Sobriety checkpoints continue to raise tensions in South L.A.

Dozens of demonstrators assembled near the Slauson Avenue 110 freeway onramp Friday night in a watchdog effort to verify that LAPD officers conducting a sobriety checkpoint were not impounding vehicles of drivers whose sole discretion was being unlicensed.


Until a recent policy change, drivers caught without a license immediately lost their cars to an impound lot. The new policy allows unlicensed drivers to contact the registered vehicle owner within a “reasonable” amount of time, according to a notice released by Deputy Chief Michael P. Downing and Commander Stephen R. Jacobs on March 10.

“Just because they’ve changed the policy doesn’t mean they’re actually abiding by it, which is why we’re here,” said Colleen Flynn, member of the National Lawyers Guild. Guild lawyers, members of the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC), the International Socialist Organization and independent activists lined the street with signs intended to alert drivers of the checkpoint underneath the freeway bridge.

Before the checkpoint began screening cars, LAPD Sergeant Damon Aoki of the Central Traffic Division approached demonstrators to request that they not impede the flow of traffic, especially during a green light.

“This is not a driver’s license checkpoint. This is a sobriety checkpoint.” Aoki told demonstrators. “We generally cite for an unlicensed driver, but we give them a fair amount of time in order to call somebody that has a license—who has to be a registered owner—who then can give permission to another licensed driver if they don’t have one.”

Aoki estimated 30 minutes as a “fair amount of time” and explained that they require the vehicle’s registered owner to be present in order to release the vehicle because of liability issues. The traffic division conducts checkpoints about once a month. No cars were impounded on the night of the demonstration.


“They do catch some drunk drivers, which is great,” said Ron Gochez, a member of Union del Barrio, an activist group within the SCIC. “This is a positive step for us, … but it’s not the end all.” Gochez explained that his group wants police to further amend the policy to allow unlicensed drivers to call any licensed driver—not just the registered owner—to take over the vehicle in case they are pulled over or screened at a checkpoint.

“We’re doing this to educate the community to let them know that they have the legal right to organize and protest to show their repudiation of these practices,” said Gochez. He noted that many community members have begun protesting on their own accord, coming out of their homes with anti-checkpoint signs and text messaging their neighbors when checkpoints are taking place.

image“We’ve very visible,” Gochez said. “They know we’re here.”

South LA Freedom School students make mark with art

Joyous cheering, rhythmic clapping and motivational chants welcomed Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as he kicked off a colorful mural-painting activity to brighten up the construction underway at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital.

More than 200 energetic children and teenagers dipped paint brushes into vibrant hues to fill murals with words such as “aspire,” “create,” “believe,” and most appropriately, “read.”

imageThe young student artists were chosen from Freedom Schools in the Second District of Los Angeles. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ office, which provides partial funding for the six-week summer literacy program, partnered with the Department of Public Works and City Year Los Angeles for the mural activity. The murals will be displayed in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center until construction ends in 2013, when they will be moved to a permanent location.

“This is an opportunity to contribute to the quality of life in this community, ” Ridley-Thomas told a room filled with lively youth who routinely broke out into call-and-response cheering. “We have doctors in the house, we have school administrators in the house, we have scholars in the house, and the house is packed.”

imageChanting and cheering is an integral part of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® curriculum. Each morning begins with the Swahili tradition of harambee, which includes a guest reader, motivational singing, call-and-response cheering, affirmations and a meditational moment of silence before the day’s activities begin. Guest readers are community professionals from a wide range of careers, and they tell students how reading and literacy is relevant to their field of work.

“The main thing we want them to know is that reading is fun and that they can connect all of these rich activities to that,” said Yolanda Robinson, site coordinator for the program at First New Christian Fellowship. “We try to stay away from traditional sports and activities so they leave having had new experiences.”

Many students enter the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program with little to no interest in reading. After a summer of connecting literature to unfamiliar activities like croquet, badminton and Zumba dance aerobics, many change their minds.

“I didn’t like reading before, but when I got here it was a whole different story,” said 9-year-old Damon Fuery, who eagerly described his favorite book this summer: a Kid Caramel Private Investigator novel about a werewolf impostor. “I love mystery books because they’re kind of like a puzzle to solve.”

imageChildren’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® are hosted at four sites within Ridley-Thomas’s district: First New Christian Fellowship, Bethel A.M.E. Church, Community Coalition at Foshay Learning Center and First Church of God in Inglewood.

The Freedom Schools program is based on the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project, a college student-driven campaign that erected Freedom Schools and Freedom Houses that helped African Americans register to vote and expand their literacy through engagement with the arts. The current iteration of the program under the Children’s Defense Fund began in 1992 and operates in 84 cities nationwide.

“We don’t believe that there are any bad apples in our school,” said Aaron Burleson, site coordinator for the Community Coalition chapter of the program. He noted that the Freedom School philosophy of never expelling a student from the program due to behavioral difficulties separates it from traditional public schools. “Everyone’s a scholar, and we hold them to that standard.”

American Tradition of Jazz Lives On

It is said to be the only truly American form of music, having peaked sometime in the 1940s when the Dunbar Hotel in South Los Angeles was a focal point for jazz musicians.

The 16th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival last weekend drew about 10,000 people who mingled and tapped their toes to a two-day lineup of musicians, vendors and activities. Men donned fine vintage suits and women showed off colorful hats throughout the music-filled open-air event.

“It’s great to see the diversity that Los Angeles has when it has an event like this,” said David Cariño, owner and chef of Sazón de Cariños, who serves jambalaya at the festival each year. “We have families come through here from all walks of life.”

Cariño’s specialty jambalaya fuses a New Orleans recipe with California cuisine, resulting in a chicken and rice version he designed for the area.

“I want Southern Californians to taste the food of New Orleans,” said Cariño. “It broadens the whole horizon for who we are in L.A.”

Jazz music filled the streets from established artists such as vocalist Ernie Andrews and trumpeter Gerald Wilson as well as up-and-coming local artists like the teen musicians in the LAUSD All-City Jazz Band. The student band played a selection of tunes with an emphasis on pieces by Thelonious Monk, a pianist known for his idiosyncratic improvisational style.

“It’s a very liberating, exciting experience,” said pianist Anthony Lucca, who plans to attend the USC Thornton School of Music in the fall. “Monk’s music is so rich and unique that it’s fun to get the opportunity to play his music and export his style.

The band is no stranger to public performance. This summer, they played at the Playboy Jazz Festival and they are regulars at the Catalina Bar and Grill.

“Jazz teaches these kids the vital importance of really listening to one another,” said JB Dyas of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. “There’s probably no better example of democracy than a jazz ensemble, because it’s individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.”

Several of the student players graduated high school this year and plan to pursue music degrees.

“If our country worked as well as a jazz group, we’d probably have a lot fewer problems,” said Dyas.

LAUSD All City Jazz Band

The LAUSD All City Jazz Band was the opening act for the 2011 Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

New museum exhibit welcomes Baby T. Rex

imageTeething toddlers can exhaust parents, but a set of chompers on a two-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex that has just arrived to the Natural History Museum may delight parents and children starting July 16. After all, those baby teeth teeth were once capable of reaching the side of a ram’s horn – each.

The ostrich-sized baby T.rex is just one of the new world-class dinosaur specimens to be unveiled to the public as part of a new 14,000 square-foot Dinosaur Hall.

Sunlight piles into the enormous, two-level showroom, which is also home to more than 300 fossils, like eggs, footprints and teeth. Two other T.rex specimens loom over the fledgling dino – one, a 20-foot-tall teenager and the other, a 34-foot-tall adult named “Thomas.” He is one of the largest and most complete T.rex skeletons ever unearthed and now stands with the only T.rex incremental growth series in the world.

“We used to have [a dinosaur hall] a few years back, but it was kind of small,” said Iliana Dominguez, a 17-year old museum volunteer. “Everybody’s been expecting one and now we finally have it. I think a lot of people are going to be coming for that hall.

Dominguez has volunteered since last year and has been trained as an educator for the new dinosaur specimens. She held up a mold of a T.rex brain – the size of a cordless telephone receiver – and explained that the creatures relied more on instinct and brawn than brainpower.

image“This really is a place to learn,” said Dominguez, a New Designs Charter School student who has her eye on an archaeology program at Cornell University. “Most of us who took the dinosaur training have been really excited to study more and learn all the facts we can.”

Volunteers and staff receive regular visits from outside experts who train them as guides in the museum’s exhibits, which range from a gem display room to an Age of Mammals display that chronicles human evolution. Gallery translators trained in details about the exhibits comb the hallways for guests looking for more in-depth knowledge.

When guests enter the Dinosaur Hall, they are first greeted by a Triceratops with a skull that weighs nearly half a ton. As they move past the bulky beast toward more elongated creatures, visitors must crane their necks to follow the 68-foot body length of a long-necked Mamenchisaurus – the museum’s largest specimen.

imageMuseum members and educators received a sneak preview this week and many slowed to a halt in awe upon entering the epic hall.

Four lively children accompanied parents Marcus and Melody Tarver, who visit the museum every few months.

“I get to learn something too, especially the things that I didn’t learn at their age,” said Marcus Tarver, 26, who attended the museum on school field trips while he grew up in nearby Compton. “Now that I’m older I can appreciate it more.”

The museum is expecting huge crowds, so they’re suggesting you reserve your tickets online to avoid long waiting times. Admission is free for members and children under 5. Ticket prices are $5 for ages 5-12, $8 for ages 13-17, $9 for college students and $12 for adults. The free Tuesday program won’t be available in July and August, but will return in September. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.

Photos by Lisa Rau

New owners give Magic Johnson Theaters a $12 million facelift

imageMore than 200 guests gathered at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza for the grand opening of a multi-million dollar new movie theater, replacing the former Magic Johnson Theater that closed last year.

The new theater, Rave Cinemas 15, is part of a $30 million renovation project to boost economic growth in and around the shopping center. The new operators plan to continue Johnson’s vision of economic development with high-quality facilities and local hiring practices. Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Herb Wesson and actor Chris Tucker were in among the grand opening’s audience.

The yearlong renovation project employed approximately 800 construction workers. More than 1,000 people had attended a theater-sponsored job fair in May. Of the 100 theater employees hired, 80 are students from Crenshaw High School and Susan Miller Dorsey High School, and six of the 10 managers live nearby.

“It’s a local crew, especially in an area where many people may not have grown up with a localized theater,” said Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing for Rave Motion Pictures. “Families like to go to the closest theater.”


The theater’s $12 million upgrade includes seven 3D screens, stadium seating and digital projection, and Devine suggested that the new facilities open the possibility to host future events such as the World Cup in 3D and the Pan-African Film Festival. For now, the theater is offering a free medium-sized popcorn to guests who attend a movie before July 4.

In addition to a thriving movie-going crowd, the company behind the project hopes to attract interest surrounding the theater and shopping center as well.

“This project is the anchor to the area in this corridor,” said Ken Lombard, president of Capri Urban Investors, which owns the mall. “As we’re able to take it up to a new level, tenants will begin to have a different attitude toward coming in and actually being part of this neighborhood.”


The company has been reaching out to local business owners, such as Big Man Bakes, a gourmet cupcake shop in downtown that has been featured on the Food Network’s “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”.

“If we decide to be a part of this, it would be probably one of the first gourmet cupcake stores in an urban area like this,” said company founder and CEO William “Chip” Brown, who is in early talks with Capri to potentially bring his business into the shopping mall, which will begin major construction during July.

“I think what they’re doing here is obviously an economic stimulus, but it’s also making people feel like their neighborhood is valued,” Brown said.

Development for the mall is slated to include such retailers as Wal-Mart and Staples with an opening date in early 2012.

Photos by Lisa Rau
(Grand Opening of Rave Cinemas 15, dance performance by Debbie Allen Dance Academy)

Leimert Park Village Book Fair Draws 5,000+ Guests


When Terry Webb penned some 800 poems decades ago, amidst a life of drugs and crime, his publishing plans didn’t extend beyond mailing them home from prison.

“During that time I would write, and I would send them to my mother,” said Webb, a Watts resident who now works as a security guard and substance abuse counselor. “God has opened the door for me to now put this material out.”

Webb was one of more than 200 authors and artists featured at the fifth annual Leimert Park Village Book Fair on Saturday, an all-day event of literary stage performances, panel discussions, readings, workshops and vendors. More than 5,000 guests strolled through the fair among such presenters as Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson and former Essence Magazine editor-in-chief Susan L. Taylor.

“We were waiting and praying to get into the book fair,” said Webb, who missed the deadline to apply for a booth and was told that he might get a spot if he showed up ready to go. “We didn’t think we’d get in.”

Hours before the fair opened, Webb waited—and prayed—with his family alongside copies of his debut book, “Poetry to God, Volume I: Lord, Please Hear the Cry,” a collection of 208 poems. Eventually, he was invited to share a booth with another author, and within an hour, he had made a sale.

“What I hope to get out of this is exposure,” said Webb. “Knowing that I’ve touched the hearts and lives of anyone who’s come in contact with this book is enough.”

In February, Webb self-published his book through Trafford Publishing and has sold about half of the 300 printed copies. It is also available electronically through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and he has three more volumes in the works.


“I think the selling part is a bonus behind it,” said Eric Brasley, an event volunteer and founder of Books of Soul, a promotional website for African American literature. “The real piece I think is just being able to share your work and interact with other people.”

Some new authors have become regulars at the book fair, such as Wilma Blair-Reed, who has attended since 2007. A retired social worker, Blair-Reed said her biggest goal is to connect with readers through life lessons.


“There’s a purpose to my writing besides entertainment,” said Blair-Reed. “Of course you have to have entertainment in there. I love to do my little page-turning things,” she said about the plot in “The Color of Hate,” a murder-mystery set in the 1960s that deals with racism, adultery and other real-life inspired challenges.

Now on her third book, Blair-Reed says all of her writing contains a simple message: “Life happens. What you get out of it, it’s typically up to you.”

Photos by Lisa Rau

Inglewood garden grows more than just food

When Frank Scroggins helped his family grow cotton, corn and watermelon on a few acres of farmland during the tail end of the Great Depression in Shreveport, Louisiana, he never thought he would find himself a small-space grower in concrete-laden Inglewood. image

For nearly four decades, Scroggins, 77, has maximized his small, half-acre yard to grow heaps of tomatoes, peas, mustard, chard, cucumbers, turnips and his favorite three varieties of collard greens. Several months ago, he took part in launching the Queen Park Learning Garden across the street from his home.

“I prayed to God for something like this to happen,” said Scroggins. “It’s hard to get kids interested, but we want to get more young people involved.”

imageScroggins and his Queen Street neighbors considered the idea of a community garden for years, although the nearby park was a challenge because of its rundown facilities. In March, they got their chance: Queen Park received a makeover with new playground equipment from KaBOOM!, a Disney-sponsored nonprofit that creates playgrounds in low-income residential areas.

“Our model is to partner with people who want it,” said D’Artagnan Scorza, director of the Social Justice Learning Institute, which provides gardening resources to Inglewood residents. “I don’t want us to run gardens. I want people to run these gardens for themselves.”

A core group of 15 Inglewood residents manages the Queen Park Learning Garden through weekly committee meetings, events and maintenance schedules. The committee’s event on Earth Day drew nearly 300 guests, 20 of whom signed up for committee involvement.

Despite a rich, agricultural past, Inglewood is one of many communities identified as a food desert: an area which lacks adequate access to fresh produce and instead, offers an abundance of liquor stores and fast food restaurants. Now with a population of 130,000, Inglewood was incorporated in 1908 with most of the land used for farming through the 1930s. After the Great Depression, most farmland gave way to industrialization and buildings that still stand along Manchester Boulevard.

By the time Scroggins arrived in 1974, he was the exception to the rule for growing his own food. Now, he hopes more residents will take part in the practice through the Queen Park Learning Garden.

“[My children] go with me on Saturdays to water, and my two-year-old loves that because he always likes to hold the hose,” said Maygan Marie-Orr, an Inglewood resident, teacher and committee member. “They have a good time trying to identify the plants, like, ‘Oh, that’s squash. Those are peppers.'”

Marie-Orr and the committee are designing a curriculum to engage students in the entire process of growing food: preparing soil, planting, maintenance and harvesting for maximum yield. So far, they have grown more than two dozen varieties of vegetables and herbs. image

Los Angeles County is home to 73 community gardens, most of which serve gardeners who have annual incomes below $25,000, according to the UC Cooperative Extension Common Ground Program, which trains gardeners to provide nutrition and growing education to low-income areas. They report that 64 percent of their gardeners make less than $15,000 per year.

“There will always be a much greater need than all of our collective agencies and efforts that are made out there,” said Yvonne Savio, Common Ground Program manager. “But more is always better when it comes to lots of information and helping people.”

The Common Ground Program was created in 1978 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture identified 20 major metropolitan cities that would use funding to help low-income communities grow their own food. The funds for Los Angeles went primarily toward establishing the Common Ground Program and ten low-income housing developments that contained community gardens. When Savio was hired in 1994, most of the housing development gardens had dwindled to non-existence due to lack of maintenance, and federal funding had steadily decreased over the years.

However, agency-funded assistance isn’t always what community members may desire for improving their food system.

“People always talk about low-income communities wanting to rely on welfare and handouts,” said Scorza. “But I always know that’s a misnomer or a misunderstanding of what’s really going on in these communities. Most communities do want help, but they want help so that they can do it for themselves.”

Still, free food programs remain the prime way residents of food desert communities receive fresh produce. As of the 2010 Census, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one in seven Americans receive food stamps, totaling 44.2 million recipients. In February 2011, more than 9.7 percent of California’s roughly 37 million residents received food stamps.

The Los Angeles Food Bank provides food for those who may not qualify for food stamps but still lack adequate funds or access to food. Through a partnership with the nonprofit Feeding America, the bank provided more than 62 million pounds of food last year, 20 percent of which came from central California farmers. However, the program has to formally team up with urban growing programs.

“It’s definitely something that could reduce the dependency on food banks and pantries if we can get more of these out there,” said Darren Hoffman, communications director for Los Angeles Food Bank. He noted that the 14-acre South Central Farm, which used to sit across the street from the bank, was a promising source of sustainable food production until it closed several years ago after a change in land ownership. The farm has since relocated closer to Bakersfield.

“We’re looking into more ways to find more sustainable ways for people to get their food, but it’s tough to try to find that time and synergies where we can link with this or that group or get more people out there growing their own food,” said Hoffman, adding that policy changes are often more effective on a large scale than individual projects.

Even though small-scale gardening groups continue to crop up across food desert neighborhoods, policy groups, too, are slow to integrate with these initiatives.

“Unfortunately, I am not aware of any relationship between the effectiveness of urban farming initiatives and the federal nutrition programs,” wrote Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate with California Food Policy Advocates, in an e-mail. “There isn’t much connection between our policy work and the impressive, neighborhood-level garden and urban agriculture projects.”

So far this year, the organization has proposed several state bills to improve nutrition education in underserved communities, such as the Putting Breakfast First Act, which would provide $350 million to California public schools to offer healthy breakfast as an alternative to sitting on an empty stomach until lunch time or snacking on junk food in between.

Large-scale programs aside, community gardeners insist that small-scale initiatives are the most effective way to educate about nutrition and health on an individualized basis. image

“Community buy-in is number one,” said Marie-Orr, who pointed out that the desire for healthier nutrition standards has been a regular conversation topic in her Inglewood neighborhood. The Queen Park Community Garden is only a few months into operation, but several vegetables are being harvested, such as beets, lettuce and several herbs.

“When I get a garden, then I’m going to grow strawberries everywhere and then pick them and eat them,” said 3-year-old Brooklyn Milliner, whose mother brings him to Queen Park to play now that the playground has been renovated.

Longtime neighbors like Scroggins were not accustomed to seeing the no-smoking signs and colorful murals that now stand prominently at Queen Park.

“If we can just keep the gang bangers out of here, this park can be for the kids,” said Scroggins, who recalled that a young man was shot and killed in front of his home a few years ago. “To tell you the truth, it’s been nicer here since they put in the whole park.”

City Planning Director to confront nuisance businesses on Western Avenue


Residents from the Martin Luther King Park neighborhood called upon Los Angeles City Planning Director Michael LoGrande to audit three businesses on Western Avenue that they claim foster criminal activity at the nearby park and library.

Residents presented LoGrande with a letter–signed by more than 300 residents–that requested a report card review of Dan Mar Motel and public hearings for Pinetree Motel and W&W recycling center. LoGrande said he is committed to reviewing the evidence and making a decision about whether to hold public hearings within 30 days. He also promised to send Dan Mar Motel a reminder that it is already scheduled for a city review on November 10.

Community speakers at a meeting on Monday described the businesses as a self-sustaining cycle of crime: offenders find recyclables at the park, cash them in at W&W and use the money for drugs or prostitutes at the motels, park and library.

“How can we make this area really thrive as a flourishing business district?” asked LoGrande. “From a planning point of view, how do we make sure we don’t have a recycling center, a motel and liquor store all next to a school or nursery?”

Residents expressed concern that even though the park was recently renovated with new playground equipment and facilities, the nearby illicit activity could revert the area back to a crime hot spot.


“We want to have a vibrant Western [District],” said Carla Guerrero, communications assistant for Community Coalition. “We want to make this a place where people are proud to live.”

Community Coalition says it is focusing on this specific stretch of Western Avenue as an example of the kind of community action it hopes to see across South L.A. neighborhoods that are troubled by drug dealing, prostitution and other illegal street activity. The group identifies “nuisance businesses” with the aim of mitigating crime by enforcing on-site security, regulation lighting and mandatory closing times.

“By getting the community involved, it kind of puts them under a microscope,” said Pierre Olega, LAPD senior lead officer who oversees the area. He explained that something as simple as informal neighborhood watch teams can discourage crime. “Arresting them doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a temporary fix, but by working with the community and city planning, we can help interrupt the process [of criminal activity].”

Photos by Lisa Rau

Officials call for Governor Brown to suspend ‘Secure Communities’

Los Angeles law enforcement already has a strained relationship with the city’s growing immigrant communities and city officials claim the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) current strategy is making it worse.

On June 7, the Los Angeles City council passed a resolution calling for the suspension of the “Secure Communities” program in California. City officials affirmed the federal program unfairly deports non-criminals and discourages immigrants from cooperating with police.

“How do you get someone to call 9-1-1 when they fear deportation for being a good samaritan?” asked Congressman Xavier Becerra (CA-31).

Rep. Becerra and fellow congressional representatives today released a letter calling for Governor Jerry Brown to suspend the program in California. The letter asserts that more than 45 percent of “individuals taken into ICE custody from L.A. County had not committed a crime or had only been charged with a low-level offense.”

“Secure Communities” was implemented in 2008 with the goal to identify undocumented criminal immigrants by sharing information with local and state law enforcement. But many of these agencies claim the program was unclear on whether or not participation was mandatory. Los Angeles officials want to halt the program until it’s reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office to prevent further rifts between law enforcement and immigrants.

Council members Bernard Parks (CD-8) and Jan Perry (CD9), who earlier this week co-sponsored a resolution calling for the suspension of “Secure Communities,” joined the congressional representatives during a press conference announcing the letter. Parks, a former Los Angeles Police Chief, said “this is about maintaining a 40-year history in the city of Los Angeles in directing its energies towards having great relationships with immigrant communities … so that people having a willingness to come forward and not be victimized.”


But not all law enforcement agencies agree the program is a bad thing. While the Los Angeles Police Department opposes the implementation of “Secure Communities,” arguing immigrants will be reluctant to report crimes for fear of deportation, Sheriff Lee Baca is a staunch supporter. Steve Whitmore, spokesperson for the sheriff, says Baca “understands their concern and shares some of these concerns, but for right now he thinks the program should be improved as it moves forward. He believes that Secure Communities is an effective program.”

Perry’s main concern is that the program discourages immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to report abuse for fear that they may be deported for contacting police for help.

“We don’t feel protected by the police so much anymore because it becomes an immigration issue, even if we’re waiting on the street for a job or bus,” said Alma Martinez, a 40-year old Salvadoran member of Janitors for Justice, a Service Employees International Union advocacy group. “We’re against what they’re doing because they’re no longer just targeting criminals, but common people.”

In addition to Becerra, the six other congressional representatives who signed the letter urging Governor Jerry Brown to act are Lucille Roybal-Allard, Judy Chu, Maxine Waters, Linda Sanchez , Grace Napolitano and Karen Bass.

Governors of Massachusetts, Illinois and New York have passed similar measures. Washington state, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania have resisted the program since its inception.

Legislation for California to withdraw from the program has passed in the state Assembly. A vote is still pending in the Senate.

“If we don’t act now,” Becerra said, “the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency may irreparably shatter the hard-earned trust and cooperation … that our local police officers have established with the people and communities of Los Angeles and beyond.”

Photos by Lisa Rau