A helicopter making the rounds above East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Summer has arrived in Los Angeles, and J.T. is going to Publishing School with LARB

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 96)

Our blog is officially kicking the season off with a fundraiser for yet another special program with yours truly this summer 2020. The Los Angeles Review of Books Fellowship (LARB) for entrepreneurial projects is a special opportunity rightfully fitting for Los Cuentos. Starting in July, along with a group of fellow burgeoning writers and storytellers, I’ll be work-shopping for five weeks under the guidance of the editor-in-chief at LARB to grow J.T. The L.A. Storyteller into a premier platform for working class voices in our communities as I know it needs to be.

Because if you think up to 100 blogs in a row for Pandemic in Los Angeles makes for a lot of reading, you haven’t seen anything yet, Los Angeles.

I believe in the power of words because they were once only a few words that endangered my life. Just as they were once only a few words that saved it.

Today, there are septuagenarians–or readers in their seventies–who follow Jimbo Times, and who I’m proud to count among the ranks. But there are also 13 and 14 year olds who follow the blog, who I’m inspired to think gain some perspective from its words. Most of all, there’s an array of readers in between these ranges who’ve come to count on Jimbo Times for thoughts and analysis of the always interesting times we find ourselves in.

One such friend and supporter told me to “tell those stories” from my eyes at the LARB workshops. I thought then of all the young people whose eyes have seen the depths of hardship in Los Angeles in ways that no one would wish for others. I am fortunate to be here, and fortunate to be able to make this call to the community in honor of our collective ‘eyes’, once again towards a brighter future for all in this sacred pueblo we call Los Angeles.

J.T.

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A mural along Melrose avenue depicting Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna Bryant

A reflection on Father’s Day for every working-class father, and all the working-class mothers who also play the role in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 94)

On this day–during this most critical year for our nation–I hope it’s only becoming clearer that if our nation has respect for the concept of the family, then it should show that respect in its treatment of families everywhere by uplifting them, as Kobe “Bean” Bryant was celebrated for uplifting his daughter Gianna Bryant.

In the days and months following the untimely passing of this first-class pair, the city of Los Angeles, along with people all over America, mourned their sudden loss with many words, moments of silence, and testimonials. Though it may seem just a faint memory now, one can still recall that in the short time before the coronavirus, almost every other day in L.A. was marked by some kind of space for mourning the unthinkable loss of the Bryants and other families above the hills in Calabasas.

Today, when mothers and fathers march for the deaths of their sons and daughters–or those who could be their family members–especially following their deaths at the hands of law enforcement–which, don’t forget: are preventable deaths–they’re only participating in the same collective grieving that arose for these far more famous figures not long ago.

But every human life, no matter how rich or how poor, is absolutely worth the world, worth fighting for, and worth demanding a better world for, as so much of the working-class is now calling for, once again, in America. When state and public officials thus choose to meet such demands with indifference, force, or disdain, they are openly betraying–once again–one of the ideals they claim to want to uphold. Hence why we mourn, Los Angeles, and why we must continue to rise again.

The battle is long. But it is still our duty to win. Kobe Bryant knew this. And that’s why we loved him. Or at least, why we claimed to. The time has now come to extend that love to people just as human as Bryant and his 13 year old daughter. We march for justice.

J.T.

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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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A couple waits at a light at Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard.

JIMBO TIMES is more than 2,100 Days Old Today

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 62)

JIMBO TIMES: The L.A. Storyteller completed 2,100 days around the sun yesterday. The blog’s first column was posted on the evening of August 19th, 2014. According to Google, that was exactly 2,100 days ago, with today being the 2,101st day on record. During that time, I’ve published just a little over 700 columns on the site, or just short of one writing a day for two consecutive years’ worth of reading.

When I first started the blog, it was simply an ode to mom and the rest of the community that raised me through the streets of Los Angeles. I thought I had seen much of those streets by then, which I could showcase through the blog, but I had no idea just how much more was ahead.

I didn’t know, for example, that I would write about the deaths of young Latinos through the intersections of East Hollywood.

Likewise, I didn’t know that I would write about working as a barista and server behind Los Angeles’s registers.

I also didn’t know that I would get to review what would become my favorite book ever about Los Angeles, Mike Davis’s City of Quartz.

And even if I believed I could show up to classrooms all over Los Angeles to motivate young people towards their education some day, as well as juvenile detention centers for the same purpose, none of it was guaranteed. I strove to see all of it through.

Even so, if someone had told me then that all of that work would one day lead me to feature student voices on the blog, I would have believed it, but guardedly, under a quiet skepticism.

The only thing I knew for a long time was that even if these cuentos might not have seemed like extraordinary things to much of the rest of the world around me, they still mattered to me.

Today, our blog is 62 consecutive blogs into Pandemic in Los Angeles. I know that many readers haven’t had a chance to keep up with each column, but that’s the beauty of the site: like a good book, it’s not going anywhere.

Take your time to see if you can catch up, Los Angeles

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 57

As we approach nearly sixty days since L.A.’s stay-at-home orders first went into effect in Southern California, much in Los Angeles has changed while much remains the same.

A case in point: according to Project Roomkey Tracker, which reports the number of rooms made available to L.A.’s unhoused since the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) announced its goal of placing 15,000 seniors and disabled L.A. residents without housing into temporary hotel rooms, less than 2,500 of those rooms have actually been made available, while only 1,850 of those rooms have actually been occupied. To be sure, this is over five weeks since LAHSA announced the goal on April 3rd. As the Tracker points out:

At this rate, we will reach 15,000 rooms operational around December 15, 2020

If so, something tells me the sluggish rate will not make for a very happy Christmas in Los Angeles.

At the same time, the L.A Times reports that traffic fatalities in the city, largely due to speeding, have returned to the same rate they were pre-pandemic, despite the fact that there have been less cars on the road during the period. All around Los Angeles, then, as it is throughout the country, people are gradually rebelling against warnings from public officials and returning to the road, sometimes recklessly.

But there is much more to tell, for which a few headlines simply won’t do. Today, I encourage readers to find their own stories, to write them, and to send them over to jimbotimes.com in order to inform more of our community about this extraordinary time.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 53

The other night, on the drive back home, I found myself behind the wheel looking for a parking spot. It must have been just slightly past 7:30 pm. When I made the turn onto my street– which rarely has an open space but which I gave a shot anyway–I was struck by an unnerving sight: a police car parked in the middle of the street, its doors open, behind another car a few feet away sitting idly and without passengers inside. I slowed down my car to survey what was going on: it was an arrest.

As I slowly lifted my foot off the break to ease the car forward, through the windshield I saw one of two police officers taking a young man in a baseball cap and face-mask, who looked to be somewhere in his early twenties, with his arms behind his back, presumably on the way to the patrol car.

Less than ten feet away, I saw the second police officer pinning what looked to be another young man in a baseball cap against the wall of the residential apartment building across from my own. The police officer was searching him. From my open window on the passenger’s side, I could hear the young man pleading with the officer to ‘take it easy.’

A lifetime ago, when I was fifteen years old, a similar experience befell me and a group of other youth in the neighborhood. But even if that experience at the hands of law enforcement was an anomaly, or something extraordinary, I still couldn’t count how many times over the course of my nearly thirty years in the community I’ve seen police cars in the neighborhood just like the one from that night, more often than not escorting youth into custody.

I am not alone in witnessing that sight one too many times. After maneuvering my car fully past the scene, I drove towards the opposite intersection from where I entered, to try my chances for a curb elsewhere. A couple of minutes later, I found a spot a few blocks away from home and quickly pulled my car alongside. I figured that in the time it’d take to get back to the block on foot, the scene would be wrapped up, but in fact when I turned the corner onto my street, it was just slightly changed. Less than five minutes must have elapsed from when I originally came across the spectacle. The young man against the wall was still there, while the other was no longer in view. There were a few neighbors out, some walking their dogs, but we weren’t exactly in the mood then for our usual polite greetings.

As I paced forward, closing in to the gate outside my building also brought me closer within range of the arrest. I thus sped up my pace, but found myself wrought by feelings of embarrassment for the young men.

I asked myself if I should photograph the scene, if only to create a citizen’s record of the arrest, but decided against it. It is already a humiliating experience enough to be subjected to the will of a police officer. A photograph of the event, which can be shared widely, is all that less necessary.

As sunset edged along the sky to leave the street with evening, I realized that mom would be home soon. Making my way past the gate and into the building, I thought of calling her to warn her about the unruly scene, but decided against that too, hoping the arrest would conclude just before she returned with her cart along the street.

On getting inside, I took a seat in the living room, looking to find a way to shake the moment from my memory. But a few minutes later, I heard the familiar sound of mom’s cart rolling through the hallway. Pushing the cart along more quickly than usual, on arriving outside the door, she let the cart go roughly against it, creating a thumping sound. On opening the door to greet her, I could see that she was shaken. The arrest had lingered on. It brought back a host of memories for her too.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 47

This upcoming Sunday will mark Mother’s Day 2020. I’m taking mom out for some chile relleno, even if it still has to be takeout. Earlier today, I was stopped in my tracks when I heard LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner recognizing his own mother as the catalyst for his life in education during his weekly address for parents and families in L.A.:

The most important teacher in my life was my mom. She helped thousands of public school kids learn to read, including me. The love of reading she taught me led to a love of learning, which is with me today, as I try to better understand the world around me. Thank you, Mom.”

Austin Beutner

Let’s leave it simply at that for today, Los Angeles.

J.T.

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Black, Latino and Asian communities represent more than 70 percent of deaths from COVID-19 in Los Angeles

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 42)

A report from the L.A. Times yesterday noted the disproportionate death rate for people in neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles due to COVID-19, in which my native East Hollywood and other vicinities close to home were featured. According to the analysis:

“Working-class neighborhoods such as East Hollywood, Pico-Union and Westlake all have more than 40 deaths per 100,000 people, which is four times higher than the countywide rate of 9.9 per 100,000.”

Exactly a month ago, The L.A. Storyteller first published data from L.A. County’s Public Health Department showing no more than 20 cases of the coronavirus between East Hollywood and the adjacent Silver Lake neighborhood.

Even at that time, it was clear that the number of cases in these areas was higher, but that limited access to testing and other metrics, particularly in East Hollywood, wouldn’t reveal the greater risks posed by the disease here until a later time. Now, it appears that time has arrived, as the higher-than-average death rate for COVID-19 in East Hollywood and other nearby ethnic communities underscores those risks.

A first-of-its-kind map highlights metrics on the virus, detailing info such as the number of cases, number of deaths, and persons tested.

In terms of persons tested, East Hollywood lags well behind neighborhoods on the west side of the city, but is still ahead of many places in south Los Angeles; Sherman Oaks, for example, has tested more than 1,200 people, while East Hollywood has tested a little over 700. The historic Watts community, by contrast, has tested just 239 people in its community. Manchester Square, only 120.

In terms of deaths, the East Hollywood community has seen 17 deaths. Right next door, the Little Armenia community has seen 23. Sherman Oaks has recorded 4 deaths. Its next-door community of Beverly Crest, 2.

But the most dramatic example of the disproportionate impact wreaked by COVID-19 in Los Angeles can be found through a quick scan of the L.A. County Case Summary, where the data will show that just over 71% of the deaths in Los Angeles in the wake of coronavirus have been of Asian, Black, Latino and other residents here.

While Blacks make up less than 9% of L.A.’s population, they account for 13% of deaths to the virus. While Asians make up under 12% of L.A.’s population, they account for 18% of deaths. Latinos, who make up under 49% of the population, account for 38% of deaths to the virus, while Whites, who make up 52% of the population, account for 28% of deaths.

As with our first report, these numbers are likely an under-count, since as of a little over a week ago, L.A. has tested just over 80,000 of its 10 million residents for the disease.

Every death represents a family. And those passed are nǎinai, gran’mas, abuelitas, tatikner, and more members of the communities that give Los Angeles its glowing spirit. May we honor their legacies with a more equal world going forward.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 38

I am driven by the challenge to not only survive, but to thrive all across Los Angeles, even during this most unusual time. The fact of the matter is that I love challenging myself, taking on one task after another, and finding out just how I’ll get through.

I know I’m doing it all for a story, or for a cuento, which I will get to share with many generations for many days to come. To that end, it’s my great pleasure to announce that I’ve officially received my Certificate of Clearance from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In the long term, the certificate allows me to pursue a teaching credential to become an official teacher in the state of California sometime within the next five years. In the shorter term, it assures that once the students get back to school later this year, I’ll be available to support their community on stand-by as a Substitute teacher.

It boggles my mind to think that I could actually do this. For the longest time, even while I believed that education was a world I was destined to be a part of, I struggled to find exactly what my role in it could be. This was due to a number of factors, including many jobs lost, many other jobs gained, and at some point as a result the notion that perhaps I had very little to offer my community after all.

But like the magical screen-printer from Compton whose talent allows me to pursue another dream for myself through Los Angeles, it’s true that at the end of the day, every human being has something totally unique and valuable to offer the world.

In turn, whether I am a substitute or a fully-certified teacher for students in Los Angeles and across California, what I can be certain of is this: I will give it my all to make our time an extraordinary one.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 36

A scintillating sunlight brought an irresistible energy to the city today, brushing Los Angeles in great strokes that seemed to lift every color’s saturation to levels not seen in many months. A most welcome and radiant return.

I rose early, taking advantage of new-found springs of energy, which, especially after a broken night of sleep due to the fault-lines of this land that I write from, I was determined to put to use more synchronistically.

My whole world seemed to cooperate seamlessly with this prerogative, leading to a morning that in hindsight appears as though I swam past it like a beam traveling through a kinetic force field.

But when I pause to think for a moment about how more than 7 billion people in the world participated in sequences just like this, in cuentos all of their own, spread across land, ocean, skylines, and even underneath the surface of the earth, I can only marvel at the great achievement that is being alive in any way or form.

I think of all the things I’ve yet to see with my own eyes, but which I can still visualize about the world around me; in imagining the myriad of colors, shapes and sizes flowing from a trillion unique movements atop the planet’s spinning axis, I am ensconced with everything dead and alive, everything that’s ever lived, and everything which ever can be.

Even those things just in our minds are formed by hundreds of billions of neurons; in turn, with whatever time may lie ahead, I hope every reader of this series can also put their billions to great work. Los Cuentos awaits it.

J.T.

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