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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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 34

I know that during these times there are families all across Los Angeles struggling to wage past this unlikeliest of changes in their lives. I know that not all of these families can simply take this crisis “on the chin” and boldly trust in the way forward as their more privileged counterparts might be able to.

I know that many teachers in Los Angeles are wavering past isolation that existed between them and their departments well before the crisis, and that this is only more pronounced now in the scramble to learn the how-tos of leading courses online while also needing to check off other long lists of personal needs as adults and professionals.

I know there are many students spiraling through a myriad of emotions, yearning to leave the nests they’ve been stuck in these last few weeks, alongside siblings who are similarly disconcerted, and close by parents who are also harboring emotions they might never have expected of themselves amid so much time with their loved ones.

I know there are tears blossoming across eyelids throughout the days into evenings between the small places we call home, that there are windows being rattled and sometimes broken, and that there are heart rates and blood pressures tailing off the Richter scale in dizzying spells with no end in sight at this point.

I know it’s not fair. And that there’s very little poetic justice to sound bells for in yet another call to persevere again.

But I also know that this is not the whole cuento.

I know that with each bitter evening, no matter how sour the sting of defeat might be, the fact is that for every last one of these families, individuals and more, a better day is not long from them.

I know this because I’ve lived this. And I know this because I’ve seen others live through their own winding roads of unimaginable loss and discord, only to still somehow rise again the next day to greet another bright morning in Los Angeles.

I don’t know exactly when I came to know this, nor precisely how resolutely I’ve memorized the lesson plan, but I do know that it’s for the purpose of continually uplifting my community no matter the distance, as my community has done for me during all these years mysterious flowing past my brainwaves.

I now recognize my community, even if only to let them know that their cries do not go unheard, that their tremors do not come and go in vain, and that their cuentos will continue. Words, like most things, are only temporary utterances, which can sometimes provide just temporary relief from the weight of the world. But I believe we can find all of the life of the universe imbued in such precious intervals. Indeed, that’s how I arrived to this conclusion today.

Onward we continue Los Angeles,

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 32

On this day, in a quiet, barren room at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles, mayor Garcetti gave a publicly televised address regarding the status of the city’s outlook going forward. Although these addresses are generally summaries of one fiscal year heading into the next, the mayor’s address this time was nearly all centered on the extraordinary last five weeks spent in suspension, without work and city services.

The speech was an eloquent and dignified address to the people of Los Angeles, but was also light on details except for a few; there will be less money for services such as graffiti removal, as well as less maintenance for parks and recreation. There will be 26 furloughed days for city employees, as well as a one year hiring-freeze for city jobs due to the crisis. Finally, the mayor’s speech calls on the federal government to step up its support for local government in L.A. and across the country.

On Facebook, where the broadcast can be seen in full, as of the time of this writing the video has garnered less than 2,000 “likes.” For a city of 10 million people, it sure makes you wonder: where is everyone?

It’s also clear that the public address is supposed to be a reflection of the president’s more popular state of the union. But as with that other highly anticipated elocution, I wish there was an alternative reading of the times given the same platform. I wish there was a true rebuttal, or at least a response from the other side, so as to create room for a divergence of viewpoints rather than centering just one.

How else is L.A. to become more civic-minded, if it’s given just one demonstration of civics from just one voice? Putting aside for a moment the chaos wrought by “alternative facts,” there are in fact still different ways to read the data, assess the pros and cons of our response, and visualize how to keep on truckin’.

The closest diverging opinion that I could find was actually published well before the mayor’s address, on the Los Angeles Daily News, by a group of medical and clinical professionals:

Now is the time Los Angeles County and city officials should consider allowing nonessential businesses to reopen if they voluntarily employ high “hygiene IQ” and social distancing with their customers (and require cloth face masks if people are less than six feet from each other), which are keys to prevent transmission.

This writer concurs. It also surprises me that while the mayor has visited cities all across the world, and spoken to many different mayors in these cities, he’s yet to apply some of the different strategies deployed across the globe that respect both the threat of COVID-19 as well as the people whose lives depend on conducting their business.

One could see the reasoning if certain mass gatherings like sports games and concerts have to remain on the shelf, but is it really the case that the city can’t open the public library, to name one example? And yes, I would think of the library. But in all seriousness, is it conceivable that people could, in an organized fashion, visit the library while maintaining social distance? I believe so.

I think if the mayor truly believes in Los Angeles, he’s got to say more than that it will be tough, but that we will persevere. He needs to show confidence in L.A.’s newly acquired cautiousness as the first step in the city picking itself back up by its own volition to the extent it’s reasonable.

At one point, the mayor quoted FDR, highlighting the 26th president’s ability to see beyond the crisis of the moment that was the Great Depression:

Roosevelt didn’t try to get America back to normal. He painted a picture of new and better days, calling upon us to imagine not only what we could have. But what we could and must stand for.

While the mayor’s address was certainly thoughtful, it did not quite register as a stand for the way forward that so many people are desperately in need of right now.

But of course we will continue forward, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 18

Even without the familiar road, there remains so much work to do. Life at home is only life with one’s long list of to-dos up closest to our periphery.

There is food to put on the table. And there are dishes to clean. There is fresh coffee to warm up. And there is old coffee to throw out. 

There is sweeping to do, in every room you can find. There is mail to sift through. Mail continues coming in each day. 

There is opening up this mail, the most important-looking one first.

There is mulling over the response, leaving the inconvenience for another time.

There is checking the phone, visiting the usual pages, refreshing them, then getting pulled into their warp for another minute, then another minute, then one more. 

There is putting the phone down, recalling life outside of virtual reality. There is taking a deep breath, then musing over what’s next.

There is a second meal to prepare. The more substantive, consequential, and by extension more costly meal.

There is opening the fridge, gathering what can be found, then recalling what’s missing.

There is a trip to the store to consider. There is checking the wallet. There is recalling what else is supposed to be saved for this week. There is checking the news. When will that stimulus check come again?

There is that other form in the mail again. The one opened yesterday and which was supposed to have been responded to by today. There is putting it off for just a minute longer.

There is the missing ingredient that still needs to be sought after.

There is putting shoes on.

There is putting a sweater on.

There is putting a face mask on.

Finally there is getting ready to head out the door. But then there is suddenly needing to visit the bathroom. There is stalling at the bathroom.

There is growling bubbling up, dryness stiffening, impatience taking root.

There is finally heading out the doorway, locking the door, then opening the gate and locking the gate behind. 

There is the openness of a new day outside to take in.

Then there is a rush we are reminded of. There is hurrying up to the store, finding the tomatoes firmly in reach, wrapping our bags around them, then heading into line.

There is the line to wait through, carefully, cautiously, acceptingly, if possible.

There is mulling over whether or not to check the phone again while waiting in line. There is deciding otherwise.

There is listening to the side-chatter, the registers opening and closing, and watching the traffic outside swerve by. There is wondering if life might always be this way from now on, steeped in uncertainty, or if it’s only been this way and it’s just that we’re now far more aware of it.

There is our turn at the register. There is exchanging our greetings, waiting patiently but also cautiously for our change. There is wondering if the change is worth the wait and risk. There is taking the risk and placing the change into the wallet.

There is getting back home again, locking the door behind us, then placing our things down and rushing to the bathroom to wash our hands.

There is returning to the kitchen, rinsing the sink, then taking out everything we gathered earlier, and finally placing the tomatoes alongside.

There is turning on the stove, placing the pot over the flames, filling it with water inside, then cutting up the tomatoes, the onions, and the celery. There is placing them all inside.

There is looking through the window, hearing the tunes of the birds, recalling that we’re still alive again.

There is taking a deep breath again. There is another chirping sound again.

There is friendship on the other side, reflecting another tenderness through the times. 

There is gratitude gradually shifting the whole being. 

There is the scent of boiling onions, celery, and tomatoes filling the air.

There is recalling that form in the mail, with a minute after all this time.

There is filling out the response, at long last, filling it out. 

There is still placing it into the envelope, finding and placing the stamp on the envelope, then placing the envelope out for pickup, and other work to do.

But first, there is the second meal again.

The longer-prepping meal, but by extension also longer-filling meal. The more rewarding meal of the day. Ahead, there is still another day just getting started.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 13

In lieu of brighter skies and calmer winds, the city of Los Angeles felt more alive today, yet it was still yearning to live, with more than half of its population nowhere to be seen. I know that this is what cities across America have looked like these last few weeks, but there was something different about today; whatever hope might have been taken from the sight of clearer sunshine felt marred by a great “settling in” of the fact that the emptiness will hold well into the foreseeable future, until this crisis is through.

I know that where business was already dreadful, it became only more barren. And I know that where the feeling was already somber, it fell still further to approach resignation.

The heaviest of the days are yet to come, but it already feels like the end of not one, but many Americas.

If feels like after decades of minimizing the issues of warfare, incarceration, and poverty and addiction in America as if they were simply the costs of running this consumer’s society, our way of life now screeches to a halt being entrapped by all of these costs at once. They have come to collect, to take us for everything we’ve got.

The pandemic has been called an invisible war, which says a lot about our way of processing a challenge, and which is also far from original; see the war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terrorism. Now the war is on every doorstep, and we can hardly touch the knob without fearing its germs will metastasize into a date with death.

The crisis feels like an incarceration. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Lebron James, Donald Trump, or one of the 3.3. million Americans who filed for unemployment these last two weeks. We are all on hold now. Our day in court is still not within range. We need to forget about it for a while.

The shutdown is also a great impoverishment of the whole of our society, like a great darkening where there was once light and openness. But if you were to ask Black families in Chicago whom were forced to make their housing in the ghettos due to the federal government’s Redlining, you may find a haunting similarity between what took place for them then and what’s happening to families in all of our neighborhoods now.

The pandemic is also like coming to terms with an addiction once it’s been torn away from our grasp. Our political landscape has become addicted to polarization, addicted to belittling the other side for merely having the time to do so. Now, reducing the other side with euphemisms is simply irrelevant, utterly wasting time and costing lives. Even the unlikeliest of presidents may be starting to see that.

To be sure, I don’t see this massive humbling of American power as necessarily leading to a re-balancing act, nor do I take any pride in the crisis as some sort of retribution, or–as Malcolm X once said–chickens coming home to roost. But I do hope that our communities can reflect meaningfully on what is at stake here when that time approaches, that is, in terms of what we want to save once we get through the worst it has to offer. I hope we do this not only for the moment, but as if our whole future depends on it. Indeed, I believe that’s just what we’re getting to.

Let’s have a better day tomorrow, even if it takes our damnedest best to get to it.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 11

Although I’ve been able to adapt well to the lengthy silences of so many days in isolation, I understand the same is not true for many others out there. I realized this earlier when on stepping outside for a jog, my first in the two weeks since the shutdown began, I suddenly came across a familiar yet only recently estranged sight a stone’s throw down the street: it was my neighbors. Not the neighbors from next door, but the neighbors from across the vecindad.

I saw the tios, the borrachitos, and the quiet loners who–shutdown aside–have clearly still simply kept lugging their bodies and belongings past the concrete to progress through the days given them.

There must have been nearly 15 of these vecinos, together forming a cluster of shoulders, voices and laughter that only gleamed more brilliantly due to the sunshine of a fresh Spring afternoon in Los Angeles–something that’s been deeply missed after a long winter.

For a moment, I wondered, was I–and all of those like me who’ve spent the last few weeks faithfully following the updates and abiding by their requests to keep hunkering in–was I the one playing the part of the sudden stranger, or was it these compadres? If by chance another stranger–say, America’s esteemed Thomas Jefferson–was also a neighbor, or at least somehow nearby, and I asked him about the meaning behind this haphazard gathering in our community, might Tomas say the men were simply enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

If so I’d be compelled to inform Tomas that during the present moment of COVID-19, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not only not good enough, but quite careless and possibly catastrophic for the general welfare of the society. To his question of why, I’d say because the current big idea is the sense of all of us taking care of each other, not just ourselves.

I’d then point out to Señor Jefferson the conundrum of my situation: that it probably wasn’t fair for me to assume that these compadres got the memo to stay at home just like everyone else. To his question of why, I’d apply the following deductive reasoning:

Exactly when were these men supposed to get the memo? If they were supposed to learn about the orders via the TV, what if a few of them didn’t own a television? And if they were supposed to learn about the orders through their cell phones, what about the few who owned none? And if the men were supposed to learn about it at home or through a family member somehow, what should we expect of the men who owned neither a television, nor cellphone, nor even a rental to call home, and who could claim no kin within range?

I’d then present my central argument regarding these compadres: that while it’s tempting to look at these times as being especially critical for us to exercise thoughtfulness and compassion towards such vecinos by asking ourselves the aforementioned types of questions in the interest concerning the well-being of the whole society, the fact of the matter is that this has always been the case, and that it’s in no small part the refusal of many government policies over many decades following Lincoln’s Proclamation to successfully “bring in to the welfare of the society” such compadres which led to my predicament over what to make of their gathering.

Because even then, I’d emphasize to Tomas, it’s not just the compadres who are still out there, but it’s also Black neighbors in South Central Los Angeles, Immigrants of other tongues across downtown L.A., teenagers on many sides only two steps removed from being placed into the Department of Children and Family Services, veterans, and a myriad of other people our government chose not to “bring into the welfare” of the society long ago.

Perhaps many in these groups have heard of the orders just like everyone else–because they’re certainly capable of being as educated as anyone else on the matter–and are even openly defying the orders to stay home and keep their distance because in their minds they go too far. But even if that were the case, is it fair to expect that these groups, which are really sub-groups, whom in large part have always lived on the margins of our society, is it fair to expect them to suddenly heed the orders of a government which has never concerned itself with their inclusion?

I believe not exactly. Because I’ve learned that governments and societies don’t simply get to “leave the past” in the wake of a new day–coronavirus notwithstanding–which in this case is a past made up of our constantly turning our backs to comprehensive immigration reform, to affordable housing for those who need it most, to livable wages, and more. Now, if some of the people most affected by these absent policies choose to turn their backs on us, it’s important to be mindful of maybe just why.

To the question of what then, then, I’d say, first let’s get this information to the people and then hear what they have to say. I’d then get to my jog around las cuadras, as I did earlier today, and let the rest of the pieces fall where they may, as I also did on returning to the block.

Imagination can run past me sometimes, but I believe this: change is a step by step process. But before we can change anything, we have to account for just what it is we want to change.

So now the question for Los Angeles, is simply what it’s going to be. In my humble opinion, I’d say it’s time to complete Lincoln’s emancipation with amelioration.

J.T.