BEING SORRY by Tom Grode (Man of the Sea)

(Below post is from Tom Grode, a contributor to this blog. This will be his last posting from his Summer journey back east series of stories.) 

Apologize. Express Regret. Make Amends. Repent. Say You’re Sorry. Be Remorseful.

Central City East in Downtown Los Angeles. You’ve never heard of it. Most people in Los Angeles have never hear of it. Skid Row. You’ve heard of it. One of the most iconic nicknames in America.

Skid Row (Central City East). The place the down and outters go began in the Pacific Northwest. Loggers did seasonal work and a slick trail was built so the massive logs could slide downhill. A skid road. Some of the seasonal loggers didn’t save up their money to take back home, instead they spent it on booze, gambling, loose women. They ended up destitute along a row of dilapidated housing in the woods. Skid row.

Like their Northwest counterparts, in the late 1800’s, seasonal farm workers arrived by train into Downtown Los Angeles to harvest the orchards and crops. SRO (single room occupancy) hotels – tiny rooms and communal bathrooms – were built since their goal was to spend as little money as possible in Los Angeles, send most of it back home. Some didn’t accomplish that goal. Skid Row.

When the Depression hit, all these SRO hotels became housing stock for the poor and Skid Row became a city within a city. If the words Skid Row do anything, they evoke images: hundreds of disheveled looking people, mainly older African American men, standing in line outside one of the massive missions; dozens of people in line on the street waiting for food from some people who just drove up and opened their hatchback; someone sleeping on the sidewalk in warm sunshine; trash cans overflowing onto the sidewalks; rats; human feces. Those are the images. The smell is the smell of urine, pervasive, a concrete perfume.

Europeans who come to Skid Row blog what they saw is the one thing that must never be allowed to happen in their country. Skid Row is Los Angeles’ elephant in the room. Not that people aren’t trying. Throw a stick and you’ll hit a non-profit. For the most part, Skid Row is not dealing with people from Los Angeles. Across America, the homeless, mentally ill, those just out of prison, are handed a one way bus ticket to Skid Row Los Angeles.

Steve at church asked me if I wanted to join a group of guys who help clean the streets of Skid Row every Saturday morning. I told him I live in Santa Monica and I’m not interested in driving Downtown. When I moved from the beach to Downtown, Steve told me I now live within walking distance of the streets being cleaned in Skid Row. He was right. As I started to show up on the dirtiest streets in Skid Row, handed a push broom and shovel, I went beyond the images and the smell to meet extraordinary people fighting the good fight.

One of the ongoing issues in Skid Row is a workable city trash pick up policy to help keep the streets clean. That might not sound dramatic or sexy, but when you step into it you step into an epic struggle, conspiracy theories within conspiracy theories, on why it’s so unbelievably difficult to do the obvious.

I became part of the Skid Row Brigade within Operation Facelift Skid Row. In Los Angeles, the power of the city government is within the City Council which split Los Angeles into fifteen Council Districts. Council District 14 (CD-14) oversees Skid Row and I was invited to be part of the CD-14 Skid Row Working Group. During the first meeting, OG Man (Original Gangster Manuel), the founder of the Skid Row Brigade, asked me to be the liason between the CD-14 Skid Row Working Group and Operation Facelift Skid Row.

Over the course of a few months, I wrote some blog articles about what I was experiencing, both the good and bad. When I referenced the Birmingham Campaign, I didn’t know this was the 50th anniversary of the campaign or the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington which happened several months later. After Martin Luther King got out of the Birmingham jail and began travelling by bus, he quickly noticed when the bus pulled into the station, hundreds of people, black and white, were waiting for him. He called A. Philip Randolph, founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominately black labor union, and said this is the time to march on Washington.

Jane Usher, part of the City Attorney’s office and the attorney handling the Lavan Injunction, made a presentation at the monthly public Board meeting of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) in March 2013. From that, General Jeff Page, Skid Row resident representative on the DLANC Board the past six years, put together a meeting at the City Attorney’s office between Jane Usher and the Skid Row Public Space Task Force for the specific purpose of discussing the Lavan Injunction on a Skid Row community-wide basis.

Lavan Injunction – a successful lawsuit based on a Constitutional argument upholding personal belongings of homeless people on the sidewalks can’t be taken by authorities based on Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of private property. City Attorney office on behalf of City of Los Angeles requests Los Angeles County Department of Health examine Skid Row streets for purpose of supporting their view that Lavan Injunction is causing health of streets to go downhill. County Health Department examines streets and declares them a public health crisis, telling the City of Los Angeles to act immediately, including adding public toilets. City convinces County to back off demand for toilets. City launches Operation Healthy Streets to clean streets in context of Lavan Injunction legal guidelines with applause from Skid Row community. That was 2011 and 2012. City Attorney continues to pursue overturning Lavan Injunction in courts. Los Angeles Times editorial tells City Attorney to stop using taxpayer dollars to try and overturn Lavan. Instead, the City Attorney tries to take the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Court declines to hear the case. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich defeated in election by Michael Feuer. Michael Feuer in Los Angeles Times interview says possible further appeal of Lavan Injunction still on the table. That was 2012 and 2013. Los Angeles County Department of Health examines Skid Row streets May 2013 and issues letter dated June 5, 2013 to City Attorney Michael Feuer stating public health requires additional public toilets. As of September 27, 2013, there has been no public response from the City Attorney to the June 5th County letter…..(Skid Row desperately needs public toilets.)

About twenty-five people were at the meeting. At one point I said I thought it would be helpful if the City of Los Angeles apologized to Skid Row.

As we left the meeting, one of the African American community leaders told me there won’t be an apology to Skid Row just as there hasn’t been an apology for slavery because of the liability issues raised.

Sam Brownback was elected Governor of Kansas November 2012. He was a Kansas Republican Senator from 1996 to 2011.

As he traveled Kansas and met his constituents, Senator Brownback began to learn things about the history of Kansas concerning Native Americans he didn’t know. From those experiences he eventually worked with Native American leaders to write the Joint Resolution of Apology to Native Peoples which was introduced into the U.S. Senate on May 6, 2004. Supporters were hoping the apology would pass Congress and be signed by President Bush in time for the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on September 21, 2004.

It didn’t work out that way.

The apology was included in the 67 page long H.R. 3326, 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr3326/text signed by President Obama on December 19, 2009. The apology was about a dozen sentences with none of the historic details contained in the original six page Senate Resolution and introduction from 2004.

From page 47, here is the apology, Sec. 8113, preceded by Sec. 8112 and followed by Sec. 8114:

Sec. 8112. (a) High Priority National Guard Counterdrug Programs- Of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available by title VI under the heading ‘Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities, Defense’, up to $15,000,000 shall be available for the purpose of High Priority National Guard Counterdrug Programs. (b) Supplement Not Supplant- The amount made available by subsection (a) for the purpose specified in that subsection is in addition to any other amounts made available by this Act for that purpose.

apology to native peoples of the united states

Sec. 8113. (a) Acknowledgment and Apology- The United States, acting through Congress–

(1) recognizes the special legal and political relationship Indian tribes have with the United States and the solemn covenant with the land we share;

(2) commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land;

(3) recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the Federal Government regarding Indian tribes;

(4) apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States;

(5) expresses its regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together;

(6) urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land; and

(7) commends the State governments that have begun reconciliation efforts with recognized Indian tribes located in their boundaries and encourages all State governments similarly to work toward reconciling relationships with Indian tribes within their boundaries.

(b) Disclaimer- Nothing in this section–

(1) authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or

(2) serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.

Sec. 8114. (a) Any agency receiving funds made available in this Act, shall, subject to subsections (b) and (c), post on the public website of that agency any report required to be submitted by the Congress in this or any other Act, upon the determination by the head of the agency that it shall serve the national interest.

Later on, one Native commentator wondered if like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around does it make a sound, does an apology with no effort to communicate it mean you’re being sorry?

Navajo activist Mark Charles organized a gathering in front of the White House on December 19, 2012 with other Natives to read the entire 67 page Appropriations Act, including Sec. 8113, out loud in several different Native languages. Charles and his supporters later said because of how the apology was handled, it has caused more wounding instead of healing and formally requested President Obama rescind the apology.

We The People https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/ was designed by the Obama Administration as a way for direct exchange between the public and the White House. An internet petition system, the number of online signatures within thirty days required for a successful petition, defined as guaranteeing a White House policy response to the question(s) asked in the petition, began at five thousand, then went to twenty-five thousand on October 3, 2012, then went to one hundred thousand on January 16, 2013.

Here would be my questions in a We The People petition:

What plans does the White House have to bring to the attention of the American public the historic Washington D.C. apology to Native peoples that took place December 19, 2009? And if the White House has no plans, would the White House consider rescinding the apology?

Apologize. Express Regret. Make Amends. Repent. Say You’re Sorry. Be Remorseful.

Final Note: Martin Luther King Jr. was thirty nine years old when he was assassinated. If he lived, common sense suggests the issues raised by the Poor Peoples Campaign would have defined the second half of his adult life as the Civil Rights Movement defined the first half.

As I write this the end of September, summer is over and this portion of the Great Indian Road travelled. I decided to make “Being Sorry” the last article because it’s so simple and foundational. Simple and foundational for what might be built on it.

September 27th was the theatrical release of the new documentary “Inequality for All”(inequalityforall.com.) Here is a British review of the movie http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/feb/02/inequality-for-all-us-economy-robert-reich. According to The Economist, 95% of the American economic recovery over the past few years has gone to 1% of the population.

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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