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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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 bodies.

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 label of the so-called “ANTIFA” (aka known as the 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 to either 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 bodies 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 governments to stop supporting the killing of unarmed Black people?

Additionally, I encourage every reader to ask these questions: exactly what gives Garcetti the right to escalate police forces at this time? And why is L.A. City Council not convening at these hours to veto the mayor’s baseless invitations to the national guard on our city? What expertise for crisis management has Garcetti shown during 7 years spent shoving & arresting our unhoused instead of sheltering them? Or during the last two months in which he’s failed to house even two-tenths of our 15,000 most vulnerable unhoused residents? Are these the debacles precisely what qualify him?

L.A. City Council’s failure to convene also exposes that the body is weak outside the realm of green lights for real estate tycoons, with its council-members sitting separately at this time and apparently with no prior knowledge of any of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s orders. That’s a clear example of what democracy DOES NOT look like.

J.T.

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Call In or Write to Oppose Mayor Garcetti’s Police Raises As Housing & Community Investment Lose Millions

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 69)

I’ve been to Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, San Salvador, and Guatemala City, among others. With the exception of the latter two, all of these cities are larger than L.A. proper. But in none of them did I see thousands of encampments of unhoused people as I’ve seen in Los Angeles.

Even so, over the next year, experts estimate that the number of unhoused people in California due to rising unemployment from coronavirus can grow by up to 20%, from 150,000 people currently to 180,000.

In Los Angeles County, which contains more than 40% of the unhoused population in California, that can mean an increase of up to 12,000 more people on the sidewalks over the next twelve months.

That’s 1,000 families left to L.A.’s concrete every four weeks. And if Project Roomkey shows us anything, it’s that given two months, the city of Los Angeles can barely manage to get well short of 3,000 of its 15,000 most vulnerable unhoused citizens into a hotel room.

Exactly what would be the point of “reopening” Los Angeles then,
if all we have are more people in tents crowding below freeways, at schools and libraries, and around grocery stores and restaurants?

At the same time, the mayor’s proposed budget, which slashes $9 million from housing and community investment next year for a total of $81.1 million but increases the police budget by over $122 million for a total of $1.9 billion, is in the motions for approval by City Hall over the next four weeks.

That’s four weeks of time for residents in Los Angeles to use their first-amendment rights to express opposition to this proposal.

I ask readers to imagine if just half as many people who flocked to the city’s beaches and park trails over the weekends called in to their local Council Member’s offices or Board of Supervisors’ office to demand they rescind their support for the mayor’s budget in its current form.

Mayor Garcetti and each Council Member and Board Supervisor are supposed to be our elected officials, after all, not Kings and Queens of our fate; each of these representatives is supposed to advance our interests given that they’re paid for by money from our income, sales, property taxes, and more.

See below for two directories, one for L.A. City council members and the mayor’s office, and another for the L.A. Board of Supervisors:

Mayor’s Office & City Hall Directory
L.A. County Board of Supervisors Contact Info

The office of the City Clerk also features a little-known form online for the public to write in a comment for the public comment portion on items considered by the L.A. City Council, listed below:

Office of the City Clerk for Public Comment Form

Not sure how to start? Feel free to contact yours truly for some ideas.

J.T.

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Why All 15 L.A. City Council Members Should Now Resign

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 60)

Following George Chiang’s guilty plea in the FBI’s case against Council Member Jose Huizar, I am firmly of the belief that all fifteen members of the L.A. City Council should now resign, pack up their bags, and try their luck elsewhere. The reason is very simple:

The fact that Huizar’s back-door dealings with L.A. taxpayers’ money could even take place at city hall over the last three years (at minimum) shows a complete and utter failure of oversight.

We’re supposed to live in a country with ‘checks and balances’ to govern power and prevent abuse. I don’t know about the rest of Los Angeles, but I know that when I cast my vote for my elected officials here, I do not sign up for the FBI’s knock at their door to serve as that check and balance. It’s a waste of my time. And a waste of my money, which I need to make more Los Cuentos face masks.

But since it’s clear that the council members are incapable of checking and balancing each other, and that even the L.A. Ethics Commission needs the council’s permission to have it regulate itself, the writing is on the wall: It’s time for a shake-up. A real gravitational one.

The whole council’s resignation shouldn’t seem like an unreasonable order, either. Voters can also demand to recall the officials. Less than 20 years ago, voters in California recalled Gray Davis and installed a Hollywood superstar with no prior experience in office to the state’s highest office. In the city of Los Angeles, recalling a local official is supposed to take between 50,000 – 100,000 signatures.

At a time when nearly 2.3 million workers in L.A.’s formal economy are without work, what’s the cost of registering them to vote and having them sign off on checking a broken institution at City Hall governing their tax dollars?

And I’ve got to be honest with you, Los Angeles: the state’s republicans have certainly already started their petition online to recall Governor Newsom for “violating civil liberties.” I’ll let readers look that one up themselves. Who am I kidding, here it is.

In any case, while the council’s collective resignation is obviously technically possible, I admit that the record on such bold action after prior scandals in Los Angeles makes that highly unlikely. So in the meantime, here’s some more data for you to enjoy during your morning commute, or breakfast, or sleeping in…

Mitch O’Farrell, who’s served as the representative for the 13th district in Los Angeles for almost seven years, has taken home at least $1.1 million taxpayer dollars since first stepping into the office on June 29th, 2013. He is not the only council member with these earnings. Go and see for yourself at the L.A. City Employee Payroll website.

Mitch O’Farrell’s Salary from 2013 – 2018
The 13th District: Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Historic Filipinotown, Rampart Village, East Hollywood, Hollywood, Little Armenia, and more.

During those same five years, more than 10,000 residents in the city of Los Angeles lost their homes due to high rent, low wages, and unemployment, ending up on L.A.’s streets.

J.T.

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Twenty (-Six) Years After the L.A. Riots: How Things Have Changed

(Originally published April 26, 2012)

The time could not be more fitting. I just got home after one of those more frustrating nights, or, you know, one of those nights where you just want to burst through your door to run to your bed and take hold of your pillows. Not because you want to cry into them, but because you want to scream into them.

Or you know, one of those nights where you just really need a good walk, or just a really good drink, or just any god-damn really good something because god damn it can be so fucked up out there sometimes. You know, one of those nights where you have to tell someone what the hell just happened to you.

Yeah, let me tell you.

Earlier today I posted a couple of articles about the Los Angeles riots of 1992. It came to my attention that twenty years ago, just this same weekend, the streets of my beloved city burst into flames and destruction following the outrageous verdict of the Rodney King case.

I was probably what, a single year old, in a cradle somewhere, crying.

It’s likely. But what I’ll tell you with certainty is that I wasn’t crying about the apocalypse right outside of the apartment at the time. What I’m sure about is that I wasn’t crying for Rodney King, or for any of the families who had their business looted, or for any of the racist jurors who denied Rodney some dignity. No way.

But tonight, twenty years later, I do precisely just that.

Because well, when I had a moment to really think about the city today, and when I had a moment to place into perspective all of the madness we’ve been through together, when I thought about our time on these streets, not to mention our time through its schools, with its businesses, and elsewhere, well it started to really hurt.

The fact of the matter is, L.A. hasn’t learned anything since Rodney King in 1992.

Nothing has changed.

Nothing.

And that might sound a bit extreme, and just a little pessimistic, but this is where we seriously have to stop bullshitting ourselves when it comes to “anniversaries” like these. Honestly, when it comes to reflection and critical thought about such tragic moments, those of us who consider ourselves students of history should have enough respect for the real people who suffered the real horror of the spaces in times that we only know as stories, to state what the real situation is today, no matter how unpleasant the truth might be.

The truth today being that despite all this time, we as a people in Los Angeles haven’t learned jack shit.

That nothing has changed, and that in fact, things are arguably worse now than they were before.

Because while conditions in L.A. in 2012 might seem like they’re better than they were in 1992, racial tensions today are as high as they’ve ever been, with not only the police department and their injustice system still targeting people of color based on racial profiling, but with so much of white supremacy firmly intact in and out of L.A.’s jail cells.

Consider this. From 1992 to 1997 alone, incarceration in California rose by 30 percent, and what did those prisoners look like? Those were Black and Brown people of California, with the former being sent to our state’s prisons at a starkly higher rate.

Think about that for a second, as tonight, at this very moment right now, there are more Black and Brown people sitting in California’s prisons than any other ethnic group of this state. Does that feel at all animalistic, or teeming with animosity somehow? It is.

And think about those Black and Brown skinned people a little more for a second, and imagine what those cells look like, and what those cafeterias look like, and what those yards look like.

They stand divided, separated by race, always just a hair away from erupting into some of the ugliest melees the ground of this land will come to know.

In fact, it’s only been a little over two years since a prison riot in Chino left over 55 people critically injured from severe stabbing wounds involving over 250 brawling inmates. What do you think those hospitalized people looked like? They were Black and Brown men. They’re always Black and Brown in California. So for anyone wondering if racial tension and hostile policing in L.A. continues, it’s crystal clear that they are still firmly in place here, it’s just that they’re more concealed now is all…

Except, most people we know won’t find out about situations like these, or if they do find out, they won’t really care because, well, that’s what happens when you get incarcerated, right? That’s why you should be a good citizen and just get a good job and obey the law, right?

Well, don’t we wish things were so simple, because unfortunately the fact of is that prisons exist far beyond the steel bolted doors of California’ jail cells. Unfortunately, prison as a policing and power culture is everywhere, and most destructively, it’s in the blind mind of the arrogant White man who’s had to care for absolutely no one’s reality in Los Angeles but his own.

Similarly to a prison, it’s disconnected from the rest of the world, where he has little to no space to consider the rest of his fellow human beings. More frighteningly, this prison mentality asserts that in order to do well in this life, he must kill or be killed.

As a result, it is this same prison mentality that has incarcerated the human race more than any other group in time in all the history of civilization, and which has kept L.A. right down in the same conditions since 1992 and even before then, burying us deeper in as time goes on.

This prison mentality has robbed the world of so much of its life, love, beauty and innocence.

And this evening, this prison [mentality] ruined my night.

Earlier today, at around 9pm, at a Starbucks in Hollywood, a Black man wanted to use the restroom. He was a classy gentleman from out of town, probably in his mid to late thirties, clad in that traveling business kind of outfit, with a fine collar shirt, creased dress pants and dress shoes, and who just wanted to charge his phone and relieve himself before he headed back out to enjoy the city for a bit.

I had the fortune of being seated next to him for a moment. I was on my computer, checking a few of my notifications, and actually writing a response to a question about one of those articles I told you I posted up earlier. I was also just browsing for a little bit, just picking up sources here and there, and learning of some of the numbers and dates that I presented earlier in this piece.

Out of the blue, the black gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, “excuse me my man, I don’t mean to bother you, but would you happen to know the code to the restroom? Apparently you need to buy something to have the access code.”

It’s funny, I didn’t have the code because I actually hadn’t bought anything myself at the Starbucks either since I only planned on sitting there for a moment to write the response and then go home. It was a long Saturday after work.

I thought it was strange that the man needed to buy something in order to get the code, and instinctively, I told him I thought that policy was bullshit.

He agreed with me, and we laughed about it for a moment, before he got up from his chair to go ask someone else. Unfortunately for the gentleman, that someone else didn’t have the code either. I felt bad for him, but what could I do? I just got back to my browsing and brushed the moment off.

About a minute later however, after asking maybe the third person for the code without getting a hold of it, the gentleman came back and sat down right as I spotted someone coming out of the restroom. And well my friends, this someone coming out of the restroom just so happened to be a white man. He was in jeans and a blazer, wearing some expensive boots, and probably in his mid to late forties.

I motioned to the Black gentleman to ask the guy as I figured he had to have known the code to the restroom seeing as he had just gotten out of there, and so the black gentleman went up to the man and began to ask, as politely as he had done so with me, when before he could even finish his greeting the white man cut and waved him off saying he didn’t have the code.

On seeing this: instinctively, I thought ‘fuck that’.

Fuck that because I get paid to be nice to customers all day but I wasn’t at work then and I didn’t like how he responded to the Black gentleman. He cut him off before he could finish speaking, and then had the nerve to stick his hand out to him like he didn’t deserve the time.

And well, something came over me, because I had to call bullshit, and so I looked the white man straight in the eyes and said to him, “You’re a lying piece of garbage, I just saw you come out of the restroom.”

And oh, if you could have seen the look on this guy’s face, you’d think someone had just spit at him.

He said “Excuse me?”

And I repeated what I said, except louder, “YOU’RE A LYING PIECE OF GARBAGE, I JUST SAW YOU COME OUT OF THE RESTROOM.”

That’s where everything just took a turn.

After giving me the evil eye a few times, he headed back to his table and apparently considered his options.

He chose to be a prisoner, as he walked over to one of the baristas, pointed at me and the Black gentleman, and complained.

As he stuck his index finger pointing me out at me from near the counter, I stuck my middle finger out at him. Seriously, fuck him. The Black gentlemen agreed.

And well my friends, of course the barista he complained to just so happened to be a young white woman in her twenties. She looked over at us for a second and got on the phone.

I repeat, she looked over at us, and instead of asking us if there was a problem, she got on the phone.

But whatever, right? What are they gonna do? I hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had the Black gentleman. In fact, right afterwards, he finally decided to make a purchase so he could use the restroom, buying a cookie for himself.

When he came back to sit down after finally relieving himself, he was laughing at the absurdity of it all, and I told him that I apologized on behalf of my city.

“It’s alright man, you’re cool people,” he said, and just before I was about to ask him for his name, guess who came marching through the Starbucks door.

Two police officers. Both white, both ready to kick some ass the way they like to do.

On making eye contact with them from across the counter the barista pointed at me and the gentleman, and then at the white man. One of the police officers went over and spoke to the man, while the other stood in front of the table in front of me and the gentleman.

At that point, I was just disgusted. I feared for my safety as the big white cop harassed me with that infamous big white death stare, and I got my things to just get up and leave.

“Sit down, you’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Of course not. It was his town, and I was just his subject.

But you know what? Fuck that anyway. I didn’t do anything except call a douchebag a douchebag, and I told the cops just that. The Black gentlemen didn’t do anything either, and in fact he had bought the freaking cookie too, so to hell with their entitlement.

But of course, what we said or what the truth was didn’t matter, because we weren’t tall white men in blazers and jeans in expensive boots.

No, we were a Black gentlemen in dress clothes and a little brown kid with a laptop and a backpack.

Their town, their subjects. Oh, how things have changed.

After speaking to the barista again, the cops told us we had to leave. I was two steps ahead of them. As you can probably guess, I didn’t want to be where I knew I wasn’t wanted, so I just packed up my stuff and stood up to head out.

“This is wrong though man, we didn’t do anything wrong,” I told one of the police officers.

“That’s just how it is,” said the cop.

Ah right, that’s just how it is. Silly of me to forget that.

I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the black gentleman since he was busy requesting to speak to the manager. When the cops diverted their attention to him, I just walked the hell on out.

As I crossed the street two more cops came out of a squad car parked in the middle of the road heading in the direction of the store. I didn’t look any of them in the eye. As they walked right past me, I just sped up my pace.

And it’s crazy, because twenty years ago this same weekend when the streets of L.A. fell in mayhem to this shit, I was just learning how to walk.

Twenty years later, as the saga continues, I’m just learning how to walk away.

J.T.

Eduardo Bermudez and Ricardo Avelar-Lara: In Solidarity Against Police Violence

DSCN8338 DSCN8113 DSCN8335 DSCN8131 DSCN8241 DSCN8152

This Tuesday evening friends and family of Eduardo Bermudez and Ricardo Avelar-Lara gathered at the corner of Hillview and Verona in East Los Angeles, a few blocks south of Whittier Boulevard. Both Bermudez and Avelar-Lara were shot to death by L.A. County Sheriffs Deputies at approximately 2 am on Sunday, November 16th, with no explanation as to why. Attendants of the gathering marched, shared memories, and plans of action with both the local and larger L.A. community.

J.T.