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Are You Supposed to be Here?: Officer Harasses Black Cyclists during MLK Day Parade

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you supposed to be in the parade?”

Arms outstretched to halt the glacially-paced forward movement of the group, the LAPD officer stepped in front of long-time South L.A. Real Ryda and one of the area’s best-known cycling elders, William Holloway.

Stunned, we all looked at each other.

Is this man serious?

The Real Rydaz and some of the other low-rider clubs they teamed up with for South L.A.’s King Day parade yesterday specialize in parades. The great energy they bring by performing tricks with their intricately detailed bikes makes them crowd favorites around the city, but especially along King Blvd., where they have a long history with the community. It’s not unusual to hear people chant “Real Rydaz!” from the sidelines as they see the bikes approaching. Or to hear the entire crowd break into song, as they did yesterday, when Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday!” (written to celebrate Dr. King) blared from one of the Rydaz’ speakers.

“Sir, they ride in the parade every year,” I interjected. “Everybody knows them.”

Henry, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Henry III, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Holloway then began to speak up, as did some of the others, asking what the problem was and declaring that they had been participants in the parade for years.

Now a little less sure of himself, the officer kept looking back and forth between me (the non-African-American) and the Rydaz, as if he wasn’t sure he could take their word for it and I might be the one to provide the real story of what was going on. Read more…

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Filed Under: Ugly Things You Find on the Interwebs

The cover photo from the offending FB page.

The cover photo of a purported bike “thief” from the offending FB page. In reality, it is a photo of Bay Area cyclist and creative DAGHE taken by Pendarvis H., Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion.

“Wow… is all I can say,” wrote Veronica Davis, avid cyclist and member of Black Women Bike: D.C. under a photo on a facebook page entitled, “Black People with Bikes that Aren’t Theirs,” that insinuated she was riding a stolen bike.

“The ignorance of this page is astounding,” she continued. “Especially since this is a photo of me on a bike I didn’t steal.”

It’s true, the ignorance of the page was astounding (even featuring stock photos of black children on bikes and labeling them as thieves) as was its growing number of “likes” (3280 and counting since I first saw the page this morning).

I was tempted to brush it off as one of the many, many, many outrageously stupid, racist, ignorant things you can find on the interwebs with great ease. But it was tapping into something that seems to be up for national debate right now — the right of people of color to move through the public space free of suspicion — and using the photos of known African-American cyclists and livable streets advocates to make a case against their right to do so.

And while the owner of the page claimed it was harmless, stating, “This page started off as shits n gigs [sic] but for some reason people cant [sic] accept that. Im [sic] not purposely trying to be racist. All im [sic] trying to do is make people laugh,” it really isn’t.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford (killed in Walmart while carrying a toy gun sold by the store), 12-year-old Tamir Rice (killed for brandishing a toy gun and not given first aid because officers were busy tackling and handcuffing his 14-year-old sister when she tried to come to his aid), Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 34 (gunned down in Gardena by the very police he and his brother had called for help while looking for their stolen bike), and many others all offer powerful illustrations of how easily biases about the intentions of people of color can upend their fates.

And while these issues have finally become big news of late, it is not news to folks of color that they are often viewed with suspicion in the public space, particularly by law enforcement. Walking-while-black (or brown) offers its own unique set of challenges. But so does riding bikes. Read more…

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Filed Under: D’oh! City Stamps Out Safety-Enhancing DIY Effort in Silver Lake, Leaves Massive Gang Signs in Place in South Central

Undisclosed Silver Lake intersection. Photo by Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Intersection at Effie and Hyperion in Silver Lake. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last month, I sent a photo illustrating some of the new designs that had popped up at Effie and Hyperion in Silver Lake (above) to Joe and Damien.

Joe, without disclosing the location, posted it to Streetsblog with a brief accompanying explanation.

As he noted, the intersection has seen various DIY interventions. The painting of the chunks of cement — which has been going on for years now — seems to have been part of an effort by the neighbors to get people to slow down on the side streets. Cars have had a tendency to fly up and down Hyperion, which serves as a sort of back-door connector between Sunset Bl. and Fountain Ave (where it turns into Hyperion) and faster than the adjacent Griffith Park Bl., which has stop signs every few blocks.

Other interventions I’ve seen have included bollards at the stop signs with fun signage (below).

The Department of DIY takes things into their own hands to make streets safer for bikes and pedestrians at Hyperion and Effie in Silverlake (sahra/LA Streetsblog)

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me on the day the sign read, “Are you Tracy Chapman? No? Then, no fast car!” Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ever efficient when it sniffs out fun and safety-enhancing DIY interventions, the city repainted the intersection in soul-killing shades of gray some time last week (below).

50 shades of sadness reign at Effie and Hyperion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

50 shades of sadness reign at Effie and Hyperion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I find this turn of events disturbing for a few reasons.

For one, the paint was apparently deemed so troubling it could not stand, but the deep cracks and uneven pavement, which constitute genuine safety hazards for cyclists, skateboarders, and pedestrians (particularly those pushing children in strollers or using wheelchairs) trying to navigate the awkwardly sloped hill and its poorly marked pedestrian crossings and stops, are not a problem.

Second, the colorful paint — again, meant as a fun way to enhance safety and located a quarter of a mile from the blindingly green Sunset Triangle Plaza — was somehow more threatening than the gang signs painted in the middle of the intersection at 23rd and Trinity that I wrote about last year.

What’s that you say?

Allow me to explain. Read more…

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Oct. 9, South L.A. Advocates Discuss Civic Action and Community Voice in South L.A. on Visions and Voices Panel at USC

Flier for the October 9th Visions and Voices event at USC focusing on South L.A.

Flier for the October 9th Visions and Voices event at USC focusing on South L.A. Click to enlarge.

This coming October 9, at 6 p.m., I will be participating in a panel on Civic Action and Community Voice in South L.A. as part of USC’s Visions and Voices series.

Visions and Voices is the dynamic arts and humanities initiative established in 2006. The goal was to feature critically acclaimed artists and distinguished speakers, theatrical productions, music and dance performances, film screenings, lectures, and workshops on a variety of themes to challenge the USC community to expand their perspectives, become world-class citizens, and make a positive impact throughout the world.

Given the changes sparked by USC’s expansion of its physical footprint in South L.A. and how the desire for a secure campus has exacerbated tensions between the campus community and the longer-term residents in the process (see here, here, here), it seems like an appropriate moment for the program to take a closer look at its relationship with the community it calls home.

The organizers — Annenberg professors Alison Trope and Robeson Taj Frazier and post-doctoral scholar George Villanueva — have put together three events on South L.A. for the 2014-15 season.

The first will look at community building in and around USC and South Los Angeles, with a focus on movements and organizations that are responding to the disparities and injustices that structure life in South L.A. Speakers will include Alberto Retana, the Executive Vice President of grassroots organization extraordinaire Community Coalition (see our recent coverage of them here), Francisco Ortega, the immigration-policy advisor and South L.A. policy advisor for the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, Erin Aubry Kaplan, a journalist and columnist who writes about African American life in Los Angeles for a variety of outlets, and me, the Communities Editor for South L.A. and Boyle Heights here at Streetsblog L.A. Read more…

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Reclaiming Public Space for Marginalized Communities: Bikes Don’t Fix Everything, But They Can Help

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. as part of a Unity ride on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The recent tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and here at home in South L.A. have served to underscore just how hostile the public space can be to people of color, particularly those of lesser means.

For those that live that reality day in and day out in Los Angeles, that is not news.

I’ve documented their frustration with law enforcement officers that would rather harass and arrest than protect and serve in a number of dedicated stories (here, here, here, here). More often, however, concerns about officer misbehavior are interwoven in stories on a wide range of topics simply because they are that much of a constant in the lives of the communities I cover (see here, here, or here).

And while some advocates might question the relevance of such concerns to the Livable Streets movement, I would argue that equal access to streets is a cornerstone of livability. There is no earthly reason that men of color should feel that the act of walking or riding a bicycle down the street is akin to extending an embossed invitation to police to stop, question, and frisk them, hand them bogus tickets (for not having bike lights in the day time, for example), or worse.

A young man is separated from his friends and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (photo courtesy of the young man in question)

A young man is separated from his friends, told to put his hands behind his back and face the fence, and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (Photo courtesy of the young man in question. His face was blurred because he feared retaliation for speaking up.)

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem.

Among many other things, the abuses of power by the police are facilitated by the de facto segregation of communities by race and/or class, narratives that criminalize members of marginalized communities, the effective disenfranchisement of those communities, and the years of neglect of the health and well-being of those populations.

The entrenched nature of these problems have forced activists to take matters into their own hands in order to chip away at the structures and narratives that have long been used against them.

In South L.A., for example, social justice non-profit Community Coalition worked to put an end to willful defiance suspensions in schools, just finished its third Freedom School summer program, and will host the third annual South L.A. Powerfest this Sept. 6th. In Boyle Heights, the non-profit visual arts center Self-Help Graphics has cultivated Latino and Chicano consciousness and creativity through its programming for 40 years, and just completed a summer session aimed at empowering youth to express their visions for their communities through art.

Other activists have taken to the streets.

Read more…

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Am I Hallucinating?: Public Art Pieces Appear in South L.A.

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik's Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik’s Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

After a depressing day of photographing South L.A.’s trashed streets, I thought I was hallucinating when I stumbled across a man-sized Rubik’s Cube.

It seemed to have come out of nowhere.

And, it didn’t do anything special besides sit on a corner.

But, it seemed to have had an impact on the atmosphere around it.

In an area where gang activity can be quite intense (the LAPD just arrested over 50 people in a gang sweep a few blocks north of there) and people are often wary about being too open with each other in the streets, the art gave them something neutral they could get goofy with for a moment.

It did cause a bit of a spectacle when they first put that and the kinetic bird sculpture in (around the corner, below), Chris Conant from the design-build company Conant-Moran told me. Read more…

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Dead Spaces Make for Dead (and Unwalkable) Places

Mirror, mirror along the wall of a vacant lot... 43rd. and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…of a vacant lot. 43rd. and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

I’m feeling sorta trashy.

Not in that way.

I’ve just had trash on the brain lately.

Even as L.A. is celebrated for moving toward being more walkable and livable, trash seems to be the one constant, particularly in lower-income areas.

One of the reasons is that there is a lot of dead space in places like South L.A.

Vacant lots, alleys, under- and overpasses, foreclosed homes/properties, and streets running alongside freeways all lack someone to watch over and take responsibility for them on a regular basis.

Which means we get this:

Piles of random clothing and issues of the National Enquirer from the year 2000 (at the overpass at 52nd and Broadway) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Piles of random clothing and issues of the National Enquirer from the year 2000 (at the overpass at 52nd and Broadway) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Piles of random clothing, instruction manuals for jurassic technology, handwritten correspondence from the 90s, and issues of the National Enquirer dating back over a decade.

All piled up on the overpass the corner of 52nd and Broadway.

The mess stretches the entire overpass, actually.

Looking west on 52nd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Looking west on 52nd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

It’s on the north side of the overpass, too.

More piles of crap. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

More piles of garbage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

And, it’s around the corner, all up and down Grand, the street running along the east side of the freeway. Read more…

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Weekend Memorial Events Highlight Continued Vulnerability of Cyclists

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

For those of us who pay attention to such things, it was a terribly mournful weekend.

Friday night, friends and family gathered at 47th and Normandie to witness the installation of a ghost bike in honor of hit-and-run victim Oscar Toledo, Jr., at the growing memorial there.

His youth and the freshness of the event meant that emotions were running high. When I spotted Toledo’s girlfriend, she threw herself into my arms, her body shaking with sobs.

“IT’S BEEN THREE FUCKING DAYS!” she wailed in disbelief.

She wasn’t the only one in tears. As the group gathered in a circle to hold hands and say a few words about Toledo, people cried openly and cursed both the unfairness of their loss and the person who had done this to someone they had loved.

The mood was more subdued Saturday afternoon for the Memorial Ride for Benjamin Torres, killed in an early morning hit-and-run in Gardena.

When the East Side Riders — now, in conjunction with Los Ryderz and the team from Ghost Bike Documentary — promised to do a monthly ride to honor Torres until justice was finally served, I don’t know if they realized justice would seem more elusive than ever two years on.

We had all hoped someone would come forward or have a change of heart and accept responsibility for the deed. Instead, the family has had to find solace in their memories and the ever-growing network of families and friends whose loved ones have been left to die in the streets.

But, even when the perpetrator is known, there is a limit to the comfort that knowledge and the extended bike family can offer, as was evident at Sunday’s memorial ride and vigil for Phillip O’Neill.

The case against the driver Jose Gonzales, charged with manslaughter for striking O’Neill from behind and killing him, is currently making its way through the court system. Unfortunately, as the friends and family of September hit-and-run victim Andy Garcia know all too well, Gonzales’ prosecution will neither bring O’Neill back nor fill the void his loss created.

Read more…

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“What Happened to Human Decency?”: Friends and Family of South L.A. Hit-and-Run Victim Seek Answers

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather to mourn at the site where he was killed by a hit-and-run driver near 47th and Normandie in South L.A.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather to mourn at the site where he was killed by a hit-and-run driver near 47th and Normandie in South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“I know it wasn’t even his fuckin’ fault!” railed Daniela, 19.

She was unsuccessfully fighting back tears yesterday as she stood alongside the light pole serving as the unofficial memorial site for bicyclist Oscar Toledo, Jr., killed in a hit-and-run at 47th and Normandie in South L.A. less than 24 hours earlier.

Toledo had “always [been] chillin’ on his mountain bike; always safe,” she said. And, because he had grown up on the streets and had always had to watch his back, he was hyper-aware of what was around him, careful about safety, and “always on his toes.”

So, when she got the call from Toledo’s younger brother at 3 a.m. Thursday morning, she couldn’t believe it.

He had just been at her house earlier that night. She had just seen him — it didn’t make any sense.

She and Toledo’s best friend agreed to go to the hospital first thing in the morning to “see if it was real.”

Seeing him laying there, bloody and hooked up to so many tubes had been overwhelming. It denied her one last chance to hold him in her arms.

“I told him, ‘I really couldn’t imagine life without you,’” she said of a recent conversation they had had.

Hugging herself, she leaned against the exterior of a building and stared at the small memorial they had set up.

“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Read more…

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Empowering Communities to See Streets as Sites of Recreation: What does it Take?

Sin and redemption. Despite it's long-standing status as a stroll, Western Ave. has at least two churches on almost every block. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sin and redemption. Despite it’s long-standing status as a stroll, Western Ave. has at least two churches on almost every block. A passerby teased the elderly gentleman at the corner who had just left the church by suggesting he was hanging out along Western for other-than-godly reasons. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“We need to empower people to see their streets as sites of recreation.”

It’s somewhat of a city planner mantra.

And, it tends to drive me crazy.

Part of it has to do with my having been an academic in my previous life, where I spent years observing efforts to “empower” refugees, displaced persons, sex trafficking victims, genocide survivors, and the desperately poor to take charge of their circumstances. The focus on modifying individual behaviors precluded dialogue on the mix of structural and individual interventions that might have yielded more comprehensive solutions to what were, essentially, deeply-rooted structural problems. As a result, outcomes were often superficial and/or unsustainable at best and irreparably damaging to people’s livelihoods at worst.*

Yet “empower” soldiers on, both abroad and right here at home.

I hear it all the time.

I heard it most recently at the well-attended Community Planning Forum held at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreational Center on Western Ave. in South L.A. at the end of March.

It was all I could do to keep myself from dragging the poor person outside to show them the street was already very heavily used for recreation. Just the wrong kind.

There are a few sections of Western — including areas in close proximity to the park — known as “strolls.”

Day or night, rain or shine, you can find a girl on the street that can help meet your “needs” for a few dollars.

They sit at bus stops, stand on corners, walk up and down the block, dance by themselves on quiet side streets just out of the glare of the main drag, brazenly post up like sentries at the driveway entrance of the Mustang Motel — they are ubiquitous.

While a number of them are older and may be working independently and/or feeding drug habits (especially north of King Blvd., according to some residents), many are just teens, coerced into the trade by men claiming to be their boyfriends, rapists that abused them and turned them out, or their own history of sexual abuse and neglect. The hold their pimps have on them can be tremendous. It is not unusual for girls show up in juvenile detention centers with their pimps’ names tattooed onto their ribs and so thoroughly victimized that they fight anyone trying to help them get out of the trade. Some don’t believe they could ever be valued for anything other than their bodies, especially after being abused. Others believe their pimps love them and refuse to say anything that would incriminate them.

But, the pimps clearly do not love them.

Spend any time along Western and you’ll see them, stationed in parked cars at corners (and, occasionally, on mountain bikes), perfectly positioned so that they can see everything happening on the street. They are ready to menace their girls or anyone who takes too much of an other-than-recreational interest in their charge(s) at a moment’s notice.

The intense level of neglect a street — and, indeed, a community — must experience (this was the stomping ground of the Grim Sleeper, after all) for it to be able to function so openly as a market facilitates other forms of unhealthy activity, too. While long-time residents tell me that things are much better than they used to be, gang activity and substance abuse, particularly that of those living on (or making a living on) the street, are still major issues in the area.

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The combination of these factors can make locals paranoid about interacting with outsiders for fear of being seen as snitching.

And, it can certainly go a long way in keeping a family from feeling comfortable about taking a stroll through the neighborhood, waiting at bus stops, getting to know their neighbors along the Western corridor, or being outside too late in the evening. Read more…