For our 76th episode, we sit down for a chat with Matthew Tinoco, the newest co-host of the LA Podcast. We discuss Matt’s growing up in the San Fernando Valley, as well as the city’s “old” politics there, Matt’s intersectional identity, or Latinx roots, his journalistic work on L.A.’s homelessness crisis since 2015, particularly after the fatal shooting of unhoused resident ‘Africa,’ or Cameroon, in downtown L.A.’s Skid Row, and more. Matt and I also discuss his latest efforts with the LA Podcast, including the recently introduced newsletter for readers and fund-drive, also known as New-Member September. Support LA Podcast via Patreon. A can’t miss session for lovers of indie media in Los Angeles.
It was the summer of 2014, and after graduating from school up north for a couple of years, I felt an enormous need to return to the city of Los Angeles for all the human reasons: to see my mother, as well as my old friends and teachers, and to enjoy the sunshine only Southern California offers. Returning was every bit as enriching as I had imagined it in my mind; it was once only a dream of mine to take hold of that priceless piece of paper, a degree from an American university, and yet there I was, “Home Again,” with one. After my graduation, our little familia was–even if just incrementally–in a better position for a better future together.
Then one evening, I found myself walking with mama through the “old” neighborhood when a vision took hold of me. Crossing shoulders with our fellow pedestrians, I was taken aback by all the families that could be our own. They looked and walked as we did, and put up their storefronts down the street no differently from mom and I at la caseta.
Their faces were filled with dignity, and as I heard them chatting and laughing charismatically with one another, I could feel the resilience and generosity of their character as warmly as the sunshine ebbing away in the distance.
Then I looked at the whole boulevard, and its warm and brilliant lights under the vast sky filled me with a euphoric feeling. I fell hard. I saw myself in the city and its endless neighborhoods, and I haven’t been able to shake the vision ever since.
That fall, with the humbling support of the community, I fundraised for my first “(semi) professional” camera, a Canon Mark I, which I then used to develop “J.T.,” something I thought of as a “re-discovery” of the city I grew up in at every turn and photograph. To sustain the website and make other ends meet, I found work wherever they were hiring, landing a position at Vons as a cashier, then at Starbucks as a barista. After a couple of years in these roles, I accepted a position with the Inside Out Writers, a special nonprofit in Los Angeles working for juvenile justice, becoming a writing instructor with their organization. I also found a role with the Plus Me project, another organization doing storytelling at different middle and high schools across Los Angeles.
My time serving at each “gig” taught me a great deal about myself, but more than anything, it taught me how to manage my time, one second at a time, JIMBO TIMES style. Seven years later, I see JIMBO TIMES more than ever in the endless shades of brown masses streaming through L.A. Metro buses, subways, sidewalks, storefronts, and more.
I now strive 365 days a year for the website as a full-time editor-in-chief for the site, so as to ensure the world sees and hears from someone born and raised by the scale and scope of the megalopolis known as Los Angeles.
From the East to the South side, and from Central L.A. to the Valley, our communities are teeming with workers and dreamers, and J.T. the L.A. Storyteller is still committed to honoring every single one of them as much as scale and scope allow.
For more of this story and those of our fellow L.A. storytellers, please RSVP to our special gathering online tonight at EastHollywood.Eventbrite.com.
And through it all, REMEMBER: J.T. remains committed to the tenacity of Los Angeles, tipping hats to the hustle and bustle of our familias all the time and everywhere we’re to be found.
In November 2016, the world found itself reeling in shock and disappointment that an anti-intellectual, openly racist talk-show host could clinch the hearts and minds of a decisive portion of the electorate to seize the White House. From New York to Los Angeles, newsrooms and editorial chiefs-of-staff across the U.S. conceded they largely failed to take seriously the power of race-baiting among the U.S.’s predominantly white “swing” voters, and promised to be more comprehensive in their political coverage going forward. But four years later, with the threat of a second Trump term on the horizon, in Los Angeles, a clear unwillingness to condemn white supremacy from the L.A. Times shows just how much our intelligentsia still has to learn.
At the height of unrest in Minneapolis and later Los Angeles, when businesses shuttered and police sirens shrieked through nights of “curfew,” the L.A. Times published headlines decrying broken shop-windows and damaged property, with photos of mostly Black and Brown Americans under arrest and awash in turmoil. Meanwhile, on all of the “big five” social media platforms, many saw a different story playing out: window-breakers and vandals were not simply random Black or Brown people, but more often masked, white agitators, so-called “anarchists” with professional training, and Trump supporters exploiting police forces spread too thin attacking unarmed protesters. From L.A. City Hall, Mayor Garcetti responded with armed forces to the overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, and once again exposed “democracy” in our city as little more than a poster-board term for government and police organization more ready to defend racial hegemony here than to supply local hospital workers with protective personal equipment in the fight against a global pandemic.
When it came to coverage of these events, or their retelling, scores of people ‘on the ground’ relied on Twitter updates from citizen journalists such as the team at L.A. Taco and StreetWatch L.A., and not on the L.A. Times reporting staff. The biggest reason for this is simply because of the Times’s reputation as an “objective” source, which most experts today agree is just a stand-in term for “coverage without reference to race.” Such coverage by default is not objective reporting for racialized groups, who consistently bear the brunt of police and state violence, but it also plays a major part to obfuscate officials’ roles in acts of violence against such groups.
Consider that Eric Garcetti was originally elected to office in 2013 by only 12.3% percent of L.A. county’s registered voters. Despite such a weak show of support, when protests in L.A. were blamed for damaged property, Garcetti became the commander of an LAPD force that arrested more than 2,700 unarmed protesters in three days, and which at one point jammed those protesters into crowded buses at the height of the worst uncontained respiratory pandemic in over a century.
Garcetti’s mass arrests were an offense against the democratic ideals of free speech and the right to assembly in Los Angeles. But along with Michel Moore and Alex Villanueva, respectively official “chiefs” of the LAPD and the L.A. County sheriff’s department–and backed by Governor Newsom’s National Guard–Garcetti re-branded military law as “curfew.” As the city entered an otherwise undefined legislative realm during the unrest, this euphemization rather easily undermined any notion of democracy in the second largest city in America. Yet the curfew acted not just as a terror for youth, elderly and disabled citizens everywhere who had nothing to do with BLM protests, but also as a restriction on all residents in L.A. County, whether in the city proper or in its suburban respites. The L.A. Times board needed to call this “curfew” out as unacceptable, but instead chose to mostly just “retell” the story, offering virtually no commentary on the larger implications of a military-police state abetted by a “curfew.” Similarly, during coverage of the unrest, the paper relied heavily on officials’ accounts and narratives over the events of the day, even as everyday citizens had far more evidence of aggressive tactics by the LAPD against them than vice versa regarding the danger posed.
Garcetti’s decision to disperse protesters in Los Angeles with SWAT teams and the National Guard also placed him in the same ideological camp of the president despite any “liberal” status. The L.A. Times would thus not have been wrong to juxtapose the way in which whether officials wear red or blue ties, during civic unrest, the vast majority of them side with the state, and by extension, the state’s enforcement of white supremacy. Consider that just a few weeks before the civic unrest the same L.A. Times board published a strong statement lambasting L.A. City Hall’s dirty corruption schemes as exposed by the FBI. Yet smothering protesters’ rights to free speech and assembly with batons and smokescreens was also a dirty corruption of every one of our constitutional rights. Is the editorial board waiting on the FBI for the green-light to make a statement on this?
In any case, renouncing police brutality and white supremacy is not as hard as the editorial rooms may believe. Remember that the very phrase of “white supremacy” itself is not an attack on white people, just as “police brutality” is not an assault on individual police officers. These phrases are observed facts of the structural realities that continually marginalize and criminalize non-white communities in Los Angeles and cities across America. The numbers and stories and data on this have been relayed ad naseum. Yet they still need to be referenced so long as they’re facts on the ground, including from L.A.’s largest paper.
It’s true that calling out such facts ‘on the ground’ should prove difficult for a historically white-owned and white-led paper, especially considering that ownership for decades rested on the Chandler family, an anti-union and pro-white elite dynasty. But it’s for this same reason that acknowledgement of the facts on the ground will be even more fruitful for the paper’s future.
During the height of protests in Washington D.C., when the lights of the White House went dim, Trump and his allies tucked into a bunker, presumably hiding from the “thugs and rapists”–as the administration is fond to label non-white communities–too close to the gates of the White House. In fact they were Black, white and more protesters assembled en masse for Black Lives Matter, and against policies that see mostly white men at both the lowest and highest levels of government consistently face almost no accountability for crimes against the public. In Los Angeles, a similarly multi-ethnic mass has spent the last few months organizing and pleading with officials, looking to have their concerns and proposals meaningfully addressed, only to find at nearly each turn elected officials who are unwilling to meaningfully commit to anti-racist policies and anti-racist budgets. This leaves only the “the fourth estate” to show leadership.
If newsrooms and editorial boards like those of the L.A. Times are serious about an informed populace for a democratic republic, they need to take an active position against the power structures threatening these ideals, including white supremacy. They must do so through consistent anti-racism, including anti-racist stances in their coverage, in their opinion section, and in scrutiny of elected officials’ decisions when they support policies that reinforce racial hegemony. This is not just a matter of what’s been trending on Twitter, but the proven way to hold some of the most powerful actors in our cities and states accountable for their actions.
Taking a stance will not be entirely new or completely innovative, either. In Burlington, Vermont, for example, where the population is more than 85% white, the city recently declared racism a public health concern, which is a good starting point for policy. In turn, continuing to do the opposite, or to remain “objective,” has damaging effects, and only keeps the paper’s credibility and readership low, particularly with non-white communities, a grave concern given the majority non-white demographics of L.A. County. But the fact is that the paper’s low readership has well to do with the impoverishment faced by Black and Brown communities in Los Angeles; it’s not easy for a single mother, for example, to subscribe to the daily news when her first concern is food for her family and keeping a roof overhead. Yet she and millions more like her live here, and the city depends enormously on their labor. Our paper needs to show it truly grasps this.
It’s also true that actively addressing white supremacy each time it rears its head, including in the actions of our local and national officials, will likely to turn some people away. But leaving this battle for scholars and communities of color to keep waging by themselves ‘on the ground’ reeks of the indifference and elitism of the Chandler paper. Moreover, the distinction between ‘just policy’ and policy in defense of racialized hegemony is as important in this election cycle as the distinction between “rebels” and the treasonous, pro-slavery armies they actually were during the civil war.
Less than a century before that war, a small band of white men were written into the nation’s history books as courageous and impeccable ‘founding fathers’ who freed ‘us’ from tyrannic Redcoat soldiers, and who produced the laws of the land which govern millions of citizens to this day. It’s now self-evident that much was omitted from those history books, and that such omissions continue to have consequences. The L.A. Times can thus not afford to continue omitting the legacy of white supremacy from its coverage, just as it cannot afford to ignore the demands for equity made most recently by the paper’s Black and Latinx caucuses. In the same way that Biden has been beckoned to do with his campaign, the paper’s leadership has more than a responsibility to stand in defense of a progressive and inclusive agenda. It has an active interest in it; the future readership of the paper is still waiting to have its concerns meaningfully addressed. It falls on the fourth estate to fill the void. The time is now.
(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.
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Over two weeks since The L.A. Storyteller reported that COVID-19 arrived in the East Hollywood and Silver Lake neighborhoods, the L.A. County Public Health department reports that 54 cases have been recorded in the former, while 86 cases are documented in the latter.
This can mean one of two things: either these communities have taken seriously each precaution to socially distance, or there are far more cases than are being recorded even while availability of testing has increased, with the latter still failing to provide a better overall estimate of cases.
I actually believe that both scenarios are true; during every visit to the grocery store, I’ve seen people following closely each protocol for safer shopping, and I believe that long after this crisis, they’ll continue to do so. And while testing hasn’t been as prevalent as in South Korea, where the government was testing up to 12,000 people a day at one point, symptomatic or not, L.A. County has set up a transparent process for those in need at covid19.lacounty.gov/testing.
I believe that due to the precautionary measures that have been taken, as it happened in China, where the pandemic began, a two month window for dealing with the novel coronavirus is what’s looking to be in store for Los Angeles as well. Dr. Ferrer said as much herself during her press briefing today, which also included translations in Español and հայերեն:
“Every day we’re getting closer to being able to see a time when more people are going to be able to go back to work and there will more places that are going to be open. We’re never going to be able to go back to exactly the way it was before COVID-19, but we are moving towards being on the other side of this pandemic.”
While I know that many people out there are exhausted from being home, and also critical of our government’s response and repeated warning system, which they are right to be, I’m still motivated by the collective response so many of us have taken part in, including that of many of our elected officials. For it’s shown a lot about just how much we’re capable of when we decide to create change as one planet, one village, one people; that we can still do it after all. As Dr. Ferrer noted in her remarks:
“It is working and I hope you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished along with everyone else.”
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It’s official. According to the L.A. Times tracker, which began releasing known information about infected areas as recently as a day ago, and which at the time of this writing was last updated at 1:32 PM PST this March 29th, there are now five (5) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in East Hollywood.
In the adjacent neighborhood of Silver Lake, there are fourteen (14) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for the disease.
Nearby, Hollywood has thirty-eight (38) recorded cases of patients who’ve tested positive for the novel coronavirus, while West Hollywood next door has fifty (50) caseloads on its records. According to the L.A. County Department of Health–last updated at noon this previous March 28th–L.A. County now has a total of at least 1,809 known cases of the virus.
Even these numbers, however, should be considered an under-count. Despite two weeks of the stay-at-home-orders in Los Angeles, the fact is that widespread testing for COVID-19 is still out of the picture for the foreseeable future. According to L.A. County’s leader in charge of testing, Clayton Kazan, a major hindrance has been waiting for test results to get back from out of state:
We need a massive scaling locally. As long as we’re having to ship our labs out of state, and we’re having to compete with all the other states that are struggling with their own outbreaks, then we’re going to be struggling.”
An additional problem, of course, is simply whether you have adequate access to healthcare at your fingertips; of the people who have been tested, reports do not show which are insured. In East Hollywood, made up predominantly of Latino and Asian communities, but also Armenian, Black, White and others, the median household income is estimated by Census Tracker as in the range of $39,562 USD, substantially less than the “average” of $69,138 for families of the same size in L.A. County.
While I’m not aware of specific data showing how many of the neighborhood’s residents are insured or not, it’s safe to infer from other available data that the majority of them–surviving on (and below) the minimum wages typically paid to their demographics–do not have adequate coverage at their fingertips.
Here, the words of Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the director of L.A.’s public health department, resonate loudly:
“There are thousands of people in our communities who are positive but who have not been tested.”
Readers are advised to increase their level of precautions, and to reach out to loved ones–safely–on further steps to ensure and maintain their health and well-being in the upcoming weeks with this public health threat.
Earlier this week Ref Rodriguez, the district 5 representative at the Los Angeles Unified School District, which represents schools throughout Silver Lake, Los Feliz, East Hollywood, South Gate, Vernon and more, resigned after pleading guilty to charges of money-laundering and conspiracy in his campaign for the district seat. Rodriguez originally took his place on L.A. Unified’s board after beating out Benett Kayzer for the appointment in 2015.
I still remember the mail-ads when Rodriguez challenged Kayzer in 2015. It was an often deceitful and indignant race that preyed on people’s fears, not so different from the national campaign waged for the country’s highest office a year later, though with a more local touch; Rodriguez’s campaign sent out ads accusing then-incumbent Kayzer of racist voting policies during his four-year tenure on the board, of leaving his district’s classrooms in ruins, of underpaying school employees, and more. These were distortions of the facts, however: photo-shopped images, votes that were misconstrued, and paid spokespersons. Nevertheless, the consistency with which these ads were delivered to the voters was relentless, and thus distortions of the facts eventually turned into some of the only sources of information for great portions of the electorate.
The race was also a matter of time, however, in that the ‘teachers’ union-backed’ Kayzer waged a lackluster defense of the seat. Although the LAUSD race was a much smaller one than the presidential race in 2016, the same principles needed to be applied to the ‘defense’ of the public interest: in order for voters to come out, they had to be inspired by a particular vision, and Kayzer didn’t much inspire las vecindades towards such a vision. Rodriguez, on the other hand, by virtue of his last name, was regarded as a potential representative for a predominantly Latino district that’s often felt underrepresented in policy-making at both the state and national levels despite accounting for major swaths of the demographics throughout.
I still remember at that time speaking with people throughout the community like the elderly residents of the neighborhood who were interested in a change at LAUSD, for which Rodriguez seemed like just the harbinger; when such individuals at our schools and throughout our communities, who put in major time and investments to both, feel forgotten or unaddressed, it’s a problem. But when the leaders of our community choose to address such people only until election time, that problem becomes a potentially serious liability.
At the same time, when people are fatigued by news cycles followed by election cycles that often do little to speak to the day-to-day concerns of their livelihoods, school board elections come off as only more ads on top of ads and concerns that offer little of substance to them.
But school board positions, while appearing like minor affairs in comparison to national contests, do have major implications. They therefore attract interests from all sides of Los Angeles, including interest from the likes of individuals such as Richard Riordan, the former L.A. mayor and local millionaire on the West side of town. Riordan is a Pro-Trump supporter, and also one who’s known to support candidates on the side of privatizing more schools.
Donors or ‘Philanthropists’ like Riordan, who’ve fared well for themselves with various investments in banking, venture capital, and the sponsorship of these initiatives, have much to say about educating youth in Los Angeles, that is, in the millions of dollars range, but little to no experience in an actual classroom. They nonetheless enter these races, however, and therefore impact not only the outcome, but how people can discuss the issues in the race to begin with; the millions they throw in are matched by millions on the opposing side– or what comes closest to matching that amount–and in the throes of these expenditures, what substance there might be in a contest between two candidates is drowned out by ads, ads, and more ads like the ones Ref Rodriguez deployed against Kayzer.
Something similar to the race between Rodriguez in Kayzer in 2015 would take place two years later. In 2017’s two LAUSD races for Districts 4 and 6, Netflix Co-Founder Reed Hastings was reported to have donated over $7 million to an Association backing the candidates on the side of privatizing more of L.A.’s schools. Both of the candidates supported by these and other donations were successful in beating out the (teachers’) union-backed board representatives at that time, including Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla, respectively.
I’m not able to speak on Padilla’s behalf, but I can speak for my experience as a student at John Marshall High School when Steve Zimmer served as a counselor there; since as far back as my time as a ninth grader in 2004 during my first semester at that school, Zimmer was known among friends and I as a counselor we could count on for a safe space at a time when the consequence for missing class or showing up late could mean a suspension or even a court date. Faced with administrators and a disciplinary system that often suspected the ‘B track’ kids in the crowds were usually up to no good, it was a tense environment for students of color then; but with Steve, there was never a moment of doubt: he didn’t care where we came from, he’d show his support to us regardless.
This was forgotten or discarded somewhere in Steve’s reelection campaign when Reed Hastings’s millions poured into the race. But it is not altogether forgotten quite yet. The pueblo has to remember.
Today’s discussions regarding equity and equality at schools in Los Angeles distinguish two main camps: either pro-charter or pro-union reformers, or people for the privatization of these schools (with public funds), and people for the ‘traditional’ public option. These labels, like the ads, inundate the electorate and ultimately do not tell the whole story about either position. But they should not do so in any case.
Ultimately, at the start of a new school-year, neither charter school advocates nor teachers’ unions alone can produce the best results for the students of Los Angeles; it’s going to take the whole pueblo, the whole state, and the entirety of a collective nation before we can mark a true culmination from the civil rights movements which fought for and brought home the decision in Brown Versus the Board of Education.
In the meantime, however, it is important to note what has happened in these local histories. Those who do not know history are still doomed to repeat it.