Injured dog found in Compton

imageThis dog was hit by a car around 12:30 this afternoon at the intersection of Long Beach Blvd and Orchard Ave in Compton. He sustained some minor injuries, but it looks like he’s going to pull through.

He’s currently at North Central Animal Services. After their medical team looks at him, they will keep him until the end of the week, then he will be put up for adoption.

If this dog looks familiar, please pass the word along to his (or her!) family. He wasn’t wearing a collar or tags, but appeared to be well-fed, recently groomed and had a very sweet disposition.

Visitors to the Compton Courthouse traffic court face long lines, high fees

A no-win situation image

The way William Kirkwood sees it, he’s going to end up back in jail either way. He’s not actually at the Compton Courthouse for himself. He’s here with his brother. But later in the week he’s got his own traffic arraignment downtown for a Metro ticket. He’s not sure how much the ticket will cost him, but he’s failed to appear at several previous hearings and figures he owes at least a couple hundred dollars by now.

“If I don’t have money to pay them, how am I going to pay them?” Kirkwood asked. “If I go to commit a crime to try and pay off this ticket, then what? I’m gonna go back to jail, right? If I don’t pay the ticket, then they’re going to track me down and I’ll go to jail. I’m in a no-win situation with this court.”

Indeed, no love seems lost between Kirkwood and the Compton Courthouse. Earlier he was kicked out of the room where his brother was giving his plea. Before the arraignments began, the bailiff was clear about not coming in the courtroom unless your name was posted on a list by the door. Kirkwood ignored the rule and went in with his brother. He said he doesn’t trust what goes on inside those rooms.

“I could be out here for four hours while he’s handcuffed and going to jail,” he said. It was his excess talking that eventually got him kicked out.

Kirkwood’s got his complaints, but he’s also got ideas. He thinks traffic court could be better with a few improvements.

“For one, the long wait we have to wait. We’re out here at 8 in the morning, and things don’t start until 11.”

In the Compton Courthouse, traffic court does begin at 9, but only for people with trials. People who come to plead guilty or not guilty have to wait in the hallway until the trials are done—usually about a two-hour process.

“Then they need to change the way they talk to people,” Kirkwood continued. “They think they can talk to you any kind of way, like you’re a kid. I’m not a kid. I’m a grown man. I expect respect.”

In a word, frustrated.

Padraig O’Callaghan comes from a different world than Kirkwood. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland, and has never, before today, been inside a courthouse for a ticket. But in many ways, his sentiments are the same.

O’Callaghan said the instructions about appearing in court said to arrive before 9, so he was here at 8:50. He didn’t know he’d have to wait for the trials to finish up first. At around 10:30, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, he sighed.

“If I had to choose one word to describe the mood right now, it would be ‘frustrated.’”

He’s right. About 40 people lined the sides of the hallways outside the traffic courtroom. Several had resorted to sitting on the floor. About half had their cell phones out, texting or playing games. A toddler tugged at her mom’s shirt, upset, and started moaning, “Mommy, mommy,” over and over again.

At one point, the traffic court cashier opened her office door, stuck her head out into the hallway, and snappily asked, “Whoever is banging on the wall, please stop.” Everyone looked around befuddled. No one had been banging.

Minutes ticked by, and more people started to sit on the ground. The toddler’s complaints turned into full on crying. Someone made a comparison about being stuck on an airplane.

“Poor kiddo,” said O’Callaghan.

At 10:55, the traffic court bailiff, Deputy Stannard, appeared in the hallway. He cupped his hands around his mouth and announced that everyone needed to form four lines, one on each of the big rows of white tiles on the floor.

“Not the brown squares. Stand on four white squares,” he repeated.

O’Callaghan rolled his eyes. He whispered, “I feel like a sheep.”

Stannard clarified the purpose of traffic arraignment court to the group. “All you’re gonna do is tell the judge guilty or not guilty. The judge is not here to hear your case.”

image“If you want a trial, he continued, “you have to pay the ticket first, and if you don’t have the money, the judge doesn’t care.”

The judge Stannard referred to is Ellen C. Deshazer. Stannard said she’s been the traffic judge at the Compton Courthouse for about a year and a half. The last judge was there three years. They don’t usually stay much longer than that, Stannard said.

Stannard continued his pre-arraignment speech, reminding people that if they wanted community service, there was still a fee for that, and it wasn’t an option if someone already had a job.

“If you want community service you have to ask to the judge.” He repeated the phrase again, word for word. “Don’t tell me later that you didn’t hear me say that—because if you didn’t hear me say it, three times now, then frankly you shouldn’t get anything.”

He advised people with tickets for driving solo in the carpool lane to avoid claiming another driver ran them off the road and forced them into the special lane.

“It’s a running joke about swerving into the carpool lane around here.” He said. “Don’t try it.”

His final piece of advice was not to blame a child for a seatbelt violation. “No one believes your kid unbuckled your seatbelt.”

As he ushered people into the courtroom, he asked the woman with the crying child, now slightly calmer, to stay outside. He would come and get her when her name was called. Later, he came back into the hall and the two made small talk. He looked at her ticket and said she could reduce her fine by going to traffic school.

The woman seemed unsure. She didn’t think she’d have time.

“Oh, it’s not a big deal,” Stannard said. He explained she could do the course online, from her home.

“I’d get a pizza and have some friends over,” he said. “Put the little one to bed and make a night out of it.”

Thoughts to share, but no chance to speak

Robert Rocha has been to his fair share of L.A. County traffic courts. He likes the one in San Pedro the best.

“At San Pedro, they take everyone in at the same time,” he said. “That way you’re not left waiting with no chairs.”

He’s also had plenty of interactions with court employees. Deputy Stannard yelled at Rocha and his friend for talking while he was trying to give his pre-court speech.

Rocha’s friend is waiting for his sister to get out of traffic court. He thinks she’ll have to pay $1,000–two $500 tickets for the same thing. Rocha’s not sure what his friend’s sister got a ticket for. He thinks it might be a DUI, but probably not, since that’s a matter handled in a different courtroom.

“Maybe open container then,” he speculated as he checked his watch. Rocha had to make it to a parole meeting in Long Beach after wrapping up here.

Suddenly, Kirkwood emerged from the courtroom, a goofy grin on his face, despite having just been kicked out. Rocha doesn’t know Kirkwood, but they bond over their mutual dislike of Deputy Stannard.

Rocha makes a joke about black and brown relations. Kirkwood is black and Rocha is Latino.

“Yeah, they say we’re not supposed to get along, but look at this love,” said Kirkwood, wrapping an arm around Rocha’s shoulder.

O’Callaghan came out shortly after and made his way into another line, this one to pay the cashier.

He pleaded guilty to riding a Metro bus without the appropriate pass. He said he bought a weeklong pass on a Saturday, but broke his rib the following Monday and ended up not using the pass until two weeks later. In Ireland, he said, bus riders validate their passes once they get on the bus, so the week doesn’t begin until you actually use the pass. He didn’t know the week starts at the date of purchase in LA.

“It’s quite draconian that you can’t even speak up,” he said. “That’s $180. Just gone.”

O’Callaghan would have liked to have had a trial and explained his case, but he didn’t want to take another day off of work to come back to the court.

He took one last glance at the receipt from the cashier’s office before folding it in half and stuffing it in his pocket.

“No Irish luck today,” he said.

South LA residents collaborate at Building Healthy Communities celebration

More than 200 people and 30 South LA community organizations gathered at Bethune Middle School this morning to discuss aspects of healthy living and the needs of their neighborhoods.

The event, Building Health Communities, was a celebration of sorts, an opportunity for nonprofits and active residents to come together and meet face to face. The California Endowment and Social Action Partners sponsored the event, which included drumming, dancing, poetry readings, and a resource fair. South LA is one of the 14 communities statewide the California Endowment selected to be a part of its Building Health Communities program.

After breakfast and some performance art, Dr. Sandra Villanueva, Ph.D., led the crowd through a collaborative exercise in asset mapping. Traditional research like surveys and polls tend to show the issues and problems with an area, Villanueva explained. But asset mapping takes a different approach–it shows the strengths of an area and looks at the gifts and talents the residents, associations, and institutions of an area have to offer. Business owners, grant writers, artists, and musicians all took turns standing up, demonstrating some of the abilities and skills community members possessed.

Asset mapping, Villanueva said, is all about “making the invisible visible.” The motto seemed to apply to the entire event–people were happy to have their voices heard. Even when addressing tough issues, as people chatted, swapped business cards and exchanged ideas, a feeling of hope and enthusiasm prevailed.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters hosts community meeting on federal budget cuts

Hundreds of South LA residents gathered at Jesse Owens Park today to attend a community meeting on federal budget cuts hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Many in attendance work with community organizations that are at risk of losing funding because of federal budget cuts. Signs demanded everything from more jobs to more money for early childhood education or senior care.

Sunny skies and upbeat music lightened the mood, but there was no mistaking the serious subject matter—people were concerned about what these cuts will mean for them.

When Waters took the stage, she addressed the fiscal frustration in her opening statements: “We’re sick and tired of the mess that’s going on…we are not going to take these cuts sitting down.”

She saw the large and vocal crowd as a clear counter to the accusation that her district is quiet and complacent. “Nobody is going to do more for us than we do for ourselves,” Waters said.

Later, addressing the near shut down of the federal government the night before, Waters initially had good news. “The government is not going to shut down now. I don’t know if we deserve any applause for that, but we didn’t want the government to shut down. People are depending on their paychecks and services.”

But she cautioned that the stability would not last long. “We’re going to have to vote on Wednesday for the deal that was cut on the permanent continuant resolution through the end of the year.”

Waters encouraged her constituents to seek out information through the news and the internet so they would know exactly what was on the chopping block in the latest round of proposed cuts.

In addition to State Assemblymen Isadore Hall and LA City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, local government leaders from the surrounding cities of Carson, Lawndale, and Gardena also spoke.

Waters introduced local religious leaders as well as the heads of dozens of community organizations. Many encouraged residents to continue to band together as a community. Several stressed the importance of writing to senators and the president. There was also mention of the recent protests in Wisconsin and Ohio and the suggestion that California could be next.

Latisha Edwards works for the Training and Research Foundation Head Start Program in Inglewood. When asked why she came to the meeting, she pointed to her bright purple sign that read, “Head Start is the foundation of education.”

“My sign says it all,” she said. “Without education there is no future, and without a future, there’s nothing.”

House Republicans introduced a bill this month to reduce Head Start funding by $2 billion—nearly a quarter of President Obama’s 2011 budget request.

“We need funds for our kids because without those funds and education, how do you have doctors, lawyers, senators, governors, presidents?” Edwards continued. “How can our country be a leading country?”

Read more on this topic:
Advocates, citizens, leaders celebrate first birthday of health care bill
South LA officials and community members push to save libraries

Para Los Ninos goes green with help from new solar panels

Students at Para Los Ninos Charter Elementary School near Skid Row get pumped up when they talk about sustainable energy. For weeks, lessons about solar energy and other ways of generating green power have been incorporated into their math and science curriculums.

This week, students saw their studies come alive. California Solar Electric installed solar panels on the roof of the school that will generate enough energy to power eight of the downtown school’s classrooms.

The solar panels were a part of a $1.2 million Walmart Foundation grant to the National Energy Education Development Project. As a part of the Solar Schools Grant Initiative, Para Los Ninos and three other LA-area schools (Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, Amino Inglewood Charter High School, and Amino South Los Angeles High School) were outfitted with solar panels.

Between the four schools, the solar panels are expected to save more than $4,700 in energy costs and prevent more than 127 tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

In addition to studying the science behind solar power, students seem to grasp some of the economic benefits as well.

Daniel, a fifth grade student at Para Los Ninos wanted other kids his age to know about the benefits of green energy. “If they start saving energy today, they can save money so they can have it as a grown up,” he said.

Read more on this topic:

Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school

DWP reaches its renewable energy goal, but some just call it luck

Helping tenants know their rights in Boyle Heights

Maria Rodriguez has lived in her sunshine-yellow Boyle Heights duplex for ten years. With her first landlord, rents stayed relatively stable over time. But when he sold the building, subsequent owners have raised prices suddenly and dramatically.

It was when one owner requested an additional $500 or face eviction that Rodriguez began to panic. “In the beginning, I thought it was a joke,” Rodriguez said. “But then I got very nervous and was afraid that I had to leave this house.”

A friend put her in contact with the community organization Union de Vecinos, who intervened with her landlord on her behalf and had the rent lowered back to a more affordable rate.

Based largely in Boyle Heights and Maywood, Union de Vecinos describes their organization as a “network of neighborhood and building communities” where residents can come together to observe problems in their neighborhoods, reflect on some of the root problems and then come together to enact change.

Rodriguez has become a more active member of the organization over time. She cites graffiti removal and stop sign installations as ways the group has made her neighborhood a more pleasant place to live.

But things still aren’t perfect. Now that her rent is more stable, she’s more concerned about safety issues inside her home: mold in the upper corner of her bathroom that refuses to go away, a gaping hole in her ceiling from when a fire alarm was swapped out for one of a different size and a kitchen window with only heavy plastic for a pane.

Every time she tells her landlord about these problems, he sends someone out to fix them, but the work is quick and rudimentary at best. She finally got real windowpanes for her kitchen, but only after waiting more than a month with the plastic substitutes.

She’s not alone with her concerns about repairs. Around her neighborhood, the quick fixes are known as “Mickey Mouses.”

“Supposedly they come and fix the house, but they really don’t do a good job, just apparently it looks fixed, but it’s not really fixed. It’s all appearances,” Rodriguez said.

Laura Cuadros from Union de Vecinos works on community organizing related to tenants’ rights in Boyle Heights. She said the problem is not only the shoddy repairs, but also the equipment and trash inspectors and repairmen leave behind.

“It’s unsafe just to have this stuff lying around,” she said, pointing to a pile of twisted scrap metal and plywood in the yard of Rodriguez’s neighbor.

Rodriguez is happy to have her home and the support of Union de Vecinos. But she can’t help but worry about her kids. One night while she was sleeping, part of her ceiling began to crumble and fell onto her bed.

She motioned to her toddler sleeping soundlessly in a crib placed in a small walkway between her kitchen and living area. “What if the same thing were to happen again? How could I protect them?”

Bernard Parks officially wins City Council District 8 election


Bernard Parks officially won a third term on the Los Angeles City Council today after the City Clerk’s Office released a final tally giving him 51.21 percent of the vote in the March 8 election.
Parks received 9,482 votes, while his closest challenger, Forescee Hogan-Rowles got 8,058 votes, or 43.52 percent, according to the clerk’s figures.

Parks did not wait to declare victory—he announced that he had won on election night after unofficial results gave him 50.89 percent of the vote. Hogan-Rowles, however, did not concede,
saying the number of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots meant that Parks might not have the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.
In a campaign update sent via email, Hogan-Rowles said, “I’m proud of our campaign and the coalition we built together with workers and neighborhood leaders. We came just a few votes away from forcing Bernard Parks into a runoff—even though he used to be one of the most popular leaders in the City.”

She continued, “Our campaign sends an important message to elected leaders like Bernard Parks, who ignore their constituents and the workers who keep our city working: no matter how popular you think you are you can’t take the people for granted.”
Photo by Sarah Golden

Read more on this topic:
Hogan-Rowles advocates a run-off election
Bernard Parks celebrates election in Leimert Park
City Council candidates discuss the issues in South LA

Compton student wins $40,000 for college from the free throw line

Students, teachers, band members and cheerleaders packed the Compton High School gymnasium this afternoon. But this was no ordinary pep rally.

Out of the 80 Compton High School seniors with a 3.0 or better GPA, eight were selected to compete in a free throw-shooting contest for a chance to win $40,000 in college scholarships.

Screenwriter Court Crandall (“Old School”) set up the contest as a part of a documentary called “Free Throw” about the lives of Compton students. The winner of the free throw shoot-out would win $40,000 for college and the other participants would receive $1,000 scholarships.

When Allan Guei sunk the winning basket in the final round of the contest, his classmates surrounded him, jumping up and down and enveloping him in a giant hug.

But the excitement didn’t end there. After Guei was presented his check, Jesse Jones, the principal of Compton High School, announced that the other seven seniors would receive one-year scholarships to state universities.

The crowd erupted into cheers and the students continued to hug each other, wide-eyed and overcome with emotion.

“This is my 30th year as principal,” Jones said. “Nothing like this has ever happened. I’ve had some gifts and blessings, but not where they involved the entire student body…whether they won or not, they were here, they cheered, and it gave them inspiration that ‘next time, I can do this.’”

Read more on this topic:
Basketball players teach healthy living at local elementary school
Compton beauty queen speaks out for her community

Small citations add up to big problems in Skid Row and South LA

It’s rare to catch Becky Dennison alone at her desk. Co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, Dennison spends many of her working hours with community leaders, committee heads, and the homeless and low income people her nonprofit seeks to help.

In the past month, she’s been to housing protests, court cases, and police commissioner meetings. But recently, more and more of her group’s time and energy have been devoted to helping people deal with one thing: crosswalk violations.

In between bites of instant noodles, Dennison spoke from her funky, loft-like office in the Community Action Network’s headquarters downtown about the transformation of the group over time.

Since the organization was founded over 12 years ago, Dennison has seen changes in the size and scope of the group’s membership, but also in the primary issues they’re addressing. What started as a nonprofit hoping to fix civil rights violations in Skid Row morphed into a housing and tenants’ rights group and now, more recently, they’ve added a legal clinic to help people deal with the massive amount of citations that are handed out downtown.

The emphasis shifted in 2006 with the start of LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative, which put 50 extra officers in Skid Row and embraced the “broken windows” theory of policing. The thought was that if the increased police presence could help control quality of life issues like vandalism, bigger issues like violent crimes and robberies would also drop.

The success of the initiative depends on whom you ask. Police say crime is down, and even though it was supposed to be an intensive, nine-month project, the initiative is still going on almost five years later.

Dennison thinks the project is directly related to the gentrification of downtown. “It’s our position, so it’s an unfounded opinion, but it is based in reality, is that the point of Safer Cities was to clear folks out of the area. The original name for it was the Homeless Reduction Strategy.”

Whatever the name, the operation has seen increased levels of tickets and citations throughout Skid Row. “In the first year alone they gave 12,000 citations out in a community that’s home to 15,000 people,” Dennison said.

“And so, for people who don’t break the law, the tickets are a way to get folks into the system, and get them a warrant, and then when you do the sweep, you find the warrant and you put people in jail,” she continued. “And the idea is, if you put folks in jail enough times, they’ll just give up and leave the neighborhood.”

As it turns out, people have not left the neighborhood—Dennison said they’re grounded in Skid Row because all their services are there.

And a 2008 study by UCLA concluded that the Safer Cities Initiative did not reduce crime in Skid Row except in the case of robberies, where there was a reduction in one robbery per year for each officer assigned to the area.

But the people seeking help at Community Action Network’s legal clinic are not worried about robberies, Dennison said. They’re working about citations.
“The reason we took on the citations in the clinic is because for simple crosswalk violations, you’ve got a $160 fine to begin with, you can’t pay it within a couple months and it’s $666 dollars, and then you have a warrant, and then you’re in jail.”

And Dennison is careful to point out that these crosswalk violations are different from jaywalking or “or actual things that could put people at risk.”

“Something like 80 percent of our tickets are for walking on the flashing don’t walk sign, which just means you basically didn’t walk fast enough,” Dennison said.

While there are some other options for legal aid in Skid Row, Community Action Network is the only one that directly addresses these citations and helps to get the tickets dismissed.

“And then for those that we can’t get outright dismissed, we can get a much more reasonable community service,” Dennison said. She explained for community services sentences through the court, there’s still a fee involved. Through Community Action Network people are able to perform those same service options for free.

At a Board of Police Commissioners meeting about the Safer Cities Initiative in early March, Central Division Captain Todd Chamberlain told Annenberg Radio News that the officers in the initiative go above and beyond their duties. “These people are not assigned there,” said Chamberlain. “They make a choice to come and work in the SCI area. That’s an extremely difficult and unique adventure to go out into every single day, and yet they do it with a passion and they do it because they really got a calling in their heart of hearts to be there supporting that community.”

Dennison still thinks the endless tickets and citations are less about support and more about trying to move undesirable people out of an area that’s otherwise just waiting to be gentrified.

“You walk around the city, do you get jaywalking tickets?” she asked. “I’ve never gotten one anywhere, including here. It’s a very targeted effort.”

Wordle based on transcript of Becky Dennison’s interview

Pennacle Foundation expands after school community program

The Pennacle Foundation has offered residential services and treatments for youth with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities since 1998. But now, with the founding of a new after-school program at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in off Vermont Avenue, the program’s leaders hope to expand their offerings to more students in the surrounding community.

Carolyn Ruffin is one of the program’s directors and administrators. She said she’s always seen a need for a special kind of youth center for the kids that Pennacle works with.

“One of the problems I was finding with the school and with other organizations that provide supportive services to the youth is that our kids are very special when it comes to behaviors and they don’t always fit into that square peg. They’re round,” Ruffin said.

So when St. Mark’s had some space available in the back of its building last summer, Ruffin jumped at the chance to take over the space and launch the youth center.

Three nights a week, around 11 middle and high school students come to St. Mark’s for food, free time, and some kind of special project. This month, they’re breaking into groups and researching different historical figures who have spent time in jail and learning what their lives were like post incarceration.

“They wrote about people from what they’re used to, like Tupac, and also Martin Luther King or someone from history, like Mandela,” said Ruffin.

Once a quarter, academic awards are given out for strong performances at school. Almost everyone gets something, Ruffin said, and those with 3.0 GPAs and above get special certificates printed and displayed on the wall.

In the coming months, the center will add a senior citizens program and set up a community service day on Saturdays. Over the winter holidays, the center was able to hold a holiday party. The students assembled bags of food and were able to offer one to every parent and child that walked through the door.

“Because one of the things I truly believe is that the kids need to learn about empowering their communities and giving back,” Ruffin said. “We want the kids to understand where they’re at, where they came from, and where they’re going.”

Listen to Adrian Nelson, one of the students involved with the Pennacle Foundation, talk about why he loves the after school program at St. Mark’s.