinez Jr., 23
September 16, 2016
550 North Heliotrope drive

Marvin Hernandez, 21
May 21, 2018
609 North Virgil avenue

Andre Pierre Warren-Cyrus, 18
June 14, 2018
North Virgil avenue & Middlebury street

Isaac Dubon, 18
November 7, 2018
1000 North Serrano avenue

Cary Rodriguez, 21
May 5, 2019
Melrose and North Westmoreland avenue

Herbert Antonio Martinez, 56
June 10, 2019
5200 West Sunset boulevard

Cindy Yaneth Lopez Vasquez, 28

July 18, 2019
900 North Oxford avenue

Alexis Gihovani Lopez, 22
July 26, 2019
4550 Marathon street

Aristides Antonio Ruiz Jr., 29
October 28, 2019
North Virgil avenue and Lockwood street

Roberto DeJesus Hernandez, 53
December 21, 2019
800 North Mariposa avenue

Fernando Puga, 28
March 21, 2020
1129 North Madison avenue

Duncan Eric Campbell Jr., 51
March 29, 2020
800 North Mariposa avenue

Alexander Wildberger-Negrete, age not listed
April 6, 2020
1648 North Kingsley drive

Joshua Alexander Andrade Galvez, 24
April 6, 2020
4477 Beverly boulevard

J.T.

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EPISODE 16 – JAPANESE AMERICANS ON THE EAST SIDE OF L.A.

In our sixteenth episode, we discuss Japanese American history in Boyle Heights, Roosevelt High school, the Metro Gold Line’s impact on communities in the area, and much more with Victoria Kraus, of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. A can’t-miss session for listeners.

J.T.

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Feed Folks Program and Volunteers Deliver Produce to Neighbors in East Hollywood

Earlier this week on Sunday, April 12th, a group of locals and volunteers in East Hollywood distributed over 30 boxes of fresh produce to residents in the neighborhood courtesy of donations and volunteer sign-ups. The effort was led by Feed Folks, a new pilot-program in East Hollywood. Greens and veggies in the boxes were provided by the McGrath Family Farm, of Camarillo, as well as the historic South Central Farmers.

Sponsors for the food boxes included the Little Tokyo Service Center, as well as Cafe Juayua, a local coffee coalition. Volunteers helping to organize and deliver these boxes included Linc Gasking, from Feed Folks, as well as Ninoska Suarez, from the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

The coalition of neighbors and community partners aims to continue this program, but will need support from more donors and volunteers.

To donate a Fresh Produce Box for the coalitions next drop-off on April 19, 2020, you can donate HERE. To volunteer to help deliver boxes–with safe social distancing practices in mind–please visit the Feed Folks website.

To sign up for a box for your own household or identify other individuals or households who are food insecure in East Hollywood, the coalition has created a google form in English and Español.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 24

I’d like to dedicate today’s writing to any human being out there besides myself who’s had a difficult time of late due to the health crisis. Although I’ve frequently written about this moment in our nation’s history as something of a collective experience, it’s still true that there are many out there who don’t have the privilege to reflect on time in this way.

In the world before the shutdown, some of my favorite pastimes included boarding the Metro 704 bus across Santa Monica boulevard, or the Metro 754 bus south of Vermont avenue. There was also the Red Line, which I sometimes loathed and sometimes loved, but which was crucial for connecting to Koreatown and Union Station, transporting my footsteps to these and so many other different swaths of L.A. Now, the only time I’ve come together with any of these services has been through the photographs I’ve taken of them while walking along the intersections.

I can still walk, another privilege not everyone has, which makes it more accessible for me to keep up with a new routine despite the challenges. I stroll to places like Villalobos Market, as well as Jons for tortillas and jamón. When time permits, I like to scour the nearby Pacific French Bakery or Guatemalteca Bakery for the conchas I continue holding so dearly.

Nowadays, each of these places are transformed as grocery stores and bakeries all over the world might be, but they are still what they’ve always been: tiny places still storing a world of goods for a people to continue living, for a culture to continue surviving.

When a friend and I spoke for my podcast recently, she mentioned that on seeing the liquor stores and the neon lights illuminating the storefronts, she knew she was in my vicinity. Until she made that comment, I hadn’t stopped to realize just how much I actually reflect these humble establishments. I wonder for a moment exactly when each of these places first came to be, and just how many people’s lives they’ve touched over the years, how magnified that process is now. I see them with renewed eyes, and it’s a privilege to be able to recognize them as stalwart pillars in the community clothed in humble dress; as old and new pueblos in Los Angeles for the way people make them, and for the way they make people.

In Los Angeles, where people daily crush engines rushing past such pueblos in a scramble for their freeways, and where they rush past the silhouettes whose steps extend the life of these pueblos, like photosynthesis, pumping fresh air into the entirety of the land, I hope they can see it all just a little more clearly now; this is our home, our vecindario, overseen by flocks of angels in fluttering strides at every corner.

J.T.

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EPISODE 8 – MUSIC WITH SAL ROSES

In our eighth episode for J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, we chat with none other than SAL ROSES, an original rap musician from the East Hollywood area in Los Angeles. We reflect on the year, including our first meeting at the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, our performances at the 2nd Annual Open Mic Night at Cahuenga Library, BTS 2, and new music by Roses through the end of 2019. To listen to Sal’s latest project, find Appetizers on SPOTIFY.

J.T.

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Picking Life Back up in East Hollywood, Rising Once Again

KL for Who Is Your Neighborhood, LACC; October 12, 2019

Arriving to the Los Angeles City College campus this past weekend was no simple task after a range of emotions in the wake of another tragic loss for the Virgil Village community, this one even closer to home.

But as our communities have done for generations atop the barren concrete of Los Angeles, we pulled our spirits up from within to will one foot in front of the other, and to travail through just enough distance to reach the college’s brilliant quad.

What we saw then was nothing less than reaffirming of this mission. Underneath a quilt of loving daylight the quad bustled with life, filled by people from all over Los Angeles and throughout the world who like us, were also seeking to make the most of their time in the environment around them as they made their way to our table, and to the next, and on, it all rushed back into clarity again:

Despite a world that will continue turning with or without our efforts, we’ve got to continue pushing for stronger communities in our neighborhood, for better youth and education programs here, for holistic support of the most vulnerable among us instead of their out-casting, and more. Because the future yearns for it. Because we want that future. And because we know we deserve the opportunity to create it for ourselves as much as anyone else.

J.T.

Virgil Village Loses Anthony ‘Lil Sleepy’ Ruiz

Aristides Antonio Ruiz Jr., a 29 year old disabled youth, was a life-long member of the Virgil Village community in the East Hollywood area of Los Angeles. On the evening of October 8th, 2019, shortly after 6:00 PM, Anthony was shot four times at the intersection of Virgil Avenue and Lockwood Street. He was rushed to the hospital, where hours later he was pronounced dead. For many locals in the area, Anthony was an unmistakable figure who crisscrossed the local side-walks in his wheelchair.

Anthony was characterized most of all by a child-like smile which came over his face when laughing in the company of his homies. Anthony became disabled over 15 years ago during his early teen years, when another shooting permanently severed his spine.

He was still at Thomas Starr King Middle School when he lost the ability to walk and would go on to attend John Marshall High School before dropping out in the mid-2000s. He is survived by his Godfather, Vic, as well as friends and family throughout the neighborhood now grieving his loss. If you would like to support memorial services for Anthony, you can do so at his GoFundMe page.

J.T.

EPISODE 4 – WHO IS YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD

In our fourth episode, Ed returns to discuss our tabling session with Virgil Village First Fridays, the East Hollywood Survey, and our brand-new Instagram page for @WhoIsYourNeighborhood, where listeners can find vids from BTS 2.

J.T.