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Death and All His Friends Cast Long Shadows When They Make Regular Appearances in the Public Space

Sherika Simms holds the last photo taken of her brother, Maurio Proctor, outside one of their childhood apartments in Jordan Downs. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I went crazy,” Sherika Simms says quietly of the realization that she would be unable to help her brother.

Twenty-two-year-old Maurio Proctor, two years her junior but more like her twin – the boy that had followed her everywhere she went as a child and wanted to do everything she did – had been gunned down in front of her and all she could do was watch his killers drive away.

When the Impala had first rolled through Jordan Downs around 1 p.m. that afternoon, they hadn’t thought much about it.

“We were mourning the loss of someone we grew up with…” she tells me. “We’re not thinking we’re in harm’s way.”

That ”someone” was 25-year-old Branden “B.L.” Bullard – a major player in the East Side Grape Street Watts (Crip) gang based in Jordan Downs. Twelve hours earlier a shooter(s) – presumably from the rival East Coast Crips – had sprayed a party where people from several neighborhoods had gathered, wounding seven and killing Bullard.

He had been something of a larger-than-life figure for having survived a shot to the face 3 years prior in retaliation for the wounding of a Bounty Hunter (Bloods from Nickerson Gardens). That 2005 event sparked six weeks of tit-for-tat carnage that left nine dead, twenty-six wounded, and the whole of Watts paralyzed as the battle played out in the public space.

Although the incident that finally killed Bullard in the wee hours of Sunday, January 27, 2008, may have been sparked by a fight between women, the damage had been done. As dawn broke, warning shots were already being fired in areas frequented by Grape Street’s rivals.

Perhaps because Grape Street hadn’t landed a kill, the community did not expect a retaliatory attack.

Whatever the reason, when the Impala made a U-turn and came slowly back around, nobody bothered to look up, Sherika says.

Until all hell broke loose. Read more…

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Weekend Events Prove South L.A. Can Be an Amazing Destination, While Also Highlighting the Challenges that Remain to be Overcome

A girl at the Watts Day of the Drum festival. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As I walked toward the new garden beds at the West Athens Victory Garden, I felt a little tap on my shoulder.

I turned around to see a young boy of 10 or 12 standing there.

He wrapped his skinny arms around me in a big hug.

“Well, thanks for that!” I said, surprised.

I was attending the first of three community events in South L.A. that day, and it was kind of nice to be getting random hugs so early on in the process.

“What was the hug for?”

“You’re leaving,” he said.

Looking at me again, now a little less sure of himself, he pointed to the corner of the garden and said, “You just interviewed me over there…?”

“Hmm. No, that wasn’t me,” I told him. “But, that’s OK because it means I get to interview you now, right?”

It turned out that he was one of the many young kids that had come to celebrate the new garden launched this past Saturday at 105th and Normandie as part of the Little Green Fingers initiative, a collaborative of the L.A. Conservation Corps, the L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust, the Better World Group, and several consultants, architects, and educators, and funded by First 5 L.A.

As we walked around examining the plants, he explained his family didn’t have a garden bed there but that he liked to come by and hang out. It was a nice, quiet place to play and he didn’t have too many other places he could go.

He wasn’t kidding.

If you live near the 110/105 interchange in South L.A., besides the vacant lots, there is almost nothing in the way of publicly accessible greenspace in the 3 1/2 miles that lie between Jesse Owens and Ted Watkins parks. I’m aware of one other garden, located at 104th and Vermont, that is always locked and isn’t kid-friendly, and that’s about it.

In case you wanted the visual: A is Jesse Owens park, B is the new garden, and C is Ted Watkins park. There is only one other small garden at Vermont and 104th (that is always locked up every time I go by it) that qualifies as publicly accessible greenspace in that entire area south of Century. (Google Maps)

Other residents had said the same thing. A man walking around the beds with his adorable two year-old was so pleased to see such an asset in his neighborhood that he asked if he could sign up to volunteer there. He had grown up in housing projects and had been limited in his mobility as a kid. He was going to school and wanted something better for his son. And a more positive memory of his neighborhood than the large, tagged-up vacant lot that sat just down the street. Read more…

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Residents Rally Today to Protest Closure of Yet Another Grocery in South L.A.

While Central Ave. celebrates a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Northgate supermarket today, residents in another part of South L.A. will gather to protest the closing of yet another Ralph’s.

The shuttering of the supermarket located at King Blvd. and Western Ave., scheduled for June 21, marks the second loss of a Ralph’s in the area in just a few months’ time. Perhaps most maddeningly for residents, it came without much notice or effort to work with the community.

Where Ralph’s has held community meetings in other areas of town where stores were scheduled for closings, the only notice residents appeared to have was a sign on the store itself saying the doors would close for good at 6 p.m. on June 21st. There’s not even mention of it in the weekly circular ad particular to that store, despite the fact that the prices listed there are good til just two days prior to the closing.

This is not the first time Ralph’s has shown itself to be a poor neighbor, Jung Hee Choi of Community Coalition (one of the groups organizing the protest today) told me. Read more…

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Fight Fracking (today!), See the City Lites, Take a Nature Tour, and Play Kickball

Flyer for the bike tour of Willowbrook hosted by the United Riders of South L.A. on Sunday

As an NPR junkie, I have long been aware that the natural gas industry has been a sponsor of their programming for several years.

But I nearly spit my coffee out last week when I heard a brief spot extolling the virtues of having the gas industry drilling in one’s backyard.

Here in L.A., the drilling in our collective backyard, the Baldwin Hills area of the Inglewood Oil Field, has not been without controversy or consequences.

Today, organizations, public health professionals, farmers, and residents living near drilling operations will gather at noon outside Governor Brown’s Los Angeles office (300 S. Spring Street) with Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox to protest the practice. The protest will also mark the launch of Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition working to ban fracking in favor of protecting California’s air, water, wildlife, climate and public health. Fox will speak at the rally as his new fracking exposé, Gasland Part II, screens across the state, and participate in delivering a petition with 100,000 signatures to the governor’s office.

Member organizations of Californians Against Fracking include Food & Water Watch; the Center for Biological Diversity; Environment California; CREDO; Democracy for America; the California Nurses Association; Breast Cancer Action; the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Citizens Coalition for a Safe Community; Family Farm Defenders; and AFSCME Council 57.

Join in the march at 12 p.m., today, at 300 S. Spring St.

For details on screenings of the film, visit http://fwwat.ch/CAFGasland.

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Saturday, check out the City Lites Inner City Sports and Health Fair. Read more…

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Politicians Raise Awareness about Blight by Sticking their Signs on Every Vacant Lot in CD 9

If there is a lot in CD 9 that is vacant, foreclosed, abandoned, or in severe disrepair, you can bet either Ana Cubas or Curren Price (especially Price) has found it and stuck a sign on it, like this lot (above) on Broadway and 48th.

Or this one just up the street, at 45th.

Cubas’ and Price’s staffers are to be commended for their intrepidness — tracking down the many vacant lots across the district is no small feat.

While intensely park poor, South L.A. has an abundance of empty spaces. So many, in fact, that the city doesn’t actually know how much land is out there. For some time now, organizations like Community Health Councils (CHC) have been working to get support for their effort to catalog vacant and foreclosed properties in South L.A. so that residents could start organizing for access to unused parcels.

The highlighting of the sheer number of lots gathering dust (and garbage) in CD 9 alone couldn’t come at a better time.

Why? Because the recently released proposed budget does not include funds for the park and tree master plans for South L.A., despite the fact that these were conditions of the Mayor’s Memorandum of Understanding with the parties involved in the Space Shuttle Endeavour Transport settlement agreement. Read more…

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South L.A. Happenings: Anti-Fracking Concerts, Farmers’ Markets, Sports Fairs and Runs, Bike Rides for Justice, and Detoxes

TONIGHT
Sitting in a room full of California journalists and their editors last week as part of my training for a journalism fellowship, I was incredibly surprised to learn that few of them knew that fracking was going on in L.A.’s back yard. The lack of awareness has been of great concern to many of the local environmental organizations because it makes it harder for them to gather support to counter powerful lobbies in favor of the practice. It is one of the reasons representatives from a number of the organizations have gathered this weekend for a California Fracking Summit; they hope to cobble out a common position against regulations proposed by the Department of Oil And Gas (DOGGR) and decide upon strategies that will facilitate their fight. While the summit itself is closed to the public, the festivities of the evening are not.

Join activists tonight at the Concert to Ban Fracking in California, presented by Food & Water Watch.

The concert, held at The Joint from 7:30 – 11 p.m., will feature music from the Make Peace Brothers, Dúo del Sol, and Magnolia Memoir. Tickets are $10 online and at the door. The Joint is located at 8771 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (Ok, so that’s not technically South L.A., but drilling in the Inglewood Oil Fields affects its inhabitants.)
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TOMORROW: Farmers’ Markets, Free Yoga, Garden Workshops, and Bike Rides for Justice
With the recent conversion of an Albertson’s into a Superior Foods, the impending closure of the Ralph’s on at Rodeo and Crenshaw, and the uncertainty of the future of the few Fresh & Easy stores in the area, fresh, healthier fare is getting harder and harder to come by in South L.A.

Enter the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. While “the mall” may not be the first place you think of when you ask yourself where you can go to get healthy, the plaza owners are trying to change that. Every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., more than 30 farmers participate in the Certified Crenshaw Farmers’ Market, located on the outside lower Sears level of the mall. Recipes are available at their information booth, and there is often entertainment to accompany as you peruse the produce.

But, wait! There’s more. You can also participate in a free Yoga class while you are there. They are held every Saturday, from 10 – 11 a.m., on the Macy’s Bridge. The yoga classes join the already super-popular free Zumba classes held every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and free Cardio Kick classes held every Thursday at 7 p.m. Classes are free as part of their Bfit Club, but they request that you sign up to get a key tag and spread the word about getting healthy via social media. Signing up isn’t mandatory, however, and classes will only cost you a dollar if you decline membership. For more information, click here.
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If you’d rather grow your own food, no worries. We’ve got you covered. Read more…

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Do You Know Where to Find Healthy Food in South L.A.? RideSouthLA and CSU Take Riders on a Different Kind of Food Tour

"Mama" (center) takes a moment to talk to the cyclists about her partnership with Community Services Unlimited and providing fresh, healthy food to a community where such resources are scarce (photo: sahra)

“They’ve been receiving it pretty decently, I must say,” Karen Whitman, the “Mama” of Mama’s Chicken, told the riders with the Healthy Food tour regarding her customers’ response to the fresh produce she recently began offering at her shop. “The more people that know about it, the more that’s coming in.”

Located at the corner of Slauson and 4th Ave., the market (and the produce she offers with the help of Community Services Unlimited (CSU)) fills a unique niche for neighbors in the area that want healthier options than those found at the “grocery” across the street offering candy, sodas, incense, body oils, and hygiene products.

And, she added, “it makes me really happy to know that they can come here because, a lot of times, they don’t have transportation to even get to some of the stores,” referring to the Ralph’s at Crenshaw, 1/2 a mile away, or the Food-4-Less almost a mile down Slauson at Western. Although those distances may not sound great, for people who struggle to afford transit fees, the elderly or disabled, or those with children in tow, lugging groceries back and forth by bus or along streets where safety is a concern may not be viable options.

Whitman is so happy about offering healthier fare, in fact, she’ll be remodeling the store later this year to feature refrigerated shelves that will allow her to display the organic collard greens, grapes, green beans, mustard greens, carrots, cabbage, and celery right up front to tantalize customers.

The makeover is a long time coming.

A few years ago, the Community Market Conversion Program (CMC) – a now-defunct partnership of the Community Redevelopment Agency – Los Angeles (CRA-LA), The California Endowment, and the County Department of Public Health that funded the conversion of small, locally-owned stores in under-served communities to offer healthier choices — had identified Whitman’s store as ripe for transformation.

The financial and technical support the CMC program would have provided her was vital to the conversion process. Whitman and others in her position are rarely able to scare up the capital and expertise necessary to secure the permits from the Department of Public Health, invest in compliant infrastructure and facilities (refrigeration, drains, etc.), source and maintain produce — something that is not a big money-maker for grocers in the first place — and try out different marketing techniques on their own. It is too risky and the rewards are too few to do it without assistance.

Read more…

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South L.A. Gardening Renegade to Speak at TED 2013 in Long Beach

Local gardening renegade Ron Finley will be one of the speakers at this February’s TED2013, themed “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.

Finley is one of the co-founders of L.A. Green Grounds, an informal organization dedicated to transforming South Los Angeles front yards into edible gardens.

At his inspiring TEDx talk last year in Vancouver, he discussed the origins of his interest in gardening as stemming, in part, from the lack of access to fresh food in South L.A. and encouraged attendees to just go out and “plant some shit.”

He had done just that in late 2010, digging up the 10-by-150 foot parkway (the strip of turf between the sidewalk and the curb) next to his home off Exposition Blvd. and planting tomatoes, peppers, chard, melons, squash, pumpkins, onions, broccoli, eggplant, celery, kale, and herbs.

While the spot quickly became popular among neighbors and people who needed access to fresh healthy food, the city wasn’t so impressed.

Finley hadn’t gotten a permit to do the work ahead of time and was soon issued a citation. The city wanted him to either remove the “obstructions” and all “overgrown vegetation,” according to the L.A. Times’ Steve Lopez, or seek a costly landscaping permit. Finley, with help from the other founding members of L.A. Green Grounds, resolved to do neither. Armed with a petition signed by several hundred people, they took the city on. Finley finally earned a reprieve in late 2011, when the hearing on his case was postponed indefinitely. Read more…

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Villaraigosa Offers Tough Stance on Gun Violence, but South L.A. Youth Say the Problem is Deeper than Guns

Memorial shrine for Eddie Mitchell, 15, one of six people killed in South L.A. on the Fourth of July (photo: sahra)

The first time he shot somebody, he says, another gang member helped him hold his hand steady as he aimed the gun out the window of the car they were sitting in.

He hadn’t wanted to do it — he didn’t even know the kid he thinks he hit in the back and the head, or whether he survived. But, holding the gun, he realized that if he didn’t pull the trigger, the other gang members would likely turn their guns on him.

Shocked at having shot someone, he began to cry as they sped off, he tells me. He was quickly told to shut the fuck up and not be such a pussy. So, he ended the night getting wasted in order to drown his horror about what he had just done.

He was only 16.

He has seen so much violence and gore — even prior to joining the gang — that he thinks he has just become numb to it. So numb, in fact, that he used to wonder if something was wrong with him — like maybe his brain had stopped being able to process certain emotions.

He’d see some kid with his head busted open and feel nothing, he says. Nothing except a fleeting mixture of gratitude that it wasn’t him lying there dead and fear that, one day, it could be.

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You could say his decision to join a gang and lead a violent lifestyle was his choice. Technically, it was. But it would be more accurate to say he was groomed for it.

Coming from a tumultuous home situation in a violent neighborhood, he had been fighting and involved with crews since middle school. High school was worse. Lunch tables were segregated by race and gang affiliation, and each one was headed up by that gang’s shot caller. It was not uncommon for students to be violently assaulted in the stairwells on their way to class. There were no safe havens, in other words. Joining a gang at least ensured someone would have your back if you got punked.

Others don’t have any choice in the matter at all. A youth born into a family of shot callers in a powerful gang was jumped in by his relatives at age 12. Dragged along when the family went out to do “work” from a young age, he has seen everything from shootings to people’s throats being sliced open. Because of his involvement, he has been the target of violence, too. He had to move after coming home one night to find would-be murderers had completely ransacked his apartment, pissed that they hadn’t been able to locate him. It wasn’t the first time someone had come looking to kill him. Read more…

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Extend Your Hours of Cyclo-topia: Start CicLAvia in South L.A.

The CicLAvia feeder ride from South L.A. led by the East Side Riders (photo: sahra)

Just one week after Angelenos proved they could happily bike and walk their way through Carmageddon, they get to put their freshly honed skills to the test at the nation’s biggest car-free festival.

CicLAvia‘s back, y’all!

Grab your bike, your family, and/or some friends and experience almost ten miles of cyclo-topia in the heart of L.A. this Sunday. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., road closures will allow you (and probably more than 100,000 of your neighbors) to carlessly explore the neighborhoods surrounding Exposition Park, Macarthur Park, downtown, Chinatown, and Boyle Heights.

What more could you want?

Well, Angelenos in the know will stretch out their hours of cyclo-fun by waking at dawn and starting their day in South L.A.

At 8:30 a.m., much of the South L.A. riding family will be gathering at the WLCAC in Watts to prepare to ride to CicLAvia’s southern hub. Consider yourself cordially invited to join supporters of the CicLAvia South East effort and Los Ryderz as we ride north to Exposition Park, ably led by the East Side Riders.

The approximately 7.5 mile jaunt to the South Hub along the sunny, sleepy streets of South L.A. was a lot of fun last April. Curious and smiling passersby wanted to know where we were headed and why. A rib shack owner even offered to open up shop and feed us.

There’s a secret added bonus for those who, like me, will have to ride through the central part of the city at dawn to get to Watts: you’ll be able to ride some of the empty streets of the official CicLAvia route before the masses descend upon it.

That’s right. It’s just like that ancient proverb says: the early-rising biker gets to have all the fun.

Or…something like that. I think that is the rough translation.

Shh. Don’t tell anyone. Let that be our secret. Read more…