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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Madison Block Loses a Little Brother for the Ages, Fernie “Belok” Puga

It was hardly before 7 pm when my mom heard the shot on her way home from work. She described it as something like a loud thunderclap. She is now sixty years old. The harrowing clap terrified her and forced her to turn her cart back racing the opposite way. The path along the street is one I’ve walked with her over a thousand times throughout the 18+ years that her stand’s doors have opened for the world on Santa Monica boulevard. The newsstand is a fixture, like the sign that marks the name of the boulevard itself, or the lights that guide the road. But mom’s stand is also subject to a window of time. One day, time will close its doors on the stand’s wooden frames too. It will also leave its place as any fixture is destined to do.

When I think back to when I first met Fernando (or Fernie), I remember the hopefulness of his greeting. There was a way that he lifted his whole chin to salute you, accentuating his cheeks and arching his eyes back as he focused them on yours while letting out an unhesitating smirk. This let you know that he was completely in the space with you as a kindred spirit. Fernie’s ability to hear you out was just as affirming. There was a way that you could express yourself with him without fearing that he’d use it against you. In a crowd of many friends–mostly teenage boys–it was difficult to find that. But Fernie was consistent. He was never out to get anyone unnecessarily. He was a loyal little brother to a pack of young men without many fathers to count among the ranks. He was there for you in any case, and was also bold on his own, which he often had to be, without flinching.

Whether you knew it or not, if you frequented Cahuenga Public Library, you were literally his neighbor. Whether you knew it or not, Fernie wore all the goodness of his neighborhood proudly on his chin. His violent loss now marks the end of an era for the community. His pack of brothers are grieving for him, praying to escape from the nightmare of a thousand memories now flowing out in his name. I salute these brothers–and also every sister and mother and father who Fernie leaves behind–and uplift Fernando “Belok” Puga’s name. Whether it’s clear or not, Fernie now walks with each of us as a giant among the stars as we continue past the boulevard on our way to a home which is still our home. A home we have to continue to claim for a community to still survive.

J.T.