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.

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

OPINION: Working hard or hardly working: the Black teen unemployment crisis

By LaMonica Peters

The very first job I had was at Taco Bell in a popular Los Angeles mall. I prepared the food and wore a God-awful uniform made of brown polyester that made me sweat and itch. But I wanted to work so badly that it didn’t matter. I even pretended to be older than I was to get the job. I was able to buy my own clothes for school and other things I wanted, that my father either couldn’t or wouldn’t provide. It made me feel great!

Though I don’t remember being teased, I do remember that kids made fun of people who worked at fast food restaurants like Burger King or McDonalds. It was almost as if those jobs were beneath some people and not considered reputable, even for teens. I assume it was because these were low-paying, minimum wage jobs, but when you are 16 and unskilled, how much should you expect to make?

Due to the recent U.S. economic downturn, not only has black unemployment been a hot topic, but black teen unemployment has been in the spotlight as well. The Grio reports that black teen unemployment has been higher than any other demographic group since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking results in 1972. Nationally, the black teen unemployment rate was at nearly 40% for March 2011, down from 45% in February, for teens ages 16 to 19 years old. Historically, black teen unemployment has been four times higher than the national average and twice as high as white teens.

As an African American, these stats are deeply troubling for me — but for a different reason. I’m troubled because I personally have never had a problem finding employment, even when I was a teenager. Frankly, I can’t recall a time in my life when I was unemployed for any extended period of time. Why is this number consistently so high? Former Chief Economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Bill Rodgers told The Grio that there are a number of reasons for these devastating statistics: lack of education, lack of job training and skills, work ethic, racial bias and inconsistent job creation.

It’s no secret that America’s school system is failing, and that has lead to steady joblessness, mass incarceration and even death for millions of African Americans. It’s no secret that racial bias and discrimination are still alive and well. However, I believe that somewhere along this road the African American community as a whole has failed to hold each other and the school system accountable for the futures of our children. Since 1972, the United Negro College Fund has used the slogan “A Mind is Terrible Thing to Waste.” I believed that when I heard it, I believed my mother when she told me at the age of nine that I should go to college, and I believed the teachers who told us that we could make it. Why have we allowed this?

It seems nowadays that getting an education is unpopular and working for minimum wage is still uncool for black teens. Isn’t this attitude part of the problem too? Are black parents promoting education and preparing their teens for the work force? I’ll never forget watching a documentary on BET a few years ago about the state of black men and this young man said he would rather die than work at Burger King. Really? What in God’s name would make him feel like that? He was uneducated, unskilled, hopeless and clearly uninformed. I guess no one ever told him that he could actually be a manager some day or even own the restaurant. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth by any means, and, as a matter of fact, growing up was tough for me. My father had a nasty drug addiction at the time and I had to work and obtain loans to put myself through UCLA. But the one bit of advice my father gave me was that nothing beats an honest day of work if it’ll keep you out of prison and the grave yard before your time. That advice should be taught in schools, plastered all over the internet and screamed from every roof top if it’ll keep us from continuing this terrible trend.

We are partially responsible for these black teen unemployment rates. It takes a village to raise a child and the village has disappeared. If we don’t show them, how will they know?

I challenge black parents and teens to fight for their futures and the chance to provide a better life for their families the same way I did. Let’s not just accept these statistics as the status quo.

We can do better. We must do better. It’s up to us.

REVIEW: Crooked Road

Review by LaMonica Peters

Finding The Lost Studio on La Brea Avenue was like being on a treasure hunt. This quaint theater house isn’t easily noticeable from the street, but once I was inside the intimate space I knew I was in for something special.

Crooked Road, written by Erin Gaw, is a story about Anne Morris (played by Kristal Adams) and her journey to get her life and love back after spending eight years caring for her family.

The play opens with video vignettes uniquely displayed on the back wall of the set. Black and white images of a love found and lost between Anne and Erik Miller (played by Erik Snodgrass) sets up what’s to come. As fate would have it, Anne reunites with her college sweetheart Erik as the family decides to rent their home to save money. The family owns a boutique real estate firm and the failing economy forces them to downsize. Erik is now the lead singer of a successful local band and he unknowingly agrees to rent out the family’s home while back in town to perform.

Getting back to love is no easy task for Anne or Erik. While Anne’s overbearing father Walter Morris (played by Kabin Thomas) is trying to arrange marriage for her with a man she doesn’t love, Erik is pursued by fellow band mate Jane Harwell (played by Corissa Pacillas Smith). After some soul searching, Anne faces her fears of putting herself first and being in love again by letting Erik know that she still loves him. Ultimately they both discover that true love never dies.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this cast was multi-racial and the couple who played the main characters was interracial. What was beautiful about watching this story unfold was that race was never an issue in the story line. It simply dealt with issues of family, friendship and love that all people experience in life. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I felt like I had a glimpse into the future where racial identity is a thing of the past and I loved what I saw.

Music is an important aspect of the plot and there was plenty of live music throughout the show with original pieces written by Ted and Thena Beam. Though the vocal performances weren’t strong, it was nice to see actors stretch their abilities. image

Kristal Adams and Erik Snodgrass are solid as the leads but I was most impressed by Sarah Morales (played by Anna Klein). From the moment she appeared on stage, it was like a new energy had been injected; she is a natural. In one defining scene, Sarah confides in Anne about the decisions she made in her past relationship, using the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree as an analogy. I felt authentic emotion between the two characters and I believe Anna Klein’s presence had a lot to do with it. Anne’s sister Mary Davis (played by Kelicea Meadows), reminded me of a younger Taraji P. Henson. She had great comedic timing and delivery, providing laughs whenever she appeared.

Crooked Road is a modern day, coming-of-age story that reminds you of how short life can be and how one decision can change everything. But it also reminds you that there are second chances in life if you have the courage to take advantage of them.

Crooked Road directed by Naisa Wong

Performances through Sunday, March 27, 2011

For more information, go to

Read a blog on Crooked Roadby director Naisa Wong on LA Stage Times