The L.A. Times Gives Me Some Love

Word got back via Andrew at Liquid Premium, who emailed me with the news that the L.A. Times shined a light on my interview on Blogging.la this past week with the unknown artist responsible for the growing number of wooden birds hanging from wires over intersections throughout the city (and beyond in Santa Barbara, San Francisco and, as of this week, New York). The Times not only posted it on their website, but found room for it on the second page of the Arts & Music section of this Sunday’s Calendar… which I’d missed this morning and had to go digging through the recyclables bin to retrieve it for posterity a a digicam snap:

birdslat.jpg
[click image for large version]

Interestingly enough both online and in print the Times ran the photo I’d taken of one of the birds back in September, but without any type of photo credit. Is that greedy of me to want that credit? I don’t think so. Greedy would be me wanting some level of compensation for my work being used for free by the Times to fill its news hole.

Instead I’ll take whatever measure of exposure the mention provides as payment enough.

See, I’m One Of Those People…

Not sure if the tragic story made it beyond Southern California, but a piece that’s gotten understandly heavy play this last couple days is the manhunt for the person wanted in the Sept. 24 murder of a 3-year-old girl. Authorities went wide and hard with their call for public assistance in his apprehension by stating that the suspect intentionally shot the child in the chest:

“Police believe that (Jonathan) Banks jumped out of a vehicle Sept. 24 and approached the young victim, Kaitlyn Avila; her father; and her 6-year-old sister as they were getting out of a car outside their Pinafore Street apartment building in Baldwin Village. The family had just returned from a Sunday afternoon outing to a fast-food restaurant.

Banks allegedly shot and wounded the father, a glass worker, wrongly believing that he was a member of a rival gang. Authorities said Banks then aimed at Kaitlyn and shot her once in the chest.

Authorities said this week that the gunman intended to shoot the child and did not, as originally believed, strike her inadvertently while firing several shots at her father.”

This has triggered obvious outrage throughout the area communities, some of which made its no-holds-barred way onto the group blog I write for by a fellow contributor named David Bullock who didn’t mince words in headlining his Blogging.la postWhat the fuck is wrong with you?”

“How the fuck could you walk up to a toddler, a cute little 3 year old and shoot them point blank? What kind of a sick, heartless piece of shit are you to do something like this? Do you think you’re tough, to kill a young child at close range? It’s bad enough when gang shooters accidentally take a life of an innocent bystander child, but walking up to them and shooting them point blank in the chest… FUCK YOU!”

Given the information provided by law enforcement, Bullock’s incredulous rage is certainly understandable. Hell, a large parts of me wants to share in that anger. But another part of me never fails to kick in and back away from the vehemence and instead engage what I consider a healthy skepticism — especially when it comes to police “version” of events.

That whole “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” thing seems an ever-increasingly unpopular stance to take in this day and age. In this 16X fast-forward world of ours we want our judgment as quickly as our drive-through burger combo. But to me it’s too easy a thing to convict a person in the media. It’s too simple to stare at the always unflattering mugshot being displayed in the newspaper or on the TV and say “Oh yeah, he did it.”

Well I’m one of those people that don’t do that. Yeah, one of them. Call me a conscientious objector. And I certainly don’t blank-check subscribe to what the police spin — especially when what they do is by design. Think about it… had police officials gone on camera with their cards close to their vests showing a photo of the suspect and the grieving father in the background and putting a standard reward on Banks’ head for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of…” do you think he would’ve been coughed up so quick? Doubt it. But factor in that he did the intolerable and unthinkable in killing a child with malice aforethought? Presto, the guy’s in jail. Mission accomplished.

But what I ask myself is “how do the police know that?” Eyewitness testimony? From who… the wounded father? The surviving 6-year-old sister? Bystanders? Given the short chaotic amount of time within which the crime took place how can anyone be certain this guy deliberately killed the little girl?

Certainly it may play out that he did indeed do exactly what witnesses and the cops have said he did, but I’ll suspend my irrational impulses and recognize it just may very well have been accidental. Not that I’m excusing him of any responsibility in the slightest, but there is a vast chasm between the degrees of murder and I would rather not accept so eagerly and one-sidedly that someone is so capable of such soullessness. Not that I’m naive as to believe there aren’t people capable of such evil, but until the facts come out in the trial that lead to Banks’ conviction on charges of first-degree murder, I’m going to refrain from validating it. And in the meantime I’m left yet again with a bad taste in my mouth — not just because once again a suspect has been prosecuted in the press, but also because the police felt they had to irresponsibly manipulate and oversell the crime. As if the death of Kaitlyn Avila isn’t horrific enough.

Murder On Marathon

Cross-posted from Blogging.la

My inbox Wednesday held an email from someone otherwise unidentified save for the “silverlakenews” in the sender’s address. The message within included a link to an April 4 story on cbs2.com headlined “Man Shot And Killed After Opening Front Door.”

The sum of the short article is as follows:

(CBS) SILVER LAKE, Calif. A man was fatally shot when he opened the front door of his home in the Silver Lake area after hearing noises in his yard, police said Tuesday.

The man died at a hospital of a gunshot wound he suffered about 8:20 Monday night in the 3900 block of West Marathon Street, the Los Angeles Police Department reported.

Authorities withheld the man’s name, pending notification of his relatives.

According to police, the victim was sitting in his living room when he heard noises outside. When he opened his front door to investigate, he was shot once in the face.

Detectives were unsure of a motive for the crime, which apparently involved two male suspects. No arrests were reported.

Since a hospital transport was involved, I immediately clicked over to the indispensable LAFD News & Information blog to see if LAFD Spokesman Brian Humphrey, its equally indispensable primary contributor, had posted anything about it… but found nothing there. So I emailed him directly and received a speedy reply back saying he was out of the office and would look into it as soon as he returned. So in the meantime, I detoured from my plan of poachin’ more ‘quats and took a walk over there yesterday to see what I could see.

m01a.jpg

The 3900 block of Marathon in East Hollywood is bordered by Virgil on the west and Hoover on the east. I entered it from the Hoover side and found it to be a quiet, tree-lined street with a mix of bungalow homes among a variety of apartment buildings. Four days removed from the crime I was expecting to find little evidence of the murder and its subsequent investigation — and I wasn’t disappointed.

m02.jpg

So I was left searching for clues — anything that might point me to the scene of the crime. Could it have happened here at this quaint little craftsman whose front porch and steps was marred by some sort of pink discoloration, maybe from spilled blood mixing with some sort of chalk outlining that didn’t get the clean up it deserved?

m03.jpg

Upon closer inspection I surmised it to be nothing more than aged spray paint and kept going west. A few more doors down at 3920 there was an apartment building with a U.S. flag attached proudly from a stucco’d balcony above a carport, but nothing that could be said to resemble a remnant of foul play.

m04.jpg

A few more steps and I thought I’d found something, a fragment of tell-tale caution tape flapping in the wind near the entrance to a building’s garage… but drawn across to it on the north side of the street I found that instead of demanding bystanders to stay back, it only warned of wet paint.

m05.jpgit was about then that I gave some thought as to why I was here. What is it that draws me on these goose chases searching through the aftermaths of violence and death? Certainly the proximity of the crimes to where I live is a strong factor as is my obvious curiosity. Sure, I’ll even admit to something of a morbid fascination.

But there’s something more to this pilgrimage. There’s a basic need to seek out and bear whatever witness I can. Though it might be nothing more than a strictly symbolic gesture, it is important for me to stand and recognize the location of the horrible waste of a life. I guess for me it’s a way of fighting back, of beating the fear, or at least mitigating it. It’s too easy to read an online news brief and automatically judge a place like the 3900 block of Marathon Street as a no man’s land to be avoided at all costs. But standing on this stretch of street under blue skies and clouds and sunshine with birds in the air and people coming and going and life happening… all of it helps to reduce the shadow of death and with it the desire to judge this place unfairly. Nothing can minimize the murder that has taken place, but being here does go a distance in understanding that the place is not to blame.

Almost directly back across on the south side of the street some movement catches my eye along a walkway above a vast bed of ivy and I find a man in an official looking orange vest taking measurements. LA’s version of a CSI investigator. maybe? Perhaps following up with additional data on bullet trajectories? No, the nearby equipment and tripod pointed to him simply being a surveyor. But then again, when I passed the heavily tagged house-number board at the entrance of the seven-unit complex he is working in it seemed I could very well be getting warmer.

m06.jpg<

Or not. I keep moving west looking around. But all I find is a group of four men standing between me and Virgil within the shadows of some under-trimmed curbside trees. They’re holding paper-bagged cans of beer and they don’t see me until the dog and I are almost upon them. Then they do double takes and make way while making half-baked attempts to hide their beverages. As I pass they all smile and one of them comments about Shadow.

“That’s a pretty dog. Is it male or female?” he asks. I say thank you and tell him Shadow’s female.

“Ohhhh, nice!”

I get beyond them then stop and turn. “Say, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure!” he says and he walks a bit unsteadily up to me, ending up a little too close. HIs eyes have that numb and watered-down look of trying to see the world through a six-pack of beer.

“By any chance did you hear about a shooting around here earlier this week?” I answer by making the international hand symbol for a gun, and he answers quickly and expansively and solemnly in the affirmative. His breath confirms my assessment of his wholly inebriated condition.

“On Monday?” Again he lets out a slow and low “Yesssss!” and he weebles a bit on his feet.

“Do you know where it happened?” This throws him and he gives me an abrupt “Hunh?”

“Did it happen here?” I point to the run-down apartments nearest to us. He pauses for a second, but again I get nothing more than “Hunh?”

“The shooting…” I make my hand into a gun again, this time pulling the trigger and making a soft boom sound. “Do you know where the shooting took place on this street?” He swings his head to look at my hand, rolls it back to look at me, weebles a little more before letting go with an “Ohhhhh… I dunno.”

“You don’t know?”

“I dunno.”

“OK then!” I say with a laugh and thank him as I turn and continue toward Virgil. From behind me he calls out “That’s a nice dog!” I wave without looking back. At the corner of Virgil and Marathon I find this:

m07.jpg

A couple blocks up the irony of the street’s name that I cross isn’t lost on me:

m08.jpg

In my inbox this morning was the information that Brian Humphrey was able to provide. Here’s a digest of it:

• The incident was reported to the Los Angeles Fire Department via multiple 911 calls beginning at 8:07 p.m. April 4.

• Witnesses reported hearing shots and discovering one wounded male inside the apartment building at 3951 Marathon Street.

• The victim was a 26 year-old male who despite the best efforts of the team of LAFD paramedics, went into cardiac arrest during transport to County-USC Medical Center and was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at the hospital.

The Skies Of Los Angeles Are Buuuuurrrrrning

The dawning day painted the air an eerie orange, but I didn’t know why until I ventured outside with Shadow for our walk and I found an ominous smoke cloud hovering over Silver Lake and its surroundings.

From a vantage point up on Micheltorena I snapped a few images with my phonecam. And once back home only then did I find out the smoke wasn’t from nearby but came a long way from a fire in Orange County.

The Best Part Of Waking Up…

Sorry to dampen your day if these two stories haven’t made their way to you yet, but the first two news articles to land in front of my eyes this morning are just so very very life-affirming. Makes me want to sing “Joy to the World” real loud.

The first detailed the “honor killings” committed by an entirely unrepentant Pakistani man who reportedly cut the throats of his three daughters, ages 8, 7 and 4, after first killing his 25-year-old stepsister who was alleged to be in an adulterous affair. Cradling their infant son during the slaughter, his wife Bibi said she was forced to endure the massacre or face a similar fate.

Bibi recounted how she was awakened by a shriek as Ahmed put his hand to the mouth of his stepdaughter, Muqadas, and cut her throat with a machete. She said she looked on helplessly from the corner of the room as he then killed the three girls — Bano, 8, Sumaira, 7, and Humaira, 4 — pausing between the slayings to brandish the bloodstained knife at his wife, warning her not to intervene or raise alarm.

“I was shivering with fear. I did not know how to save my daughters,” Bibi, sobbing, told AP by phone from the village. “I begged my husband to spare my daughters but he said, ‘If you make a noise, I will kill you.”‘

This fundamental muslim’s premeditated reasoning? Well, after his arrest the next morning, the “disheveled but composed” 40-year-old laborer told reporters that it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“I thought the younger girls would do what their eldest sister had done, so they should be eliminated. We are poor people and we have nothing else to protect but our honor.”

For whatever modicum of honor he now claims to have salvaged, I can do nothing but hang my head at the dishonor he brings to mankind. But as outrageous as his crimes is the reluctance of Pakistan’s political leadership and law enforcement to enact and enforce tougher laws against such killings which occur with some regularity (somewhat shaky statistics point to 569 occuring in 2004 and more than 260 this year). As late as last year this murderer might have gotten off paying a fine. Now he faces — oh joy — the death penalty.

The second story that made me disgraced to be a human being happened in Montana where a starved and abused cat was rescued by firefighters from a river into which it had been dumped after it was spotted in a cage weighted down with a heavy rock. Instead of sinking, the cage somehow stayed afloat on a section of ice.

Someone had put the animal in a cage, along with a rock weighing about 16 pounds, and tossed it into the Clark Fork River. But instead of landing in the water, it bounced several times on the ice and then became stuck.

Firefighters returned to the station with the feline where they found it in very sad shape but happy to be among friends.

“It was really skinny, nothing but skin and bones, and had collar marks where a too-small collar had rubbed the fur off its neck. But it was really friendly,” firefighter Philip Keating said.

Another firefighter decided to give it a home and this story a happy ending and that’s fine, but I want to read about cops dusting the cage for prints and doing everything they can to find the person who tossed that cat overboard.

Just when I think my disgust at our capacity to disrespect and destroy life can’t get any lower, someone cracks open another soulless subbasement and lets the darkness out.