Summer Returns to Los Angeles

Let’s make it count.

J.T.

The downtown Skyline appears behind a fence separating the 101 freeway from Echo Park

Echo Park Sun Rising – The After-Hours Meditation

In the interest of furthering dialogue regarding Mitch O’Farrell’s actions against unhoused residents in Central Los Angeles, the following are notes from yours truly on the Echo Park Uprising for Episode 51 – Echo Park Sun Rising on J.T. the L.A. Storyteller Podcast:

I. What’s different or so special about Echo Park; why so much fuss about it? Echo Park as a public park is easily the most walkable, most popular shared space in all of Central Los Angeles. The Echo Park neighborhood surrounding the public park has also been home to generations of Latinx, Asian-American, and also African-American laborers and families; however, over the last ten years especially, Echo Park’s proximity to Sunset boulevard, Dodger stadium, and downtown L.A. has made it and the accompanying neighborhood prime real estate for gentrification, leading to the pricing out of generations of Latinx and Asian-American families especially.

According to Stefano Bloch and Dugan Meyer, two scholars on the area in 2019 [parentheses mine]: “At the beginning of the 2000s, Echo Park consisted of a non-Hispanic white population of 16%, compared to the City of Los Angeles’ 30%, and was in the midst of a more than decade-long drop in its violent crime rate to the lowest levels on record. By 2014, when the [L.A. City Attorney’s] civil gang injunction was implemented, Echo Park’s white, non-Hispanic population stood at 29%.” In other words, from the early 2000s through the mid 2010s, Echo Park is a neighborhood that has become substantially whiter at the same time that it’s become increasingly exclusionary to non-whites.

All of these factors have made the area one of the “major places to watch,” and given the park’s high visibility and accessibility, a space almost “destined” for culture clash. Finally, for what it’s worth, like East Hollywood and other parts of Central Los Angeles, Echo Park was also historically red-lined for housing Black and “foreign” families at least as early as 1939.

The Echo Park neighborhood, seen on this redlined map of Los Angeles as a part of the D-34 area.

II. The L.A. Times (@latimes) did the right thing by breaking the story of O’Farrell’s lawless eviction of unhoused folks at Echo Park Lake ahead of time. Transparency is what journalism is supposed to be about, and here we’ve got just that; bravo! Additionally, LAT’s article discussing gentrification as a “planned” development for the area due to racist homeowning policies in the 1960s, which gave way to racist renting and absentee landlordism in the 1970s, is indeed a good starting point for folks just entering discussions on gentrification and housing in Los Angeles, of whom there are still many (especially in the LAT audience. Ahem).

III. The fight against white supremacy in Los Angeles’ political landscape is the fight against fascism. This is because the forced removal of non-armed people in Echo Park last week stands on a long tradition of racist, and yes–genocidal policies–against non-white bodies in Los Angeles and California at the hands of “government,” which is represented no better today than by the fact that the L.A. County Jail, still the largest jail system in the United States, houses a population that is 3/4ths non-white, a rate parallel to that of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, more than 3/4ths of which is non-white and disproportionately Black.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual…headed by a dictatorial leader…and forcible suppression of opposition.” If one thus takes the various names and figures in L.A. and California’s political histories who’ve served as “leaders” only in the interests of white supremacy as say, the status quo, then for non-white bodies in L.A. and California both the city and state have long performed as fascist entities, and continue to do so.

IV. Over the course of the next election year in Los Angeles, it’s key for storytellers to emphasize that Mitch O’Farrell’s privileging of property values over human rights in Echo Park and throughout CD-13 is fascist in nature. Because yes, it was property values and “shareholders” invested in Echo Park’s ongoing gentrification, more than anything, that led to the violent uprooting of unhoused residents there last week, something Mitch O’Farrell’s office doesn’t even have to fully grasp to serve the interests of loyally.

A protester holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall
A protester against racialized police violence holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall in June 2020

Several folks online also asked where O’Farrell’s office even got the legal go-ahead to use so much LAPD personnel, reportedly up to 300 officers, for the mass eviction; the fact is that there was no legal ground for such action; as with Garcetti’s undemocratic call to Newsom over summer 2020 to deploy National Guard troops onto L.A.’s streets, justification was made up on the fly; no charter citations, nada. “Checks and balances” thus merely functioned as rhetorical devices that got in the way, literally, as demonstrated by LAPD’s indiscriminate arrest of journalists on the ground; it’s also important to remember that whenever any public official massively escalates the presence of police for any given operation, they place both people and police officers’ lives on the line at their own discretion, which is flawed discretion.

V. No, the Echo Park arrests were NOT the Chavez Ravine; however, they’re certainly both under the history of racialized housing policies in Los Angeles. To be certain, Mexican-American families actually built housing in the Chavez Ravine area, where they married, had children, and even raised little league teams for decades.

“Group of young boys and girl of Chavez Ravine,” 1935; Courtesy of collections at the L.A. Public Library

Following substantial population growth over the course of WWII, the city of L.A. suddenly cared about the Chavez Ravine, and then paid Mexican-American families in the area inadequate sums to vacate this land under the threat of “condemning” their homes otherwise, which would have allowed the city to forcibly remove residents. After letting go of these homes, Chavez Ravine families were then promised actual public housing units that never materialized. The unhoused residents in Echo Park, by contrast, many of whom arrived to Echo Park Lake in the past two years in particular, have only been offered temporary hotel rooms under Biden’s FEMA money for Project Roomkey.

VI. We already know, but it’s worth reiterating that the sudden and violent closure of Echo Park is ultimately not about Mitch O’Farrell. O’Farrell is, like most of his colleagues at L.A. City Hall, a mere servant of a larger systemic issue in CD-13 and across Los Angeles, which is white supremacy in the city’s housing stock and accessibility. Therefore, calling for O’Farrell’s resignation at this time is merely calling for his replacement, which the council district’s recent history suggests may not be much better. Remember–and remind others–that before O’Farrell oversaw the office of the 13th district it was Eric Garcetti (from 2001-2013), who handed Hollywood and neighborhoods across CD-13 the current crisis of hotels and luxury rentals for the wealthy instead of housing for Brown families and workers.

Before Garcetti in the 13th district, there was Jackie Goldberg (from 1994 – 2001), who played no insignificant role in the grossly expensive and failed Metro rail line that is the Metro Red Line. While the Red Line displaced several Latinx and AAPI communities from Koreatown to East Hollywood and also drove up the cost of living in these areas, it still satisfied demands from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, folks at Kaiser Permanente, and other anonymous investors in the “project.”

Jackie Goldberg celebrating the opening of the Metro Red Line from downtown into the Hollywood area in 1999; Photo courtesy of the L.A. Public Library

It’s probably safe to call CD-13 under Mitch O’Farrell’s direction in 2021 a done deal, then, and look towards the seat’s election in 2022.


VII. Make no mistake about it: the race for CD-13 in 2022 officially began with a loud WHAM on Thursday, March 25th, 2021, with Mitch O’Farrell’s office seeking to wrest control of activist narratives about L.A. City’s historic indifference towards unhoused residents into his own hands as a public official “restoring [white liberal] order” despite those activists’ “radical left” agenda.

O’Farrell’s rhetorical strategy is to exploit the same “politics of grievance” over the city’s inaction, a euphemism for white “back-lash,” that have a long history in California politics, popularized no better than by Howard Jarvis’ Taxpayers Association, which successfully framed the passage of the infamous Prop 13 in California in 1978 as a [white] rebellion against public services for growing numbers of [non-white] residents in the state.

The one, the only; Grandpapa Howard Jarvis of California

California’s electorate body–and also that of Los Angeles–is of course no longer the same as in 1978, or even 2016 or 2017, for that matter, but the race for CD-13 in 2022 is still going to be a long, hard-fought numbers game between O’Farrell’s moneyed supporters and an energized progressive mass all around them in central Los Angeles. For the record, as of the end of 2020, Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign has seen nearly ten times the amount of contributions than Albert Corado’s, his leading challenger for the seat.

According to the L.A. Ethics Commission, O’Farrell’s office has received just under $110,000 in donations compared to Albert Corado’s $11,000.

VIII. L.A. City Council as a body has basically no credibility left, which is actually a good starting point for L.A. voters. This is because since the council’s founding in 1850 as a body in the state of California, it has rarely been substantially more than a ruse for private actors, multimillionaires, and now multibillionares in need of some “governance” for their workers/hired labor, as well as for major payouts from tax-subsidized building “projects;” Jose Huizar’s, George Chiang’s, Justin Kim’s, and Mitchell Englander’s portfolios have demonstrated this colorfully most recently, but meeting notes for L.A. City Council going back to the earliest convenings of the Council in the 19th century also make clear that private bodies have always been “friendly” with L.A. City Hall as a public “office.” (Ask if you need some PDFs here.)

IX. The Echo Park Neighborhood Council, and all Neighborhood Councils in Council District 13, which are more democratically forged bodies and more accessible than the actual L.A. City Council, need to make clear for voters in the 13th district that O’Farrell’s violent actions against the unhoused in our communities cannot earn him their votes in 2022; can we say, letter campaigns, y’all? Bring in the postcards.

X. About white “gentrifiers” protesting in Echo Park. There are some resolvable tensions in activist spaces between white and non-white communities, and some unresolvable tensions. White “gentrifiers” in Echo Park showing up for the unhoused may in fact be folks of means who have choices regarding the movement that non-whites will not access in this lifetime; but like non-whites, they’re also people “the movement” requires. It is a fact that white privilege is served by gentrification in Los Angeles, but boiled down to its core, white privilege is still a class and not a “race” issue; therefore, the existence of both white and non-white folks in the progressive sphere is a net gain for housing for all, since a more equitable world for all is what we’re supposed to be building.

That said, an unresolvable tension in the movement is when you learn that groups like Occupy LA in 2011 actually had police infiltrators working inside the “movement,” and also that the disproportionately white leadership of Occupy LA was said to tokenize people of color only to silence concerns from POC in the group about inequitable movement-making. That’s an unresolvable tension. Movement. Done.

J.T.

What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.

D.R.

Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.

Tenants March and Rally After an Attempted Eviction and Arrests at College Hotel in East Hollywood

The East Hollywood chapter of the L.A. Tenants Union, along with members of the United Neighborhood Defense Movement, held a rally and demonstration this afternoon in East Hollywood near Los Angeles City College. Marchers met and took turns calling to passersby over a megaphone at the intersection of Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard, subsequently marching east on Santa Monica boulevard, and consolidating at the College Hotel building, next to the site of the recently-bulldozed East Hollywood Union Swap Meet. The College Hotel is also located just across the street from local chef and community gardener Heleo Leyva’s celebrated Community Cookouts that were recently covered by the L.A. Times.

Both the march and rally were organized after an attempted eviction at the College Hotel led to a tense standoff between police and protestors, followed by injuries and arrests of the protestors, according to one arrestee interviewed for this story.

Irving, who asked to be identified only by his first name, described how on the night of Sunday, December 6th, after an argument with the tenant, an elderly immigrant woman who was unable to pay rent recently due to the unexpected death of her husband a few months earlier this year, the manager called the LAPD to forcibly remove her. The woman was distraught by the call, which led to approximately five officers showing up to speak with the manager, but still managed to contact members of the @unitedhoodmvmt, as well as the @latueasthollywood. A total of about fifteen members of the groups arrived to the College Hotel, rallying in her support.

Before long, the group of five officers called for backup, to which approximately 50 LAPD personnel arrived, supported by police cruisers, 12 swat cars, and a police helicopter overhead.

According to Irving, the officers soon claimed that the protestors were trespassing on the property. Shortly thereafter, about three heavy-set officers tackled the elderly woman, outraging protestors. The standoff continued to escalate, ultimately leading to the injuring and arresting of at least eight of the protestors. Members of both the United Neighborhood Defense Movement as well as the Tenants Union quickly got to work to spread the word on social media, followed by organizing for this afternoon’s demonstration and march.

“[LAPD] beat us and arrested us, all for what? For protesting this manager’s harassing people?” Irving asked.

An L.A. County Ordinance is supposed to protect renters in rent stabilized order (RSO) units in effect until January 31, 2021, including units at the College Hotel, which was originally built in 1952 according to public records, but the ordinance has not stopped managers and landlords from filing for evictions, or trying to get tenants to ‘self-evict,’ especially in areas such as South Central Los Angeles.

The College Hotel in East Hollywood, a vicinity that while increasingly gentrifying is still predominantly comprised of immigrants and renters, is a part of L.A. City Council Member @mitchofarrell‘s district. To date, the Council Member’s office has not issued a statement on the arrests of protestors or the possibly illegal eviction attempt.

J.T.

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 such a 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 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 from police officers as typical.

Instead of having armed law enforcement encroaching upon unarmed citizens who actually reside in the community, LACC’s campus 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. The campus’s green spaces should be made accessible again for picnicking or some other respite. There is also much that can be done with the campus’s air conditioning to help the local community cool off over the oncoming summer. One way or another, it’s time to innovate. But whatever alternative use for campus instead of clustering large groups of people, one thing is abundantly clear:

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 civilians who make up 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 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, and even to intimidate Black & Brown library workers into “walking a fine line” lest they be labeled as a threat by police officers. Only in America.

It’s therefore time for members of the LACC community to call for the reopening of our campus, hand-in-hand with the dismissal of armed law enforcement in order to ensure our safety 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 health and well being. We deserve nothing less.

J.T.

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A tattered and damaged building at Vermont & Beverly stands next to a recently renovated hotel in Los Angeles

You Are Allowed To Press Reset, Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 89)

For nearly two hours today a disruption hampered phone networks all across Los Angeles and throughout the country. It was almost a glitch in the whole observable universe, as our once-familiar smart-phones were bereft of function and exposed for their hollow cores. One had to simply put the phone down and figure to try again later. It was strange. It was suspicious. It was also quite liberating.

The fact of the matter is that at the speed at which information now travels, there can never be enough ‘keeping up’ with the latest development just as there can never be enough ‘doling out’ of it. But it is helpful to take a break. Your memory, and perhaps even your skin, will thank you for it, according to some experts.

This Tuesday, I personally don’t plan to wait for another glitch to ease my mind from the day’s infinite stream of events. I have much to read, before much more to write.

While resetting my mind may not be as simple as doing so with my phone, I’ve got a feeling that for that same reason, making the effort can prove far more rewarding. Now, if only more of that L.A. City Council would come to the same reasoning.

J.T.

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By Escalating the Police State, Mayor Garcetti Is Officially L.A.’s First White Supremacist Mayor of the 21st Century

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 73)

History now records that every injury inflicted on defenseless protestors in L.A. this week comes from a mayor whose billion-dollar police force could only bulldoze and bully unarmed citizens exercising their first-amendment rights to protest the modern-day lynching of Black bodies, and whom, even after an annual budget of more than a billion dollars for weapons and training for those forces, still needs Governor Newsom’s support to smother free speech and the right to assembly in Los Angeles.

Let there be no mistake about it: at this critical moment in our nation’s history, by calling the National Guard to intimidate and arrest defenseless protestors, Mayor Garcetti is now the first white supremacist mayor of L.A. in the 21st century, no better than a “Proud Boy” thug in Atwater Village claiming “defense” of white supremacy as his uniform glorifies blood spewed from Black & Brown skin.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that the mayor’s curfew and call for the national guard on Saturday night comes less than 12 hours before the president’s designation of the so-called “ANTIFA” (abbreviated from ANTIFASCIST) association as a “terrorist group,” despite providing no evidence to support the claim that the group, which is known as a loose coalition of anti-racist activists, engages in anything related to terrorism.

That is, unless the official policy of the state is that any movement against white supremacy is so offensive to whiteness it must be deemed “terrorist.” The open-air prison is now in plain sight. Enter prison warden Garcetti.

But the mayor’s decision to escalate police reinforcements rather than deescalate their numbers doesn’t just place him in the company of Donald Trump. It also comes at a time when mayors across urban cities in the United States have a choice either to stand with their citizens in calling for an end to Jim Crow policies for Black and Brown bodies, or stand against them in support only of the extension of those same policies. Just one of these choices historically costs Black and Brown civilians in the United States their lives. Garcetti has chosen the latter.

Consider also that the mayor, like Governor Newsom, certainly calls on the federal government to support the state and L.A.’s economic shortcomings this year due to reduced tax revenue. So why can’t they stand with L.A. calling on the state and federal government to stop sanctioning the killing of unarmed Black people?

Additionally, I encourage every reader in Los Angeles to consider the following: exactly what gives Garcetti the right to escalate police forces at this time? And why is L.A. City Council not convening during these hours to veto the mayor’s invitation of the national guard to our city? What expertise for crisis management has Garcetti shown during seven years of shoving & arresting unhoused citizens instead of sheltering them? And how competently has his team performed during just the last two months in which they’ve failed to house even two-tenths of L.A.’s 15,000 most vulnerable unhoused residents? Are these failures actually precisely what qualify Garcetti to play as top cop?

Moreover, L.A. City Council’s failure to convene at this time
also exposes that the body is weak outside the realm of green lights for real estate tycoons, with its council-members sitting disparately at this time and apparently without prior knowledge of any of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s orders. This is a clear example of what democracy does not look like.

J.T.

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