South LA neighborhood meets about prostitution problem

Community members and residents in Los Angeles District 8 gathered Wednesday night to discuss the increasing problem of blatant prostitution in the area. The meeting was held at the Southwest Community Police Station where the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) provided a platform for frustrated residents to be heard and even offer solutions to this growing issue. Council District 8 is lead by recently re-elected Bernard Parks, Sr. and the meeting was facilitated by his Chief of Staff, Bernard Parks, Jr.

LAPD Captain Vito Palazzolo began by recognizing that prostitution along Western Avenue between 27th and 30th streets has been a problem for many years and the old tactics simply haven’t worked long term. He noted that police make many arrests, however, he said the police can’t simply ‘arrest’ their way out of the problem. When those detained leave the street corner, a new group takes their place. Pimps are more aggressive than ever, working with girls as young as 12 who are not locals and traveling around the state in a circuit. Pimps are also paying more attention to the schedules of vice units and working later and later in the night to avoid being caught.

Residents complained about a lack of response from the police department, their children witnessing the activities, needing more patrol cars and protection. Some even implied that a prostitution sweep was done right before the District 8 elections in March for the sole purpose of getting their votes. Councilman Parks’ Chief of Staff denied any collusion between their office and the police department, but he said he would investigate when another sweep could take place.

Though community members expressed the feeling that the police department had been doing very little to stop prostitution, Lieutenant Andre’ Dawson said things are happening behind the scenes. The Vice Unit has partnered with the FBI’s Innocence Lost initiative that focuses on prosecuting pimps for human trafficking. He explained that it can take up to two years to successfully prosecute a pimp especially if law enforcement has difficulty getting impressionable, underage prostitutes to sign crime reports against pimps. However the City’s prosecution of “johns,” men who solicit sex with prostitutes, seems to be effective. The fines are very expensive and the repeat offender rate in the area is very low. Budget constraints were also blamed for the police not being able to have a better presence. image

According to District Director Christine Dixon, the city has already begun discussions about trimming trees, repairing lights and adding signs to deter illegal activity. One resident noted that some things are working such as the police photographing suspected prostitutes, shining lights into occupied parked cars and having police cars periodically parked on the corners.

Captain Palazzolo encouraged the community’s involvement, reiterating that they are a part of the long-term solution. Activist Naji Ali informed residents of the work already started within faith-based organizations that offers prostitutes shelter and services as the groups walk through affected neighborhoods. The City Attorney’s Office also has a program that solely focuses on providing jobs for women who were once involved in prostitution, but due to budget restraints it can’t be expanded right now.

So far this year, 132 prostitutes have been arrested and 18 johns were detained in the month of June alone. During the NBA All-Star weekend in February, 45 pimps were arrested and five girls were rescued, ranging from age 13 to 17. LAPD plans to train more uniformed officers to handle vice related crimes and wants to continue working with residents and businesses to stop prostitution in the area. They will also screen a documentary focused on underage prostitution called “Flesh” Thursday, September 15th from 7-9pm to further inform the community.

imageIf anyone witnesses non-violent activity in real time, they can contact the LAPD at (877) 275-5273. Tips can also be provided by calling (213) 486-0910 or follow the LAPD on Twitter at lapd_southwest.

Los Angeles Freedom Riders mark 50th anniversary

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides, a movement lead mainly by student activists from all over the country who challenged Southern segregation in America. Jim Crow laws blatantly disregarded the Interstate Commerce Commission’s ruling that outlawed racial segregation of restaurants and terminals of buses that crossed state lines. The Freedom Riders were met with violent resistance as they attempted to challenge the laws that remained in the South. image

The Urban Issues Forum held a panel discussion in honor of the Freedom Riders from Los Angeles on Friday, June 3rd at the California African American Museum. Robert and Helen Singleton, Robert Farrell and Edward Johnson discussed their experiences as African Americans living in those times and what compelled them to participate in such a courageous crusade. Robert Farrell is also a co-founder of the Urban Issues Forum currently lead by Anthony Samad, the event’s facilitator.

Helen Singleton, the only woman on the panel, was a student at Santa Monica College when she answered the call to continue the mission of the Freedom Riders in the South. Her mother was from Virginia and she vividly remembered the tension she felt as a child while traveling there for family visits because of the segregation. She had been watching the activities on the news with the rest of the world and felt like it was something she had to do, even after hearing the objections of her new husband Robert, who was also participating in the Rides.

Singleton’s mug shot was used on the cover of the book “Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Freedom Riders.” She described how disgusted she felt before the photo was taken as she sat in a Los Angeles police precinct looking at a poster that was created to recruit policeman from Mississippi to Los Angeles. She now believes some of those officers from Mississippi did come to L.A. and it’s one of the main reasons the Los Angeles Police Department became well-known over the years for having racial turmoil with the community it served.

As Singleton spoke, I could hear the majority black audience gasp, as most of us had never experienced or even heard first-hand about what she described. She was met with loud applause as she dispelled what she called a commonly spread misconception that blacks don’t trust each other and won’t unite for a common cause. She asserted that blacks have always been agents of their own freedom since the beginning. No one handed blacks their freedom in America. image

Robert Singleton was a student at UCLA, with panelist Robert Farrell, when he began to fight injustice in Westwood. Though the segregation was more subtle, they knew that they could not receive service at restaurants. Waiters simply wouldn’t serve them; they would grow tired of waiting and leave. They were turned down for employment, though there were ads saying employees were needed. Local salons and barbers refused to care for their hair. They were not allowed to rent apartments so most of them couldn’t live on or near campus. This led him to join the Freedom Riders. He wanted to see the promise of America fulfilled.

imageRobert Farrell remembered how black women at UCLA were practically non-existent because the few blacks enrolled were male athletes. Retired California Senator Diane Watson was one of the few black women on campus at the time. As an African American woman who graduated from UCLA, it’s hard for me to imagine a time like that. Though she is not the first, a young black woman by the name of Jasmine Hill is currently student body president of UCLA.

Farrell’s experiences at UCLA also compelled him to join the Freedom Rides but he said he never set out to be an icon or hero. He and others like him just wanted to see things change for the better and they couldn’t ignore the injustices. They all felt it was their duty, which in turn gave them the courage to fight their fears and push forward.

Edward Johnson moved from Houston, Texas to Los Angeles to escape the blatant racism and segregation there, but found that it wasn’t that much different in Los Angeles. Samad added that though Restricted Covenance laws were banned in 1954, it wasn’t until the 1970s that integration started to occur in Los Angeles city housing. While attending college, Johnson began to hear about the Freedom Riders and credits his youthful exuberance and painful experiences as motivating factors for his participation.

Before joining the Freedom Riders, people like the Singletons, Farrell and Johnson were warned to expect to be jailed without bail, to pack bags for a one-way trip and to make arrangements with family in the event they did not return. They joined the Freedom Riders anyway. Their patience had run out.

Within a few months, the Freedom Riders mission was complete and ultimately considered a success. Blacks and whites together experienced violence, were jailed and faced death in the name of fairness and equality for all.

The one regret that the panelists expressed was failing to make sure that the next generation, especially African Americans, was taught the history of this particular movement and time in America. They witnessed how their own parents rarely discussed how they suffered at the hands of segregation and racism but now know that not talking about it doesn’t inform or inspire anyone to action. Robert Singleton, a professor at Loyola Marymount, challenged us to research this part of American history for ourselves and teach our children.

We must also find new ways to expose and address injustices of this era, but most importantly, we must be willing to join the fight, just like the Freedom Riders.

Monte ‘M-Bone’ Talbert killed in drive-by shooting

imageA vigil was held Monday evening in honor of 22 year-old M-Bone, born Monte Talbert, a member of the popular rap group Cali Swag District. Talbert was killed in a drive-by shooting after being shot twice in the head Sunday night while sitting in a vehicle. The vigil was held in Inglewood, Talbert’s hometown, near the intersection of La Brea Avenue and Hazel Street where he was gunned down.

The gathering was organized by Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable founder Earl Ofari Hutchinson and facilitated by Eddie Jones, president of the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association.

Cali Swag District exploded onto the music scene in 2010 with the song “Teach Me How to Dougie”, an ode to Hip Hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh. They are signed to Capitol Records and are expected to drop their debut album this year. The song was so popular that a dance craze soon followed. First Lady Michelle Obama even incorporated the dance into her “Let’s Move” campaign.

Celebrity news site TMZ is reporting that his death is possibly linked to a Twitter beef over a woman. Friends have told police that Talbert was allegedly threatened by someone who lived in the same building as the woman and the two men exchanged jabs on online. Police are investigating why he was found dead in a car registered to the woman in question.

Community members, fans and the family of Talbert came out in hopes of getting more information about his death and to encourage the community to stop the violence.

Community and Gang Prevention Activist Lita Herron gave an impromtu speech to the crowd about breaking the code of silence that stifles the police’s ability to solve a crime.

Jones spoke of his own devastation upon hearing about Talbert’s death because he grew up with his father.

Hutchinson delivered an impassioned plea for justice to be served by finding the killer.

Talbert’s grandmother, Mary Alice Phillips, spoke on behalf of the family thanking everyone for their support.

A parked car began to loudly play Talbert’s hit song as the vigil came to a close and people began to sing and dance along to the music. It was very reminiscent of the scene in Brooklyn, NY in the mid 90s after the funeral of rapper Biggie Smalls. Yet for the music world and Inglewood community, this type of celebration is one they would rather not have.

The Inglewood Police Department is asking anyone with information to come forward and call its homicide division at (310) 412-5246 or its 24-hour anonymous hotline number, (888) 41 CRIME, or (888) 412-7463.

L.A. residents urged to turn in guns


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck held a news conference Friday near Dodger Stadium to urge L.A. residents to participate in the 3rd Annual Gun Buy-Back program.

Watch Chief Beck’s comments:

The city-wide event will be hosted at six different locations on Saturday, May 7th. Sponsored by Ralphs Grocery Stores, participants who turn in guns will receive a Ralphs gift card for up to $250. Ralphs, along with other corporate sponsors, contributed $200,000 for the 2011 program. Those who turn in weapons will be allowed to do so without being asked any questions.

image Villaraigosa said guns and gangs are the two main issues that threaten the safety of residents in Los Angeles. Because of the success of programs like the Gun Buy-Back, cities all over the country are following L.A.’s lead and implementing similar programs of their own.

The mayor pointed out that some 4,000 weapons were taken off the streets of Los Angeles last year because of a collective effort from the community, non-profit organizations and law enforcement. Due to an overwhelming response, they were unable to buy back all of the weapons that were brought the buy-back sites.

Watch Mayor Villaraigosa’s comments:

The Mayor conceded that all guns won’t be removed from the streets, but he said that if it helps to keep another mother from feeling the pain of losing a child, then the program is worthy. The event is planned to coincide with Mother’s Day weekend each year.

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich discussed surprising statistics, noting that last year 600 guns were retrieved from children ages 12 to 17 and 3,200 guns were traced to young people ages 18 to 24 years old in L.A. County.

Watch City Attorney Trutanich’s comments:

Records also showed that 74 percent of California’s homicides are committed with guns and 41 percent of all suicides involved a weapon. More than 32,000 guns used in a crime were recovered in California, with 50 percent of those being recovered in Los Angeles County and 17 percent of that in the City of Los Angeles.

In an exclusive interview with Intersections South LA, Chief Beck spoke about the importance of young people making a concerted effort to talk with peers who have weapons. He said that gun violence is the leading cause of death for young men ages 16 to 41 in L.A. County, and therefore, young people especially should have a stake in this effort.

Watch Chief Beck’s interview with LaMonica Peters:

Anyone who would like to participate should place unloaded weapons in the trunk of their car and drop them off at the following six locations:

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church – 7900 South Western Ave., Los Angeles
Santa Barbara Plaza – 3900 West Martin Luther King Blvd., Los Angeles
The L.A. Fire Dept Training Academy – 1700 Stadium Way, Los Angeles
Florentine Gardens – 5951 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
Valley Area – 11165 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills
Park and Ride Parking Lot – 1300 West Pacific Coast Highway, Wilmington

For more information on the Gun Buy-Back program, call 1-877-LAPD-247

Los Angeles Urban League hosts spring symposium

imageThe theme for the Los Angeles Urban League’s Spring Symposium was “Place-Based Neighborhood Change: Successes, Challenges, and Opportunities” which focused on how lives can be improved one neighborhood at a time. Held on Monday at the California African American Museum, this event brought together some of the most experienced and dedicated community activists and organizations.

Blair Taylor, President of the Los Angeles Urban League, spoke about the importance of coming together to share ideas and not losing sight of the task of improving the lives of underserved communities.

Ed Dandridge led the first plenary session entitled “2011 State of Black Los Angeles Report and the Healthy Neighborhood Index.” Dandridge is the Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer for The Nielsen Company. He discussed how some data collected by Nielsen could help organizations target specific neighborhoods, which could help close the technology gap for lower-income families.

According to the report, Black Angelenos have made some progress. Over the last five years, both the Education and Health Indexes increased by five percentage points. The Employment Index also rose by four points. There was no change in the Criminal Justice Index, which remained at 70 percent. Still, the overall index shows that results for Black residents are only 71 percent of White residents. It concluded that even with increased funding to South Los Angeles, Black residents still face grave challenges in the work force, criminal justice system, housing and education. The Report also predicted that if index gains continue at their current rate, it will take 100 years to close the equality gap between African-American Angelenos and other races.

Place-based neighborhood change was the focus of the second session, led by Don Howard of the Bridgespan Group. They played videos that highlighted how neighborhood transformation can be achieved.

L.A. Urban League was noted for its involvement at Crenshaw High School and the 70 blocks surrounding the school. In the last three years, LAUL says crime in the neighborhood decreased by 25 percent and Crenshaw’s graduation increased by 58 percent.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the keynote speaker. Johnson spoke of the work he is doing in Sacramento, saying he uses Los Angeles as a model.

Johnson made a plea for encouraging this generation of children, saying they are struggling due to lack of encouragement, support or guidance. He challenged the attendees to help others and be willing to make sacrifices, like those of the Civil Rights era.

In the afternoon, the group divided into breakout sessions focusing on education, health, safety, workforce and economic development and collaborative partnerships. Each session had a panel of experts who spoke of the work they were doing and discussed strategies and challenges they faced.

The event was sponsored by The California Endowment, the Weingart Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, The Nielsen Company, FedEx and the Los Angeles Urban League.

Workers unite in honor of Dr. King

On the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, Los Angeles area union members gathered to honor him and to continue his legacy of fighting for workers’ rights. Held at F.A.M.E. Church in South L.A. Monday evening, thousands were in attendance including Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel.

The unity rally began with moving clips of Dr. King marching and speaking of the labor injustices faced in his time. One clip in particular brought loud applause from the audience when Dr. King said, “We are tired of working full-time jobs for part-time wages.” Intertwined were clips of workers protesting this year in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Maria Elena Durazo, of the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, was the mistress of ceremony and she reminded everyone that Dr. King was in Memphis on behalf of sanitation workers when he was killed. She introduced the program’s theme: “War has been declared on working class Americans and we must unite.” Stressing that neither race nor location should be a factor in this new labor movement, she praised California workers who went to Wisconsin to join labor protests as well as the nearly 20,000 workers who gathered in Pershing Square last week.

Laphonza Butler, SEIU United Long Term Care Workers’ President, chastised groups like the Tea Party, claiming they are trying to change America’s values to that of greed and selfishness, ignoring the pleas of the working class. She said that Republicans are holding America hostage with the threat of a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t agree to cut funding for programs that are sorely needed. She pointed out that almost five million people are in poverty in California and children in the state are last, ranking 50th in the nation in standardized testing. Butler emphasized that now is not the time to be silent about the challenges ahead and that the fight of the 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis must be continued.

Also in attendance were Rev James Lawson and William Lucy, both of whom were instrumental in the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, working alongside Dr. King. Workers like Oscar Montelongo of the Department of Water and Power and Jackie Brown from the Lynwood School District were given an opportunity to speak. Brown is a school cafeteria worker at Rosa Parks Elementary School, a name she said makes her feel proud because of Parks’ heroism. She was concerned with students’ well-being if she and other workers lost their jobs due to cut-backs.

Though the day marked the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, it was not a somber event; it was a celebration of what King had accomplished, an opportunity for laborers to be re-energized for the work ahead and a call-to-action for American workers.