Wednesday, August 12, 2009

LA Times Is Not a Good Neighbor to Skid Row

This morning I read the article the LA Times published about the murders at the Lamp residential building in the Skid Row community. It is now twelve hours later and I am still wondering what the purpose of the article was. I found out about the article when a former counselor in one of the many Skid Row programs called me to inform me about it. Yes, the article created a stir but not much more. The only thing it did was continue to associate Skid Row with drugs and crime. And yet there is so much more to the community.

The Los Angeles Times and the Skid Row community are neighbors. Skid Row is known as the homeless capital of the United States. There is no other member of the press in the country which is in a better position than the Los Angeles Times to examine the complex forces which culminate in the ever increasing homeless population in a community two blocks away from its headquarters. It can serve as the lightning rod for the Los Angeles community, as well as others, to end this problem. I have said many times, "if you solve the problems of Skid Row, you solve the problems of this country." The LA Times is at ground zero of many of the issues which plague America. It neither examines the negative forces within it, nor reports on the various grassroots movements sprouting within its borders to bring about positive change. Instead, it lowers itself to tabloid journalism and sensationalizes a double murder in community about which it knows nothing.

When was the last time the LA Times talked about Skid Row? Oh yes, I believe it was during the premiere of 'The Soloist' when every mainstream media outlet joined the 'hoopla bandwagon' surrounding the movie. It was not going to be left out of course. But it fails to take the lead in doing an in debt series on a community which is a mirror of many threads which comprise the fabric of America. There is enough about Skid Row, positive and negative to earn its own section in the Los Angeles Times.

The writer singles out the Lamp organization for failing to protect its residents. Let me presume to educate this writer. Drugs are sold and done in practically every building in Skid Row. I am in a position to comment on it. I lived in three Skid Row buildings. In each of them there was a constant battle to keep drugs out. Drug dealers, as well as users are ingenious at devising ways to smuggle drugs into the residential buildings. Every night I hear security guards chatter on the walkie-talkies. They vigilantly report to their supervisors that doors and windows are secured. I currently work in a residential hotel in Skid Row. Among other things, it is my job to monitor the conduct of visitors which enter the facility. I never know if a guest is upset at a person residing in the building. I never know if a guest has a secret agenda of taking revenge for an insult, real or imagined. I never know if a tenant, lucid yesterday, forgot to take his meds today and believes that the world is out to kill him. When that happens, violent behavior can occur at any time. Every manager of a Skid Row building knows who is selling and/or using drugs in it. There is little anyone can do about it unless it is done openly. We cannot search people even when it is obvious they are bringing drugs into a building.

When was the last time a member of the Los Angeles Times staff talked to residents or workers other than during a high profile issue? I talked to General Jeff, Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council board member representing Skid Row, in the beginning of his second year in office. Few people know the various components of Skid Row and how they intersect like he does. I asked him if the writer of the Lamp article has talked to him. "I have never talked to anyone from the LA Times since I was elected as a DLANC board member." Why do they not talk about the many things that are happening in Skid Row? "Walter, they do not want to talk about anything good that goes on in Skid Row!!!" he added.

Skid Row is not a static environment. The nature of the neighborhood is in constant motion as are many of the residents which come and go on a daily basis. I have been a part of the community for a long time. I struggle to understand it and the many challenges it faces. I am here every day and must update myself on the minute changes. And yet, a writer who spends no time in the community-who has no investment in it- publishes a skewed snapshot of it(as if the snapshot of this Lamp facility is an aberration in the community), and, in its wake, Skid Row residents, unnerved, hustle for answers about their safety and the genuine dedication of social service providers to ensure it. When the dust settles, the writer knows no more about the community than he did before the murders took place.

If The Los Angeles Times spent any time gardening in its backyard, it would learn that many beautiful things are growing in Skid Row; the Skid Row Photography Club, Film Club, 3on3 Streetball League and the newly formed Skid Row Bureau of Journalism. These grassroots organizations serve to uplift the self esteem of the residents. Stories about those organizations may encourage people in the city, starving to find ways to help, to contribute their talent and or results to further progress. Instead, articles like the one published this morning, have the residents feeling bitter; their community is only featured when the stories can give an "Oh My God" reaction from the readership. Moreover, people are scared to become involved.

People who live in Skid Row have so little but give so much to each other. America needs to learn more about the quality of this community. The spirit of giving and caring blankets the environment. Thr, e LA Times, which has so much, gives so little attention and help to its neighbor. It reminds me of the 1960's character Mrs Kravitz in the sitcom Bewitched. Mrs. Kravitz would either visit the Stevens house only when she wanted to dig up some dirt or sneak across the street and peer through the Stevens' blinds until she saw something. Then she would run back across the street screaming and yelling until she could find anyone to whom she could gossip about her latest discovery. ,

The LA Times, not taking the lead in shedding light on the myriad of complex forces that plague Skid Row, and thus, America, should just run back across the street to its big building and draw down the blinds and hide in fear of its neighbor until it has the guts to come out and discover the people of Skid Row are like the bear, Gentle Ben. Until it does and begins to report about Skid Row in an active effort to bring change, it will only sound like the gossipy Mrs. Kravitz.