JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED (in life and trash cans) by Tom Grode

Funky Trash Cans on San Julian St.

Funky Trash Cans on San Julian St.

Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, coined the phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” in 1958 to emphasize the importance of the nation providing people a speedy trial.

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. adapted the phrase from inside a jail cell in Birmingham Alabama to mean justice for African Americans, the ending of Jim Crow laws, of segregation, has still not happened after all this time of people in positions of power saying things must change.  It was time to take to the streets in non-violent protest until justice was birthed and established.  This was his premise in Letter From A Birmingham Jail – later considered one of the foundational documents of the Civil Rights Movement.

From Wiki:  “The Birmingham Campaign began on April 3, 1963, with coordinated marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in BirminghamAlabama. The non-violentcampaign was coordinated by Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.On April 10, Circuit Judge W. A. Jenkins issued a blanket injunction against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing”. Leaders of the campaign announced they would disobey the ruling.[1] On April 12, King was roughly arrested with Ralph AbernathyFred Shuttlesworth and other marchers—while thousands of African Americans dressed for Good Friday looked on.[2]  King met with unusually harsh conditions in the Birmingham jail.[3] An ally smuggled in a newspaper from April 12, which contained “A Call for Unity“: a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen against King and his methods.[2] The letter provoked King and he began to write a response on the newspaper itself. King writes in Why We Can’t Wait: “Begun on the margins of the newspaper in which the statement appeared while I was in jail, the letter was continued on scraps of writing paper supplied by a friendly black trusty, and concluded on a pad my attorneys were eventually permitted to leave me.”[4]

The final sentences from the open letter A Call To Unity:

“We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence. We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

The 1963 Birmingham Campaign was not about tearing down the government.  It was not about abandoning those in positions of influence or calling them failures.  It was about demonstrating to the world that the people themselves must take ownership of the struggle for civil rights.

That was “in life”.  Now “and trash cans”.

Operation Facelift Skid Row began as a grassroots movement in 2008 by OG Man (original Gangster Manuel) and General Jeff Page, Skid Row Resident representative for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.  OG describes Operation Facelift as a spiritual movement with social implications.  The purpose is to say and do what we want in a positive manner – we want clean, safe, healthy streets in Skid Row.

The Downtown News is a weekly newspaper covering Downtown Los Angeles.  They have an annual Best of Downtown issue and in 2012 here was the award given Operation Facelift for volunteer community service:


For the past year, businesses, property owners and other Downtown stakeholders clamored for cleaner streets in Skid Row, urging government officials to address the rising filth.  As they protested, a group of volunteers, most of them residents of Skid Row, picked up the Do It Yourself ethic, and began cleaning the streets with brooms, filling donated trash cans as they went.  The volunteers, who comprise “Operation Facelift”, were cleaning San Julian Street for months before a county health report spurred the city into action.  They asked for donated equipment, but not for media attention or accolades.  –  Ryan Vaillancourt

Part of Operation Facelift is the Skid Row Brigade.  Begun in 2007 by OG as a way to challenge the men of Skid Row to take civic pride in their community through acts of service, the men (and now women) of the Skid Row Brigade can be identified by their green uniforms and caps.

When Sara Hernandez, Downtown Area Director, began the City Council Number Fourteen (CD-14) Skid Row Working Group, she reached out to OG and the Skid Row Brigade in February 2013.  Number one on the list of priorities for the group was trash cans and policy.

For what happened in March and April with the CD-14 Skid Row Working Group read  “One Man’s Trash…”.  A trash can in Skid Row is not a trash can.  It’s a symbol of systems, of government neglect, social confusion, the need to come together as a community, a way to empower the individual who can’t seem to make the first step towards a better life.

But then May appeared followed by June and this burst of success, this dramatic forward movement in April, seemed to become the lyrics of Camelot – Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment that was known/As Camelot.

The verdict was announced.  Pilot project did it’s job.  The white wire were best and the ABT’s soon disappeared to be replaced by white wire.  But it didn’t happen. The disappearance happened but not the replacement.   May days turned into May weeks until the weeks ran out and became June as we headed into a long hot summer.

In the meantime……

I’m a fan of strange verses in the Old Testament, like the one about standing in the gap:

The Book of Ezekiel chapter 22:

23 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 24 Son of man, say unto her, Thou art the land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon in the day of indignation. 25 There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. 26 Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them. 27 Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have daubed them with untempered  morter, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the Lord hath not spoken. 29 The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. 30 And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. 31 Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God.

In other words, it doesn’t take a lot of people for a big impact.  It takes resolve.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the one standing in the gap – the Funky Trash Can.  Part of Operation Facelift, the Funky Trash Cans are fun and colorful and inspirational.  In short, funky.  Small and light, these mobile trash cans are carried about by the homeless from tent encampment to tent encampment, not only in the boundaries of Skid Row but beyond.  To be a trash can you must be a curvy piece of plastic or metal with handles that someone calls a trash can, but to be a Funky Trash Can you must be painted with bright colors with usually one colorful word like LOVE or JOY or PEACE.

Twenty-four hours a day on the streets of Skid Row the Funky Trash Cans speak their simple colorful message.  Quiet but not silent.

Funky Trash Can in Gladys Park

Funky Trash Can in Gladys Park

By Tom Grode

Blogger’s note: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Trees on San Pedro Street Project editrix, Ms. McNenny. This is a Community improvement blog and not faith-based.

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