What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.


Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.

Tenants March and Rally After an Attempted Eviction and Arrests at College Hotel in East Hollywood

The East Hollywood chapter of the L.A. Tenants Union, along with members of the United Neighborhood Defense Movement, held a rally and demonstration this afternoon in East Hollywood near Los Angeles City College. Marchers met and took turns calling to passersby over a megaphone at the intersection of Vermont avenue and Santa Monica boulevard, subsequently marching east on Santa Monica boulevard, and consolidating at the College Hotel building, next to the site of the recently-bulldozed East Hollywood Union Swap Meet. The College Hotel is also located just across the street from local chef and community gardener Heleo Leyva’s celebrated Community Cookouts that were recently covered by the L.A. Times.

Both the march and rally were organized after an attempted eviction at the College Hotel led to a tense standoff between police and protestors, followed by injuries and arrests of the protestors, according to one arrestee interviewed for this story.

Irving, who asked to be identified only by his first name, described how on the night of Sunday, December 6th, after an argument with the tenant, an elderly immigrant woman who was unable to pay rent recently due to the unexpected death of her husband a few months earlier this year, the manager called the LAPD to forcibly remove her. The woman was distraught by the call, which led to approximately five officers showing up to speak with the manager, but still managed to contact members of the @unitedhoodmvmt, as well as the @latueasthollywood. A total of about fifteen members of the groups arrived to the College Hotel, rallying in her support.

Before long, the group of five officers called for backup, to which approximately 50 LAPD personnel arrived, supported by police cruisers, 12 swat cars, and a police helicopter overhead.

According to Irving, the officers soon claimed that the protestors were trespassing on the property. Shortly thereafter, about three heavy-set officers tackled the elderly woman, outraging protestors. The standoff continued to escalate, ultimately leading to the injuring and arresting of at least eight of the protestors. Members of both the United Neighborhood Defense Movement as well as the Tenants Union quickly got to work to spread the word on social media, followed by organizing for this afternoon’s demonstration and march.

“[LAPD] beat us and arrested us, all for what? For protesting this manager’s harassing people?” Irving asked.

An L.A. County Ordinance is supposed to protect renters in rent stabilized order (RSO) units in effect until January 31, 2021, including units at the College Hotel, which was originally built in 1952 according to public records, but the ordinance has not stopped managers and landlords from filing for evictions, or trying to get tenants to ‘self-evict,’ especially in areas such as South Central Los Angeles.

The College Hotel in East Hollywood, a vicinity that while increasingly gentrifying is still predominantly comprised of immigrants and renters, is a part of L.A. City Council Member @mitchofarrell‘s district. To date, the Council Member’s office has not issued a statement on the arrests of protestors or the possibly illegal eviction attempt.


The LACC community must now reclaim its campus from the L.A. County sheriff’s department

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 97)

Andrés Guardado’s and Terron Jammal Boone’s deaths at the hands of L.A. County sheriff officers in Los Angeles this past week cannot go in vain: they serve as crucial reminders that the people of Los Angeles can settle for nothing less than reclaiming their spaces from the police state before police cause more harm.

Even at this time of heightened tensions between communities of color and law enforcement across America, the L.A. County Sheriff’s department has shown no willingness to ban or even begin discussing a ban of its fatal policies against Black & Brown civilians, even after killing two Black & Brown men within just days of each other during the week of June 14th. At a meeting at L.A. City Hall this past Monday, June 22nd, L.A. City Council Member Curren Price said of Andrés Guardado’s death:

“He was shot by a sheriff deputy, but as far as the community’s concerned, he was shot by police, by law enforcement…That tragic death just underscores the conversation that’s happening all over this country.”

In East Hollywood, since March 16th of this year, sheriff deputies have guarded more than 1.5 million square feet of LACC’s campus, making it completely inaccessible for thousands of nearby students, workers, and other community members, the vast majority of whom are people of color and immigrants, but who also count African-American, disabled, elderly folks, and trans people within the community.

Signs posted around the campus state that authorized persons must “check-in” with the L.A. County sheriffs to be allowed on campus, but how can such a procedure possibly feel safe for Black & Brown people?

At first, the campus’s closing-off was admittedly in line with the uniform policy across L.A. County, under the notion that it was a precautionary measure against COVID-19 infection. More than three months later, however, when much of the city is “reopening” due to data suggesting we may now be getting ahead of the virus–at least, according to our public officials–the LACC campus continues idling by aimlessly, with sheriff SUVs and other vehicles guarding off the entrance. It does not feel safe for Black & Brown people, but is probably most dangerous to the scores of unhoused residents who set up their tents around the area.

Only a few weeks ago, I recall passing by the campus while an African-American woman sat on the curb on Heliotrope drive, perhaps resting from a jog or workout, only to have two sheriff officers call out to her from behind the fences separating the campus from the sidewalk, presumably to make sure she wasn’t “posing a threat.” It shouldn’t need to be stated that if not for one or two slight gestures, she could have been moments away from being shot, but time after time, we forget this is exactly how it happens across America.

Moreover, I’m confident that several more of these types of instances have taken place around the campus grounds, but that they’ve gone mostly unreported since Black, Brown, and other working-class communities have simply come to view such harassment from police officers as typical.

Instead of having armed law enforcement encroaching upon unarmed citizens who actually reside in the community, LACC’s campus should now be making space accessible to these groups.

For one, the campus can be used as a testing site for COVID-19, or as a location for limited exercising, as is the case at Dodger stadium and Elysian Park in Angeleno Heights. For another, LACC’s benches should be made accessible once again for pedestrians looking to take refuge from the exhausting rush of car traffic along Vermont avenue. The campus’s green spaces should be made accessible again for picnicking or some other respite. There is also much that can be done with the campus’s air conditioning to help the local community cool off over the oncoming summer. One way or another, it’s time to innovate. But whatever alternative use for campus instead of clustering large groups of people, one thing is abundantly clear:

The L.A. County Sheriff’s department has no grounds to be left as overseers of the college. It belongs most of all to students, student workers, and the various other civilians who make up the community in the “community college.”

If any of this sounds extraordinary, remember that even the Los Angeles Public Library community has taken its own Board of Commissioners to task, calling for the board to divest in police at our public libraries, since police only serve to intimidate and incarcerate our city’s most vulnerable populations there, and even to intimidate Black & Brown library workers into “walking a fine line” lest they be labeled as a threat by police officers. Only in America.

It’s therefore time for members of the LACC community to call for the reopening of our campus, hand-in-hand with the dismissal of armed law enforcement in order to ensure our safety and to prevent any more unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life for our families. If the weeks since the unrest in Minneapolis have shown anything, it’s that after marching, there is organizing, making our voices heard, and standing resolutely in our pursuit of a safer world for our health and well being. We deserve nothing less.


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