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R.I.P. Rodney King, the G-Dog Movie, Gov. Christie’s Rich Halfway House Pals & More

June 17th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

RODNEY KING: 1965 – 2012

He wasn’t a very strong person, and maybe not even a particularly good person. Certainly he was a man who battled with wounds of the psyche. Nevertheless Rodney King has a place of significance in Los Angeles history that makes his death oddly startling and saddening. King understood his importance, and seemed to be in genuine pain about his inability to fully rise to its occasion—to be the hero some people wanted him to be. Instead he seemed, on his best days, be a mostly ordinary, somewhat demon-haunted guy who—despite what a Simi Valley jury said—changed the city simply by the fact of having unwillingly endured the vicious beat down he received at the hands of four Los Angeles police officers on March 3, 1991, a beating that fractured his bones in 59 places, and nearly killed him.
Still, although he may not have had most of the hero’s virtues he believed his moment in LA history demanded, what King did possess was a deep vein of decency, dignity, and real compassion, all of which was particularly visible in his “Can’t we just get along” speech in the midst of the ’92 riots.

Because of this, and because of his crucial role in our collective LA history, we cannot help but mourn Rodney King’s passing. He was a member of the family.

The LA Times Joe Mozingo has a very good obit of King. Here’s a clip:

“Rodney King has a unique spot in both the history of Los Angeles and the LAPD,” Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. “What happened on that cool March night over two decades ago forever changed me and the organization I love. His legacy should not be the struggles and troubles of his personal life but the immensely positive change his existence wrought on this city and its Police Department.”

R.I.P.


G-DOG: HOMEBOY MOVIE DRAWS MAXIMUM CROWD AT LA FILM FEST

It was a very full house at the American premiere of G-Dog, the documentary film by Oscar winning director Frieda Mock, about Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries, the gang intervention program that Father Greg founded more than two decades ago. Evidently, a great many LA people decided that watching a movie about the guy who urges us to claim kinship with the men and women whom others often tell us that we should despise—namely former gang members and felons—was an excellent way to spend Father’s Day.

As UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap said on screen when she was interviewed in the course of the film, the approach that Boyle and Homeboy practicies produces remarkable results, which was much of what the movie portrayed. Leap (who is a nationally recognized expert in trauma response, gang violence, and at-risk youth) is in the midst of a 5-year longitudinal study of Homeboy, and has noted that, for those who come into its programs, Homeboy has a highly unusual 70 percent retention rate, with only 30 percent reoffending. (The statewide prison recidivism rate is the mirror opposite, with 65 to 70 percent reoffending.)

Thus the film was a portrait, not just of Father Greg, but of the healing and transformative therapeutic community that Homeboy Industries’ programs and its businesses have become, and also of some of the daunting challenges the organization still faces, with its ongoing struggles to balance its fiscal realities with the wrenching needs of the people who daily walk through its doors.

In any case, when I know of another showing of the film, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, here’s a clip from what the LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote about the film:

….. writer/director/producer Freida Mock — an Oscar winner for her film on the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the nation’s capital — wisely focused on the year 2010, when financial problems almost put Homeboy out of business. While trying to save the lives of young men and women, Boyle finds himself trying to save even his own job, and at one point jokes about having to tell his mother he could be collecting unemployment.

Boyle had critics early on who scornfully called his work “hug-a-thug,” but as the program evolved and drew the support of law enforcement officials like LAPD Chief Charlie Beck — who thinks of Homeboy as an important ally — the correspondence went from hate mail to fan mail. Boyle’s gospel was that for people with dysfunctional families, substandard schools and no job prospects, gang life is a natural allegiance, but the cycle can be broken with tough love, accountability, community and a show of respect….


HUNDREDS ESCAPE OR WALK AWAY FROM THE NEW JERSEY HALFWAY HOUSES THAT NJ GOVERNOR CHRISTIE FAVORS

The NY Times has a very, very long article about New Jersey’s use of privately run halfway houses favored by NJ Governor Chris Christie as a way of keeping the state’s incaceration costs down and then providing better services to certain inmates in their last few months of incarceration. However, it seems that more than 450 of the half-way house residents escaped last year, some committing very serious crimes, including murder, after vanishing

However, upon reading further, it seems that “escape” isn’t quite the right term, as the facilities aren’t lock-downs, thus anybody can pretty much walk away. By the end it is unclear if the places are a terrible idea from which Christie’s pals are gaining monetarily bigtime, or a good idea that needs better triage, so as to keep the more dangerous people in a locked facility to the end of their term.

On the other hand, since the people in the halfway houses are going to be released in a few months anyway, if they are kept in a locked facility for those last three months, where they will get little or no treatment, can we really say it will lessen the chances they would act out violently? Or what is it that the Times reporters are actually implying or suggesting?

(They feature a tragic story of a young woman who became infatuated with a halfway house inmate who had a past of poor impulse control, had committed armed robbery, and had made at least one violent threat against a woman friend in the past. Anyway, the sweet young woman, who we are told was good with animals, tried to break up withe inmate. His response was to escape the halfway house and kill her. A terrible, terrible story, to be sure. However, it is not at all clear what we are to take from this, or even what would have helped avert this tragedy. Perhaps the state of New Jersey should have locked the guy up indefinitely. However, that’s a sentencing issue, not a programmatical one.)

Take a look for yourself. I found it initially heartening that the NY Times had taken on such topics as private prisons, post-incarceration half-way houses, and corrections as big business. However, whatever conclusions the Times reporters intended us to draw, I’m afraid got lost in the welter of ominous and yet contradictory information they kept piling on us as readers.

Here’s a clip:

After serving more than a year behind bars in New Jersey for assaulting a former girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred in 2010 to a sprawling halfway house in Newark. One night, Mr. Goodell escaped, but no one in authority paid much notice. He headed straight for the suburbs, for another young woman who had spurned him, and he killed her, the police said.
The state sent Rafael Miranda, incarcerated on drug and weapons charges, to a similar halfway house, and he also escaped. He was finally arrested in 2010 after four months at large, when, prosecutors said, he shot a man dead on a Newark sidewalk — just three miles from his halfway house.

Valeria Parziale had 15 aliases and a history of drugs and burglary. Nine days after she slipped out of a halfway house in Trenton in 2009, Ms. Parziale, using a folding knife, nearly severed a man’s ear in a liquor store. She was arrested and charged with assault but not escape. Prosecutors say they had no idea she was a fugitive.

After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.

At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.


ETHIOPIAN GOV’T MAKES USE OF SKYPE AND ALL INTERNET PHONE SERVICES PUNISHABLE BY UP TO 15 YEARS IN PRISON

We don’t usually do international stories, but this one is alarming and needs to be widely talked about.

Here’s a clip from TechCrunch’s story on the matter that was first reported by Al Jazeera:

The Ethiopian government, Al Jazeera reports, has criminalized the use of Skype and other VoIP services like Google Talk. Using VoIP services is now punishable by up to 15 years in prison. This law actually passed last month, but mostly went unnoticed outside of the country. Ethiopian authorities argue that they imposed these bans because of “national security concerns” and to protect the state’s telecommunications monopoly. The country only has one ISP, the state-owned Ethio Telecom, and has been filtering its citizen’s Internet access for quite some time now to suppress opposition blogs and other news outlets.

As for Skype and other VoIP services, the new law doesn’t just criminalize their usage, but the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology now has “the power to supervise and issue licenses to all privately owned companies that import equipment used for the communication of information.” It’s worth noting that, as TechCentral points out, the new law also prohibits “audio and video data traffic via social media.” It’s not clear how exactly the government plans to enforce this restriction, but a potential 15-year prison term will likely keep most people from using Skype in Ethiopia anytime soon.


G-Dog Photo by Christine Duong Mason for WitnessLA

Posted in Civil Liberties, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, Los Angeles history, prison, prison policy | 8 Comments »

Gang Violence, Daryl Gates & the Task of Making it Home on April 29, 1992

April 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On April 29, 1992, I began the day worrying about the threat of gang violence, not city-altering conflagration that the afternoon’s news would bring.

As every local media outlet has been discussing all week , twenty years ago on Sunday, Los Angeles exploded in what is generally considered to be the worst civil disturbance of the 20th Century. But even before the four LAPD officers were acquitted by a Simi Valley jury, triggering a citywide spasm of violence that would kill 63 people, Los Angeles was already living through the deadliest period in its history, with homicides skyrocketing past the 2000 mark county-wide in 1991, and headed still higher in the first quarter of ’92, with nearly 40 percent of the killings marked as gang-related.

It was one of those gang killings that had an initially skewing effect on the way I experienced the events of April 29, 1992.

At the time, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ reaction to what would come to be known as the decade of death in East and South LA, was to institute a clumsily designed and brutal policy he named Operation Hammer. The Big Blue Hammer, as it was sometimes known colloquially, consisted mainly of massive gang sweeps in which as many as a thousand young people were arrested at a time, with sometimes no more pretext than the kid had on a black Raiders’ jacket. The broad brush arrests resulted in a miniscule number of actual charges, which could have been better accomplished with normal police work. Yet they gave permission for lots of acts of deliberate humiliation and ongoing incidents of cop-administered beatings, most of which were never reported, since the mothers of the beat-up kids learned that the complaints went exactly nowhere. And still the homicides continued to rise. The Hammer’s main collateral effect was to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the communities that were most in need of the LAPD’s protection and service that would take years and two enlightened chiefs of police to undo.

In was into this climate that the verdicts were delivered.

At the time, I was spending most of my working hours reporting on gangs in the Pico Aliso housing projects of East Los Angeles, where I was researching a book on Father Greg Boyle, and on the six active street gangs who claimed territory within the mile-square boundaries of Pico-Aliso. This meant I was often in the projects late at night when shootings erupted, and I had frequently seen first hand the aftermath of an LAPD beat down that resulted in no arrest.

I had also been to an unhealthy number of funerals of kids I’d gotten to know and like.

On April 29, 1992, the afternoon that the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case were announced, I was on my way to the projects to talk to some homeboys whose lives I’d been tracking for the book, after which time I was going to pick up Father Greg at his office inside Dolores Mission Church, which was situated between the twinned housing projects, and then I’d accompany him on a series of errands, as I often did during the four years I all but bungee-corded myself to the priest’s ankle.

Entirely apart from the citywide storm that would break with staggering force before the day was out, it was already a perilous week in the Pico-Aliso projects: A few days before, a member of the East Coast Crips,—a smallish Crip set that was one of the six projects gangs—had been shot and killed by a member of one of the other projects gangs, The Mob Crew, or TMC, and retaliation was expected to be imminent.

The murder itself was already round two of a deadly game of tit-for-tat. It seemed that in the midst of an argument over some territorial issue or other, the dead boy, who had the unlikely street name of New York, had pulled out a gun and shot a TMC homeboy in the foot. Rumor had it that a second TMC homeboy had a gun trained on New York from a nearby apartment roof and fired a couple of warning shots, thus discouraging the Crip from shooting a second time. It was assumed that the foot-shot gangster, a baby-faced 16-year-old who would later go to work for Power 106 radio, or one of his homeboys, most likely the roof shooter, had tragically upped the ante by killing New York.

By this time, I’d been reporting on Father Greg and the various clusters of gang members for nearly two years, so I knew most all of the significant players in the gang world of Pico-Aliso, and had come to care about many of them, and their mothers, sisters, cousins, and little brothers, some of whom regularly tumbled in an out of my car like rowdy puppies. In other words, I had long ago lost most of my reportorial distance. In this case, although I had not known New York, who was just out of prison, I did know the two TMC teenagers in question, either one of whom I realized with dread could easily be New York’s killer, and could therefore also easily become the next victim in the projects’ latest escalating cycle of gang madness.

Thus it was that this other, much closer-to-hand threat of violence was most on my mind when, at 3:16 pm on Wednesday, April 29, I listened as KFWB all-news radio announced each one of the Simi Valley verdicts separately: Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. I remember that the content of the announcement was momentarily confusing. How can one be found not guilty of something that the whole country saw one do over and over again on video? The radio announcer said that there might be unrest, which anybody living or working in South or East LA already knew. Yet, as I drove toward Dolores Mission to meet Greg, the likelihood of citywide violence still seemed a distant concern with the shadow of Pico/Aliso’s own potential unrest looming much nearer.

By the time I arrived at the church, a group of community mothers were gathered with the idea of marching to Parker Center to protest the King verdicts and asked if I would come with them. I declined explaining that I’d already promised to accompany the priest to the Dorothy Kirby Center, a therapeutic juvenile facility run by LA County probation in which around 70 kids were housed, and where Greg went to say mass every first Wednesday of the month.

I’d been to Kirby with Greg multiple times before, but this visit was markedly different. During the mass, the kids were oddly agitated. After the service ended, Greg made a habit of visiting various “cottages” in order to talk to kids individually. It was just before 7 pm when we reached the first cottage where we found all its occupants gathered in a single, jittery clump around the cottage’s television. Hearing us enter, the kids looked up briefly and seemed glad to see Greg, but their gazes were drawn quickly back to the TV where a news clip of a white man being pulled from the cab of a semi truck and horribly beaten by a bunch of young black men, was being replayed over and over in a violent, balletic series of images that careened across the screen in an eerie visual reverse of the tape of the King beating. Greg attempted conversation at each cottage, but the point of diminishing returns was reached quickly; the kids were too agitated, unable to light anywhere for long, even for him.

After Kirby we drove to a Jesuit retreat house in Azusa where Greg had managed to wangle temporary employment for two Pico/Aliso homeboys. Their work as assistant groundskeepers had reportedly gone well, but they were both dreadfully homesick so Greg promised to pick up the two and bring them back to L.A. for a short visit.

Once homeboys and priest were safely stashed in my car for the trip back to the projects it was nearly 9:00 p.m. As we neared Los Angeles, we were surprised when we hit a colossal traffic jam, which was our first inkling that something might truly have gone terribly wrong in the city. Squinting ahead, I saw that the sky was bright to the northeast of us and also to the south, with veils of smoke wafting across the night’s waning crescent moon. I hurriedly flipped on the radio and we learned what the rest of Los Angeles already knew.

When I finally dropped Greg and the two homies at the church parking lot, Pico/Aliso was quiet and dark, a seeming haven from the storm that was quickening everywhere else else. I would not learn until the next morning that, after I left the church, Greg and the homies had remained trapped inside the sanctuary after cars full of Crips showed up and proceeded to drive up and down Gless Street for hours, the dull shine of gun barrels visible out open car windows.

Ignorant of the soon-to-be menacing Crips, I occupied myself with the task of trying to figure out some kind of safe route home. To my right was Hollywood, where the palm trees had become fantastic torches lining the freeway with furious light, and causing the shutdown of the 101, which would have been my usual path back to Topanga Canyon, where I lived with my then-six year old son. To my left was South Los Angeles, which still seemed to be the epicenter. Plus an hour before, Mayor Tom Bradley had ordered the closing of many of the exit ramps on the Harbor Freeway and maybe some on the 10, so going south seemed unwise. Using the radio news as a guide, I decided to head west across the First Street Bridge, straight through the middle of downtown.

I saw the first sign of trouble at what was then the New Otani Hotel at First and Los Angeles Streets. Nearly all of its ground floor windows were smashed and there was fire damage—although, by the time I passed it, the rioters had moved on. Hoping for more up-to-date information than the radio was able to provide, I veered north on Los Angeles Street to the LAPD headquarters at Parker Center, which was protectively surrounded by a shoulder-to-shoulder string of two hundred or more police officers top-heavy with riot helmets, their order to guard the building while the rest of downtown LA was evidently on its own.

I pulled to the curb and yelled that I was looking for a route west. “Get over to Third Street,” one of the cops yelled back. Relieved, I took his suggestion and raced back along Los Angeles Street toward third. But the insurrection was a live thing now, which no one could track or predict. After swerving around first one and then a second set of street barricades, I rounded yet one more corner and ran smack into everything I was trying to avoid.

Up and down the intersecting streets in front of me as far as I was able to see, several hundred people raced and twirled in zigzag patterns across streets like whole teams of football running backs suddenly seized by mania.

The craziness was auditory as well as visual. Glass erupted in a musical clatter seemingly from every angle, sometimes close, sometimes father away. Some of the people had guns in their hands, and I heard gunfire, close by, but sporadic, the bullets spent, I remember hoping absently, more for effect than for injury. Lots of stores were extravagantly on fire, while flames only barely sequined the facades of others. Every single trashcan on the street was burning, which caused me to think stupidly of the only sensory analogue I had for what I was seeing, the movie Blade Runner.

I crept my car cautiously forward into the darting crowd hoping that, although I seemed to be the only vehicle on the road, if I kept moving steadily, I would simply become another part of the cacophonous wallpaper. As I drove, my hands clinging with white knuckled correctness to the ten and two o’clock positions on my steering wheel, my eyes the size of dinner plates, I wished desperately for a camera.

Now, of course, I always carry a camera with me, in the form of a cell phone, if nothing else. But then I was a narrative journalist, not a hard news reporter. Plus in those years, reporters didn’t usually take pictures. That was left up to the photo pros. Yet, that night as I threaded and swerved around the runners, I longed for some method other than memory with which to capture what I was witnessing.

I also longed to get home safely, a goal it still wasn’t yet clear I could accomplish. I didn’t feel frightened exactly. The intensity of the moment didn’t leave room for fear. But I wondered in passing if I should be afraid. After all, that Reginald Denny guy had been in a truck, and look what good it did him.

With that thought still lingering, I braked to a halt at one last downtown intersection clogged by running, shooting looters, and my gaze locked with that of a thirty-ish black man who was one of the gun-holding runners. The moment occurred as he passed in front of my car and stared curiously in at me through the windshield. Then, evidently seeing something in my expression of which I still refused to be cognizant, in a silent exchange that could have taken no more than a millisecond, the man communicated as clearly as if he’d spoken aloud to me with brief but consummate kindness: Keep going, his gaze said. You’re okay. This is not about you.

A minute or two later, I did make it through the chaos of downtown, then over to Olympic Blvd. to La Brea, south to the 10, then west to PCH, and north to Topanga, where I sent the baby sitter home and hugged my son longer than he thought was seemly.

For the next forty-eight hours in Los Angeles, everything stopped and everything was in motion. However, in Pico/Aliso, and most of the rest of East LA, there was no rioting, no looting. Although I knew that some people made forays into other areas of the city, most of the projects residents huddled together like a family riding out a hurricane. The gun toting, church-circling Crips of Wednesday night, stayed at home too, their grief and fury subsumed for a while by the larger collective grief and fury. More gang violence and more heartbreak was to visit the projects in the months to come, but for now anyway, there was pause.

On Thursday, I stayed close to home, checking in with Greg a couple of times during the day. But by Friday I could no longer bear what felt like the psychological remove of the West Side. I went back to the projects. The dusk ‘till dawn curfew that Mayor Tom Bradley had called was still in place, and the violence and destruction would continue in shuddering fits for a few more days. But by Friday night, everyone knew that the worst of the fever had broken and spontaneous barbecues bloomed like sudden wildflowers in front yards all over the projects. I made a big salad and, at the invitation of some of the projects mothers I knew the best, joined in one of them, grateful that I had a place that would welcome me for the much needed communal ritual.


Posted in LAPD, Life in general, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles history | 3 Comments »

Battling LA Histories at Father Serra Park: Who Screwed Up?

December 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

el-pueblo-serra-medal-wall

The city of Los Angeles is in the process of building a brand new war memorial
named the Eugene A. Obregon Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, which is to honor all those who have won the medal.

Okay, so far so good.

As the San Jose Mercury News reports:

Crews have nearly finished the first stage of the memorial, which consists of a 30-foot long, 5-foot-high plaster wall covered with tiles bearing the names of nearly 3,500 medal recipients.

The memorial’s sponsors also plan a 20-foot high pyramidal monument paying tribute to the medal’s 40 Hispanic recipients.

A statue atop the stone structure would depict the memorial’s namesake, Marine Pfc. Eugene A. Obregon, coming to the rescue of a comrade during the Korean War. The 19-year-old Obregon died during the rescue.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, it turns out—a lot.

Civil Rights Attorney Robert Garcia, who is counsel for and president of The City Project, plans to file an injunction this morning, Friday, to stop the construction. He is joined by a list of other organizations, including the state-chartered Native American Heritage Commission and the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California.

According to Garcia (who rarely does not have all his legal ducks in a row), the memorial project “has not received proper legal review and approval by government agencies and the public, in violation of state and federal laws and principles, including protections for parks and the environment, historic preservation, equal justice, Native American sites, transparent government and the rule of law in a democratic society.”

Other than that, it’s fine.

Here’s the deal: For reasons that now seem profoundly illogical, the memorial is being built in the one acre grassy expanse that is Father Serra Park, which happens to be smack in the middle of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument—in other words, the site of the birthplace of the city of LA, not to mention the site of a historic village of the Gabrieleño indians, and the site of Old Chinatown, and the site of the so-called Chinatown massacre, where 19 Chinese men were killed in 1871.

Put another way, it’s a little like deciding to build a Vietnam memorial in the middle of the Alamo—if the Alamo was also the site of the Dome of the Rock. (Or something of that nature.) No one would dispute the importance of the Vietnam memorial, but that particular location ain’t where it should be.

On Saturday, the mayor and other city officials are supposed to attend a press conference unveiling the tile-covered wall, that is the first stage of the memorial project.

Awk-ward.

Garcia and company say there are plenty of other far more appropriate places to honor Medal of Honor recipients—including “the Western Gateway at the 16 acre Los Angeles National Veterans’ Park and the 115 acre Veterans’ National Cemetery on the mile long Veterans’ Parkway across from the U.S. Army Reserve Center on Wilshire Boulevard—and about five other alternative locations.

It is worth watching to see how this turns out.

Posted in Courts, environment, Los Angeles history | 18 Comments »

MS-13….The Armed and Dangerous “Children” of War

October 11th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

hijos-de-la-guerra.gif

[NOTE: I'M IN THE MIDST OF A PESKY DEADLINE
so this will be a short one. Back in stride tomorrow morning.]


More than any other street gang in America,
MS-13 has been portrayed by both the FBI the media as the most dangerous gang in the world.

While that specific characterization is mostly overblown hyperbole,
there is no doubt that the international street gang known as Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 has a complicated history that makes it different than any of the other Hispanic gangs that have sprung up in the last 60 years on the streets of Los Angeles. Its difference is grounded in the fact that most of its first members were refugees who had recently escaped the horrors of the civil war in El Salvador.

I mention the subject of MS-13 because,
this coming Friday night, an award-winning and powerful feature-length documentary called Hijos de la Guerra will be showing at 9 pm at the Latino Film festival.

The film explores the history of Mara Salvatrucha
in the US and Central America, and the sociological reasons for its proliferation. The filmmakers got remarkable access to their subjects, both here and in Central America, and the result is a fascinating piece of film making.

So if you have any interest
in the subject of gangs and gang violence, or simply in sociology, I recommend that you attend the screening. (Hey, I’ll definitely be there.)

Here’s the information:


Hijos de la Guerra
9:15 p.m.
Friday, October 12
Arclight Cinemas
6360 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA

**********************************************************************************

ALSO….

Be sure to read the LA Times editorial titled “The Human Cost of Secrecy. This is a disturbing case that deserves far more attention. Here’s a ‘graph from their essay:

With no explanation, the Supreme Court has denied a day in court to a German citizen of Lebanese descent who says he was kidnapped by the CIA and imprisoned and tortured, all because he was mistaken for a terrorist with a similar name. The justices on Tuesday refused to review a decision by a federal appeals court that Khaled El-Masri couldn’t sue former CIA Director George J. Tenet for damages because a trial might reveal “state secrets.”

And here’s a link to the Constitution Project’s summary of the El-Masri case, including a link to the amicus brief they filed in El-Masri’s behalf.

Secrets and lies, lies and secrets.

Posted in Gangs, Los Angeles history | 6 Comments »

A New Dose of Hope on Alameda Street – UPDATED

October 3rd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

homeboy-opening-1.jpg

Yesterday at noon, the new Homeboy Industries building
officially opened its doors. Hundreds of people showed up to celebrate the new bakery, cafe, office building, jobs and rehabilitation center located in Chinatown on Alameda, two blocks from Union Station. Antonio Villaraigosa and Bill Bratton were there, as was Sheriff Lee Baca, LAPD Central division Chief, Sergio Diaz, the mayor’s head gang guy, Jeff Carr, a judge or two and a lot, lot more. (Mandalit del Barco has a good story about the opening on NPR this morning, as does Rick Coca of the LA Daily News) and a nice photo slideshow by LA DN photog, John McCoy.)

sergio-and-jeff-carr.gif

Prominent among the crowd were the scores of homegirls and homeboys, past and present, who gazed at the building with obvious personal pride. In fact, so many people came to check the place out that fire marshals began regulating the number of people allowed inside. At one point even two of Father Greg’s sisters were among the crowds waiting in line to get in the building.


One of the speakers (I forget who out of the list above)
and said of the bright, mustard colored facility, “This is hope’s new address.” And for the day, anyway, nearly everyone there believed the characterization to be true.

“Now what we need to do,”said the Mayor’s designated gang violence reduction specialist, Jeff Carr,
in a conversation outside on the sidewalk, “we need to make sure that hope has an address a lot of other places in the City of Los Angeles,” With that he reeled off a string of hot spot addresses all over town that could assuredly use more hope.

baker-at-restaurant.gif

Thinking in that same vein, this morning’s LA Times printed a lovely unsigned editorial (written by the Times Editorial page chief, Jim Newton). Here’s a snippet”

Nine years ago, The Times surveyed some of Los Angeles’ most thoughtful, civic-minded leaders for their ideas on what ailed this city. Most responded with insights into the power structure — the authority of the mayor, frustrations with the City Council and the Board of Supervisors and the like. Father Gregory Boyle saw it differently. “If government’s heart could be broken by the things that break the heart of God,” he said, “then government would be better.”

Boyle knows what he’s talking about when he contemplates the landscape of heartbreak. In his ministry to L.A.’s gang members, he has buried 156 of his flock. He struggled through what he refers to as the “decade of death” — the years from 1988 to 1998, when gang violence took a devastating toll in Los Angeles and beyond. And he has been forced to move Homeboy Industries, which he founded to help those amid that violence, four times, most recently because its Boyle Heights headquarters was destroyed by a fire.

old-homeboy-bakers-2.gifnew-bakery.gif

In the end, the people most blown away by the opening, and the classy new building, were the guys and young women who work here. The homeboy pictured below is Anthony Henderson, a 38-year-old who said he recently got out of prison. “Nobody else would give me a job,” he told me. “Then I heard about Homeboy from a friend.” Now he’s working on the Homeboy Maintenance crew. “We have contracts to clean law firms, some homes, and other businesses. It’s great. I’m really happy here. They gave me a chance.”

(To see Anthony and more of the homeboys and homegirls click below.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gangs, Life in general, Los Angeles history | 20 Comments »

A Prescription for County Supervisors UPDATE***

June 20th, 2007 by

You gotta wonder how much L.A. County supervisors really want to save Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, formerly known as King-Drew. Next month federal inspectors could very likely shut down the horror house, where substandard care has killed and maimed dozens of people over the years. Here are three steps supervisors could take today if they really care about the hospital and serving the thousands of consitutents who, for better and often worse, depend on it.

–Convene their regular meetings in one of the hospital’s now vacant wings. This not only will boost the supervisors’ goodwill in the community, but will offer up-close views of their efforts to improve care.

–Order all hospital employees who are holdovers from the old, killer regime to wear black armbands. Not only will this make them visible to supervisors, who claimed to be surprised this week by the lack of progress on-site adminstrators have made replacing them, but it will show the public who they need to stay away from.

–Cancel the supervisors’ health insurance plans and require them to see doctors at King-Harbor for all of their medical needs.

*** The Father’s Day celebration that almost didn’t happen. Read Celeste Fremon’s latest story in the L.A. Weekly on the emergency-room saga of Juan Ponce.

Posted in Government, health care, Los Angeles history | 11 Comments »

Memories of Insurrection

May 1st, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

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1992 was a terrible and amazing year in Los Angeles
. It was the height of the city’s gang crisis. More then 2000 people were murdered in LA County within 12 months, nearly half of them dead as a result of gang violence — a bloodier tally than we’ve seen before or since. The famous Blood/Crip truce was also forged that year.

And, then, of course, there were the riots, the insurrection, the uprising, whatever you want to call those days at the end of April into May that, like the Watts riots before them, changed how our city saw itself.

Sunday and yesterday, as I read some of the articles and opinion pieces assessing what has and has not changed in the fifteen years between then and now, I found some of my own 15-year-old memories floating to the surface.

The first section that appears below is excerpted from G-Dog and the Homeboys, the book about Father Greg Boyle and the gang members of the Pico Aliso housing projects of East Los Angeles, that I was, then, researching.

Pico Gardens and Aliso Village, until their renovation a few years ago, combined to form thelargest public housing project west of the Mississippi. In the years that I drove to Pico-Aliso daily to research the book, the community known to locals as “the projects” had the highest level of gang activity in Los Angeles—and, frankly, the nation.

When the verdicts were announced, for projects residents—and for me by extension—the possibility of citywide violence was a secondary concern. The primary issue on that day was a murder that had occurred three nights before between two projects gangs. A kid from the Latino gang, The Mob Crew, shot and killed a kid from the East Coast Crips, the Crip set that claimed territory in Aliso Village. It was a particularly cold, near-execution-style murder, and we all feared there would be deadly retaliation on the night of the 29th of April.

But then the city preempted all such micro concerns when it exploded into conflagration. Fifty people died, thousands were injured, and—in an odd weave of blessing and curse—the open wounds caused by the individual gang killing in Pico-Aliso were cauterized by the heat.

The following is my own small shard of the collective LA story of the day our city exploded.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gangs, Los Angeles history, Police | 7 Comments »