Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

I started an internship, about a month ago, with a pretty major news outlet here in California. I am working as a reporter/multimedia journalist for a community news blog that focuses on South Los Angeles (or South Central). The experience thus far has been many things: interesting, challenging, surprising, enlightening and, most of all, eye-opening.

I grew up in a small community on the western edge of South LA, called View Park. For that reason, I felt as if this internship would be a little easier on me, having come from the area. However, my experience has been such that the more time I spend in the community, the more I realize that I knew, and know, next to nothing about the area I grew up in, or the city of Los Angeles as a whole. It’s an interesting feeling to live in a city your entire life and suddenly realize how little you know of it. I’ve given so much effort to getting to know other countries and other cultures, not that that’s a bad thing, that I have completely overlooked the community that shaped me.

Perhaps the most startling realization I have come to, since I started working in the South LA community, is how deeply and subtly media messages and values are embedded in my thoughts and beliefs about this community. I have always prided myself on having a critical and analytical mind. Being an english major previously and a journalism major currently, I naively thought that media messages had less of an impact on my psyche. However, when it came time for me to walk around South Central, on my own, with my camera in hand, I became acutely aware of my discomfort, paranoia, and fear.  I am not normally a person who is afraid to go out into the world, to talk to people, to photograph, etc. but as I stepped out of my car onto Central Ave., I experienced an internal shift from confident to fearful. This startled me. I was shocked to find that all of my media training – all of my critical thinking skills – didn’t offer me any more of a defense than the average media consumer. The stereotypes of the community and its people and the stigma attached to the area, were very much in the front of my mind.

Over the past month, my experiences in South LA have shown me a community that is entirely different from the one I was taught to see. It is a community with a vibrant history and culture, of which only shreds remain. South LA was decimated in the riots of both 1965 and 1992 and the community has never completely recovered from those traumas. However, if you can look beyond the problems, which are deeply embedded in the everyday life there, you will find people who are hard working, genuine, warm, and welcoming – at least that has been my experience.

I’m not sure where I am going with this post. I suppose I wanted to introduce a new topic to write about and most importantly, I wanted to start a new and different conversation about this community – a community that seems to have been abandoned; left to be ravaged by the problems which plague it. While the rest of LA grows, progresses and enjoys the many fruits of its labors, South LA  is scraping to get by, one day at a time.

When I walk the streets in South LA, I see a vital population of people who want the same things as everyone else – happiness, health, success and a chance for their children to grow up to have the same or better. The people there get up everyday, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and work to build their lives despite of the odds against them. At the same time, underneath the welcoming smiles and warm conversations, there is a sense of sadness and defeat that can only be felt in a community that has been isolated; left to its own devices, without support.

I find South LA to be many things, most of them contradictory to each other: complicated yet simple, saddening yet joyful, lively yet dreary, lacking yet rich in many ways. Most of all, I find it to be inspiring. My curiosity is peaked.

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The Occupy Los Angeles encampment, which has been inhabiting the lawns of City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles for the past two months, was evicted in the early hours of November 30, when approximately 1,400 LAPD police officers stormed out of City Hall, surrounded the encampment and arrested the remaining occupants.

Mayor Villaraigosa had initially set the eviction deadline for 12:01 a.m. Monday, November 28, but an influx of nearly 2,000 supporters on that night caused city officials to hold off on enforcing the eviction orders in the hope that protesters would disperse on their own.

I was present for the November 28 standoff with the LAPD and for the eviction on November 30 and what struck me the most about the mainstream media accounts of the actual eviction were the differences between my own experience and those of the people I knew, who were there, and the accounts of the media.

In hindsight, I realized that the November 28 standoff was more of a “recon mission” than an actual threat of eviction. It was the perfect opportunity for the LAPD to pose a threat and observe the protesters’ reactions. All of us fell for it – hook, line and sinker. During the eviction I was able to witness what the LAPD had learned from the standoff the day before and the plans they put into action based on those observations.

The actual eviction began shortly after midnight on November 30. Up until then, the LAPD kept the visible police presence to a minimum with only a line of officers guarding the front of the police station on Main and First, across from the encampment.

Just before midnight, a line of officers, wearing black and white helmets and sporting batons, appeared on the south side of the First and Main intersection. A diversion. The LAPD had learned from the standoff, that if they presented a line of officers, in this case across the street from the encampment, that the protesters would rush to confront them (verbally), thus dividing the crowd between those remaining in the encampment and those in the streets. It worked.

A few minutes after the appearance of that line of officers, in a swift and surprise attack, approximately 1,400 officers rushed out of City Hall, kicking over tents and brandishing their batons, and surrounded the camp, thus locking out those who were in the streets and locking in those who remained in the camp.

The people who were in the street were immediately pushed back to the far sides of the intersections on either side of the camp, where lines of officers kept them at bay. Inside the encampment, the officers formed two inner circles – one surrounding the group of protesters who were in the center of the park, and another one around the outer perimeter of the park’s center. Officers lined all the walkways leading into the park and a final circle was formed at the outside perimeter of the park.

They came fast, hard and in full force. They greatly out numbered the protesters – there were approximately four officers for every one protester. The first wave came out of City Hall pushing over people and  kicking over tents in their path with batons at the ready.

The first arrest I witnessed took place maybe 45 minutes after the onset of the raid. I was standing outside the inner circle, with a line of officers separating me from the protesters on the inside. A young man to my left was standing next to me with his girlfriend, holding up his cell phone (presumably collecting video) in one hand and a peace sign with his other hand. Without any provocation, two officers suddenly grabbed him and dragged him out of the crowd, pinning him down and cuffing him. Three officers then carried him away with his girlfriend (who was later arrested) crying and calling after him.

And so it began. Arrest after arrest was made. Approximately 300 protesters were arrested that night and loaded on to LAPD buses where that sat for as long as seven hours with their hands tightly bound, unable to move or go to the bathroom. After talking to some of the arrestees after the eviction, I learned that some of those arrested passed out or lost feeling in their arms and hands from the cuffs being too tight, others became ill and were vomiting from the pressure points used by the officers when they were removing the protesters, and several were forced to go to the bathroom, on the buses, where they sat.

All in all, in comparison to some of the other evictions which have taken place across the country, namely Oakland and New York, the OccupyLA eviction was executed with significantly less violence, but it wasn’t without brutality of one form or another. Realistically, the encampments were going to have to come to a close at some point, but I can’t say I am in total agreement with the way they came to a close.

As a journalist, my biggest concern or gripe with the OccupyLA eviction was the blatant muzzling of the press during the actual event. Journalists were restricted, not only in number, but in the access they were given and how they were allowed to transmit their information. Mayor Villaraigosa and the LAPD trampled the First Amendment that night without remorse and without justification. In doing so, their actions were absent of integrity or transparency and they succeeded in minimizing the accountability of, not only the officers, but of the protesters as well. It was a show of blatant disrespect for the truth and for the public’s right to know the truth, whatever it may be.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Downtown Los Angeles on October 15, 2011 for what they dubbed the “Global Change March”. The protestors started in Pershing Square where they rallied first and then proceeded to march through the downtown financial district. There were approximately 2,000 in attendance for the march. The march ended back at City Hall, where occupants have been camping for the last 3 weeks in protest of Big Banks’ corruption and profit hoarding, the staggering unemployment rate, and the prevalence of corporate greed. The rest of the day boasted several events from speakers known in the financial and activism worlds to bands showing their solidarity and support by performing.

As the name “Global Change March” might imply, similar marches took place in more than 1,000 cities in over 92 countries across the globe. There are a lot of fed up people in the world right now. Turn outs all over the world averaged in the tens of thousands. The most notable turn out, in my opinion, had to be Madrid, Spain where an unfathomable 500,000 people flooded in to the streets and packed into the city’s center. What’s even more remarkable to me is that the Madrid protest was peaceful!!!

I was at the OccupyLA rally and march and I must say that as nice as it was to see people actively protesting, standing up for what they think is right, and really trying to make their voices heard, I was disappointed by the small scale of the LA march. A couple thousand people, in a city that claims approximately 10,000,000, is unfortunate. Don’t get me wrong, the protest was filled with passion and energy, and I really enjoyed being there and being a part of it, but at the same time I found myself wondering “where is everybody?”

Since I was there as a press photographer, I had the job of documenting the march. I decided to do things a little differently this time. I shot photos, as usual, and some video too, but I also decided to record sound. Later listening to what I had recorded, it occurred to me that I had a new project to work on. Here is the final result. Enjoy!

On Saturday, September 29th, protesters – inspired by the recent Occupy Wall Street uprising in New York City – set up camp on the lawns of City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. Over the past week, the haphazardly organized group has grown to more than 300 campers and continues to grow.

Turning the lawns of City Hall into a stage for political debate, OccupyLA packs each day with workshops, classes, and discussion forums. The movement takes issue with corporate corruption and how that has influenced the political process and with the shift of wealth and favor towards the wealthiest 1% of the population.

“We have become of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations – people don’t matter anymore. I love our country, I just don’t like what we’ve become,” said protestor Anastasia Stewart, 78, who has been actively protesting with the occupants for the past four days.

Terry Marshall, a Music Therapy and Child Development major at California State University, Northridge camped over the weekend with a handful of her classmates. She said she believes that we (Americans) should have more of a say in what our government does and what goes on in the country. Marshall decided to camp because she is concerned with the state of the education system and believes the government should be putting more money into education.

“How can we expect kids to progress in this country without education?” said Marshall.

Since its inception in New York, the occupation movement has swept across the globe  and now includes up to 66 U.S. cities and several cities in Europe and Canada. Unlike its counterparts in New York and San Francisco, where protestors have cited multiple complaints of police brutality, the Los Angeles occupation has remained peaceful and received much support from the local police and officials.

Occupants have stated that they are not planning on vacating City Hall’s lawns anytime soon.