The following is from a YouTube video interview with Laddie Williams about the recent police action ordered by Councilmember Traci Park against unhoused people in Venice. The video is produced by Margaret Molloy.
Jon Wolff: Laddie, what’s your background? You’re born and raised in Venice.
Laddie Williams: Born and raised right here in Venice.
JW: So you may know some of the people who were affected by the special action performed by Traci Park.
LW: I knew many of those people that were affected by the mayor’s plan for safe living, or however it’s phrased.
JW: Can you say something about what happened the other night?
LW: Cecil Bowens was born and raised here in Venice. He has some mental challenges that we have been dealing with over on Third Street. Garry Featherstone, Michael Ridley and myself were getting him to remain calm, take his medicine. He was fed three square meals a day. He didn’t know anything else but Venice. And the way he was treated to get him to go to Harbor General UCLA was very violent. They came in, it was like eight to ten cars of police. They all surrounded him. He then became very agitated. He became very hostile. They wrestled him to the ground. They zip tied him, hands and feet, lifted him up to the ambulance so he could go. He was screaming. He didn’t want to go. We were trying to talk to them and let them know we could talk him down and get him to walk to the ambulance. We were not given that chance. Michael Ridley had promised to run home and get him two hot dogs. This is what he wanted, two hot dogs. And he wanted an iPad and he wanted to take his cell phone. None of this was allowed. He was just wrestled to the ground very abruptly. Hog tied, and put in the ambulance that was waiting down on Rose and Third. He called all our names. It was very heart-wrenching because we have known him all his life and we were helping him. And yes, he had been a hindrance to the community. Don’t misunderstand me. Because he has mental challenges. But Cecil was very very very loving towards people he had known all his life. He did not trust people that he didn’t know because of whatever’s happened to him out on the street, but he knew there was love and compassion and there was us there taking care of him on Third. And we had been doing that for quite some time.
JW: Did the police perform this action under circumstances, heavy circumstances, like it was raining and it was dark and there were alarms going off?
LW: Alarms were going off at Public Storage. They had been going for a day and a half, just this “Wah!, Wah!, Wah!,” constant noise for over a day and a half. And it was pouring down rain. Everybody was soaking wet. Everybody was trying to pack all their things and get it together to get out of the way. Because then came a trash truck with a big crane on it that was taking their things, and it was making a roaring noise, “Raaaow!” constantly. And then the trash trucks made noise, so it was just noise, noise, noise, and pouring down rain. It just seemed like it was an attack on the entire street, and the noise was a way of making them hurry up and move or be so discombobulated they didn’t know what to do, that you would just take their things and move on to the next tent. But we were there helping elderly people, Carol, with her things. She has been here twenty years. Carol is in her 80s, almost in her 80s, and she could not get her stuff. She was shaking, she was cold, it was wet, and she just couldn’t get her mind together to get her things. So we took the things and started stuffing them in our cars just so she wouldn’t lose everything. Because she said, “I don’t know where my purse is, I don’t know where anything is.” And she couldn’t take it anymore. She just turned her chair around, the chair that you can walk or sit, and she just sat there in the pouring rain. And the rain was just coming down on her. And there was no care about how old she was, that she was discombobulated. There was no thought process about how we could help her, except for us who had been running the street for over two years, how to help her because we knew her.
JW: There are other individuals that were affected by this?
LW: There was another individual named Georgina who wasn’t allowed to robe herself. She’s been here for over twenty years. She just came out of her tent, “I can’t take it! I can’t take it!” And she just started hurling her clothes into the street, all her belongings into the street. They didn’t allow her to get her clothes on. She had her bra on and some pants but they did not allow her to get her clothes and get dressed. She was soaked at that point because of the downpour of rain. And it was just like something out of a horror movie, how these people were dehumanized to the point that nobody cared if they were dressed. Nobody cared that they couldn’t get their things. Nobody cared that they had a community there and they were all crying for their community. There was a guy named Michael who was there who had some dogs, and he just took his dogs and started walking down the street. And when they were calling for him he said, “Just take the shit. You don’t want us here. Just take the shit.” And he just left his things and took his dogs in his wagon and just walked up to Rose and Third. He turned right. We don’t know where he went. But I have been told that they came back and offered him a room, a hotel room, I don’t know where.
JW: This was all done surrounded by armed police officers the whole time.
LW: LAPD was there, LA Sanitation was there. It was taped off, and that’s what threw people too. If it was supposed to be voluntary, why was it all taped off?
JW: This location, Third, was very organized, very tidy. One of the tidiest spots in the whole city.
LW: We always got compliments. Of course, not from the NIMBYs who didn’t want them there at all. But we got various compliments from parents who would come see their children and see that they were getting food, they were being clothed. We got lots of donations from individual people who would drop off food and clothing. We had one woman bring in almost 100 pallets so they could stack their tents on top of the pallets so if it rained they didn’t get wet and the water ran off into the street. But we were complimented because it was such a clean environment. The trash was always picked up. The trash was always kept tidy. We always made sure that the trash was kept clean. We were always putting the trash onto the dumpsters. We were constantly cleaning. And all the people had an interest in keeping the street clean. They swept. They always swept and it was a ritual. The first tent: You take the east side of the street. On the other side: You take the west side of the street. And they had to sweep and clean. And they picked up. And when they ate they never put their trash on the ground. It was always put in a trash bag that was always put in the trash bins.
They had showers every Tuesday and Thursday. They had a 24-hour bathroom over there so there was none of the “pooping in my yard” because bathrooms were always there. Pit Stop kept one set clean on one side of the street and we kept the other one cleaned and sanitized on the other side.
JW: Wasn’t a lot of this due to the organizing efforts of Mr. Featherstone and yourself and others?
LW: Garry Featherstone. He fussed and he was sometimes cranky as “all outdoors” but he loved everyone over there. Michael Ridley, same thing. We have been accused of drug trafficking, open-air drug market. I was accused of prostituting the girls. None of that was true. All of us worked over there because there were people there. We lost our oldest member of Third Street, he died on the street. “Bird”. We called him Bird. He died on the street in the parking lot. And we don’t know, they wouldn’t tell us what caused his death. He was another one who was a hard worker and always cleaned the street. I mean, there was always somebody sweeping the street and making sure the trash was picked up. We had a recycling day. Always we were recycling so the people were able to keep money in their pocket just by going. Gary was so kind. He would take them up there to the recycling center. He took them to the doctor. Michael took them to the doctor. They took them to the market. We had an organized encampment.
JW: Mr. Featherstone’s also a natural born Venetian, and a good number of the people there were from here. They’re from Venice.
LW: Michael is born and raised and so was Garry Featherstone. Born and raised, we were all born and raised here. The two of them came up with the idea for Homeless Enterprise, and it was working and they knew that. I mean the tents were well organized. There was never a lot of junk and trash out on the street because we didn’t allow it. You had to keep it clean if you were going to live over there. And we were working on Hampton. Hampton was not as organized as Third Street but Third Street was the prototype that we were working to take to Hampton. But the NIMBYs wanted us out of here. I understand we were the trial two days before. Garry and Spike talked to her but Traci Park was there pointing and looking like we had created another catastrophe when it wasn’t. It was very well run. Even the people at the Pit Stop who kept the bathrooms clean told them that this was the most organized establishment they had ever seen as far as being homeless.
JW: It seems like this would be the least likely candidate spot for this kind of special action, special treatment. What would you speculate would be the reason why they had to pick Third?
LW: We had the NIMBYs coming every day filming, walking up and down the street, walking down the middle of the street every single day. It was one of them, some of them, just coming to harass people, say nasty things, “We want our streets back.” So when we heard Karen Bass say that at the Rose Cafe over there on Rose, the day she came, we knew what was there. We knew the hate was there.
JW: Traci Park’s congratulating herself for having stepped in and done this. What do you expect the outcome to be? The short-term and long-term outcomes?
LW: Well, the people are coming back. Two or three of them have already left the hotels and they’re back. So now they’re just in the community. I don’t think you can keep people inside like that when they have mental issues, they have drug issues. I don’t think you can just stick them in a room and say we housed 108 people. Because many of them have mental issues that need to be dealt with and many of them have drug issues that need to be dealt with on a daily basis. So sticking them in a room, giving yourself a clap because you took them off the street. It’s a Band-Aid.
JW: Do you think they’re gonna have to talk about this later on when it comes back to haunt them?
LW: I’m sure they’re talking about it now. Because I’m sure that they’ve heard that some people had food, some people didn’t. Some people needed medical supplies, some people didn’t. And I’m sure they’re scurrying around trying to figure it out when they kept it well together on Third Street. They had the Rose Clinic coming every Thursday to check on them and refill prescriptions and make sure they were, you know, somewhat healthy.
JW: You and others are doing some of the care after-the-fact for some of these people. You’re actually doing some help.
LW: Yeah. The lady is still dropping food off. There’s two hotels on Lincoln that we’re taking it to where I think it is almost sixty people there. And they’re not happy. They’re all complaining about the fact that they can’t visit with one another. I guess they signed rules to get in there. So they’re not able to socialize with each other. They’re cordoned off from each other, but they’re in the hotels on Lincoln, the Marina 7.
JW: Is there anything you’d like to communicate to Traci Park if she were here right now?
LW: Well, I’d like to tell her: Instead of coming over and pointing her finger at us on the day that Karen Bass and she came over, it would have been nice if they would have come up and talked to us and seen what we were doing and how we were successful, and added on to that. It wasn’t about coming in like they’re a pariah and taking them from where their community was. Community is important for healing and Venice has always been a community where we helped one another, we loved one another, we were there for one another, and we always wanted to see people do better. These new people who have come inâ€¦ They don’t know that. They don’t know the Venice that I grew up in where our grandmothers fed the unhoused to keep the street clean. They let them take showers in their backyard until the proactive code enforcement came through and made us all take our showers out the backyard. We were a community. We fed each other. We loved each other. And what they did to us, it’s very very painstaking. So I wish they would have come, talked to us, seeing what we were doing and seeing that it was working, instead of listening to the fear-mongering that goes on in this community 24/7. Next Door should be taken out of existence. Because fear-mongering on there is what’s got everybody upset. It’s what’s got everybody thinking that the homeless are going to kill them. Making them think that the homeless are going to poop in their front yard. The lies just generate off of that fear-mongering place until it’s, like, unbelievable.
JW: Any suggestions or plans about what to do from here on?
LW: Well, we’d like to get our church here saved. It has twelve rooms in it. We could educate and be there for people who need it within the community, who want to be here, who want to make the changes. We could offer drug classes. We could offer safe streets. We could offer so many programs here that it would truly truly benefit those who want to do different and want to be different. Because a lot of them do want to be different but they’ve been molested as children, they’ve been beat up. They’ve been thrown out in the street at 12 and 13 years old. So they don’t know. And what this church could do for them is give them the love and the confidence they need in order to enter into society instead of being kicked out. Because right now, living in a motel, you don’t know how long, you don’t know if it’s permanent and supportive, you don’t know what it is. You’re just in this hotel room and you have no idea what’s going to happen to you. You don’t know if you’re going to get Permanent Supportive Housing. You don’t know if you’re going to get counseling. You don’t know if you’re going to be loved. You don’t know if somebody’s going to be there for you 24/7. You don’t know. They don’t know.
JW: These are Venice traditions that we’ve always abided by as long as I’ve been alive.
LW: Venice has always been a place of love. And now, with these new NIMBYs and our new CD11 person, we have to keep fighting. We’re not going to give up. If you go along Rose Avenue in Venice, there’s this gaudy awful fence. It looks like the penitentiary. It is horrible. You go back behind Amazon, there’s a fence. You go on Flower, there’s a fence. We have never ever ever had that in Venice. Never. Not even through the darkest times when “the drugs” were poured into this community. We didn’t have fences. We didn’t have gates. We still came out. We still fed people. We still came out. We still loved people. We still came out. We were there. Venice has always been well organized and been there. It’s a different kind of city. We don’t want to be known as the city of fences. You don’t want the unhoused. You don’t want them on the beach. You want to 41.18 the beach, which means they can’t sit, sleep, or enjoy the beach. So, I understand. I saw the map. That they’re going to 41.18 Hampton. They’re going to 41.18 Third Street. So, there will be no unhoused, no people that can sit, rest, or sleep in those areas.
JW: Unless they look like tourists. Is there anything you could say to the newcomers to Venice, and the NIMBYs, to get through to them, to explain to them what they’re doing.
LW: You said you wanted to come here for the Bohemian love, for the Bohemian effect. Let’s try to look up what that means and not bring your thoughts and your values and how you grew up here to a city that has been Bohemian. Come out, get to know people, talk to people. Don’t put up your 20-foot fences in the front yard. And by the way, they didn’t allow us to put fences that high up. We had to keep the fence so the police could look from the street to the alley. Now they can’t do that. You ride around Venice and the fences are so high. They come in through the alley, they exit through the alley. They don’t want to know anybody, they don’t want to talk to anybody. That’s not what Venice was about or is about. There’s still many of us here who have the Bohemian upbringing where you love one another, you treat one another equally no matter what they do.
Margaret Molloy: Laddie, what did they call you out here?
LW: We can’t put that one on there.
MM: Come on. Come on, Laddie.
LW: They do call me “The Warden”. I mean, they know I’m not for the bull crap. I’m not for the bull pucky. I don’t like you to steal. I don’t like you to rob. I don’t like you to thieve. So yes, I am known as The Warden.
MM: And what does Naomi [Nightingale] call you?
LW: Fannie Lou Hamer.
MM: There you go.
LW: Or I was Malcolm X too. It’s just because I love you but you gotta be right.
JW: And Naomi said she was Martin Luther King.
LW: Yeah, she’s Martin Luther King. I’m not.
MM: Laddie, when people were given this offer in the middle of the night, and it’s pouring rain, and the sirens are going, did they have to sign something?
LW: Yes. They had to sign a pledge that they were giving the city their things, their belongings. And that it wasn’t done under duress and that it was voluntary. Which is not true. Everything that happened over there, they were made to do. And what choice did they have when the streets were blocked off, police were everywhere, sanitation was out there. The siren was going at Public Storage. I called, Garry called, Spike called. Peggy Kennedy called to turn that thing off. The noise was deafening. So of course you were gonna do what they told you to do because it was done under duress.
JW: Signing those pledgesâ€¦ that’s a psychological warfare tactic to make the person feel that they’re consenting or playing a part in their own oppression.
LW: I agree.
MM: So what were they allowed to take?
LW: Two bags. And they had to give up the physical tent. Sanitation had a picture of the said tent. And if the face didn’t fit the tent you just had to go. Then you couldn’t get on the bus. This long Trailways bus was there, waiting for them to sign the pledge. They only could bring two bags to get on the bus. And then they had to watch all the things that they cared about, because they couldn’t get them in two grocery bags, they just had to watch The Claw come and drop it into the truck. Many of them were crying. It was very very very hard to see. People crying because you could only take two bags but the rest of your stuff was just thrown away. This loud noise with this crane just picking it up, dropping it into the dumpster.
JW: Was anybody video recording a lot of this?
LW: You couldn’t. It was pouring rain. How are you gonna video. And we wanted to videotape, but you had to help the people. You couldn’t stop and not assist the people with what was going on. You didn’t have a heart if you couldn’t. Because a lot of them didn’t know what to do. And the rain didn’t help. And why did they have to do it on a day that was pouring rain?
MM: How much notice did they get that this was gonna happen?
LW: They had the things on the fence, the notices on the fence. But, what I’ve learned with these signsâ€¦ because we helped them. We would always rent U-Haul trucks when the signs came for the comprehensive cleaning. We couldn’t do that this time. There was a notice there and they said they didn’t have to really notice because it was an SECZ Zone. So they didn’t have to. But there were signs. It was justâ€¦ when you’re down and out and homeless, on drugs, or you got a mental problem, what good is a sign? It was there but what good is it?
MM: So what time of night did they start?
LW: The sirens were a whole day and a half. They started at six in the morning.
MM: So, in the pouring rain people had to decide what went in the two bags.
LW: We tried, with Cecil Bowens, to tell them we could get him to calm down. They wanted no parts of what we were talking about.
MM: What about Cecil now?
LW: Cecil’s in Harbor General UCLA. They wanted us to come pick him up but we can’t take that kind of responsibility for him because we don’t have anywhere for him to go. So I asked Karen Bass to make sure, in an email, that Cecil Bowens be given housing, and Permanent Supportive Housing, which means that everything you need should be on the ground or close to him. I don’t know if I did him a disservice by writing that letter but we haven’t heard from him since. I wrote the letter on Saturday.
MM: So why would it be a disservice?
LW: Because now we haven’t heard from him at all. We were hearing from him every day. But now we haven’t heard from him at all.
MM: So if they took him on a 5150 they can’t keep them there more than 72 hours, right?
LW: That’s the mayor you’re talking about. She could demand that they stay. Especially if it’s to make them look good. You don’t want to see that you arrested him and brutally took him out of here to, in 72 hours, see him again walking around the neighborhood. Because he’s gonna come back.
JW: That story is going to be in the Beachhead when that happens. I want to make it known that this was just a photo op for these politicians.
LW: That’s all it was. And the fact that none of us were invited to the Rose [Cafe]. Just the homeowners. None of us were invited. Cecil is one I’ve known since he was born. His mom was Ivonne Haines. She died at an early age for them. He wasn’t given the grief counseling help that he needed. He spent all of his teen life and all of his adult life like this. I’m praying he could get the help he needs. Georgina, I hope she can get the help she needs because she has mental issues too. That wasn’t thought about. That’s all I can say.
MM: What’s your vision for how we uplift Black History in this community and maintain it in the face of all of this?
LW: I think it’s very important we uplift Black History because people need to see that this community, as well as with the Japanese, Latino, the White, we kept this community together. So history has to be taught that it can be done. This church is a very good presentation of what can be done when everyone comes together to fight for what is right. We have to tell our history. You have to know your history to understand your future.
I’m just hoping that we keep putting it out there. We keep saying that the history of Venice is very important for the survival of Venice. This cannot be Silicon Beach. This cannot be whatever else they’re trying to call it. This is Venice Beach: Open, loving to everyone.
MM: I think that’s a message that should be exported to other communities instead of changed by the incomers.
LW: Oh yeah. And I think what needs to also be said is that there was money here in Venice. Doctors lived here, lawyers lived here. Because back then you couldn’t live anywhere else. So we do know about people who have money. But don’t come with your bourgeois attitude that “I’m too good to be around this.” You said you wanted to be Bohemian, let’s be Bohemian. Don’t come in and buy and throw up your fences because you want to be here because you think your money is going to make a difference. It’s killed us. Their money has killed us. And I’m gonna do a film about the new Venice Penitentiary with all the fences. Cause that’s what it looks like. We never had these fences. Never. So people can’t sit and walk or stand. It’s crazy with the fences. All along Rose, Flower, and now in back of Whole Foods. And the library looks like the Venice Penitentiary. That’s where the warden should stay, over there at the library with all that fencing around the library. I won’t even take my children back over there. It’s too ugly. We now go to Santa Monica. That’s hideous over there all around the Venice Library. I don’t take my grandkids.
MM: But that’s all they do. Dudley Pagoda? If they can’t handle it they prefer no use over what they consider the wrong use.
LW: And how long have the pagodas been there? “Oh, I can’t walk by. My baby. I’m so afraid.” What are you afraid of? They were not bothering you. What are you afraid of? But go on these new Next Doors and everybody’s scared. Scared of what? You come in. You change what’s been known to work here and it’s very hurtful. Our Oakwood Park, all day long. Only Park we have in this 1.1 mile radius and it’s being taken over by dogs and nobody wants to do anything. They have a dog park. They took our Green Hill. They made that a dog park. You got Alla Park over there. That’s a dog park. “Oh no. I want this park.” So they’re allowed to come here. We never had dogs in Oakwood. Never.
Categories: Homeless/RVs, Housing, Jon Wolff
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