Power to Speak: Gentrification picks up the Gun

Posted September 16, 2015 by The Argonaut in Columns

The murder of Jascent-Jamal Warren speaks volumes about the declining value of homeless lives in Venice

By John Seeley

Mourners light candles for Warren during a Sept. 2 memorial on the boardwalk Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Mourners light candles for Warren during a Sept. 2 memorial on the boardwalk
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

For the in-crowd, the Venice boardwalk’s Cadillac Hotel played host to a hyper-chic art event on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 29. “Collage-O-Rama,” displaying the work of 10 mixed-media artists and celebrating the of late Venice art icon Mark “Sponto” Kornfeld, had been promoted with an invite that depicted the head of Jesus Christ on the flexing body of a Schwarzenegger-esque bodybuilder — a smile-worthy image, except perhaps for the very devout.

Long after the last lingering art partiers had drained the bubbly and wandered home, notions of muscle-flexing and the Messiah became disconnected again for others living on Venice’s margins.

Around 2 a.m., a loud argument involving a hotelier, an armed man and a group of homeless people camped outside the Cadillac ended in gunfire. And then Jamal-Jascent Warren, a 26-year-old musician and poet known to locals as “Shakespeare,” was dead.

From conversations I’ve had with Warren’s family and friends at boardwalk memorial gatherings and  what I’ve picked up from media reports of eyewitness accounts, Warren had no intention of sleeping outside the Cadillac Hotel that night. Rather, he approached the fracas trying to calm things down while asserting that people did — as the courts have affirmed — have the right to sleep on the sidewalk.

Word on the boardwalk is that Warren’s intervention was not calming to the hotelier (now facing a murder charge), who witnesses allege ordered a still-at-large gunman to shoot at Warren and the crowd.

What drove Warren to enter into that fatal fracas, say friends and family, stemmed from his whole-hearted embrace of Christ’s mandate to help the needy. As his father, Herb Warren, explained in the eulogy for his son during a Sept. 5 funeral service, “Jay” was instilled since boyhood with a Christian spirit of helping the less-fortunate, whether by passing out bibles and basketballs to poor kids with his dad or insisting on pulling over to help stranded motorists.

While Warren did not carry a bible on the boardwalk, he had continued to serve the down-and-out. Only months earlier, he was giving free haircuts with a traveling homeless-aid group called Pioneers of the Open Road. Friends say Warren had left his job as a reception clerk at nearby mini-hotel Su Casa in late July intending to join the Pioneers on their mobile mission, but scheduling changes aborted those plans.

In the month that he died, Warren was looking for new employment, working on his music and hanging out at the boardwalk, where he spent hours listening to the woes of troubled kids or vets with PTSD issues.

In the final week of his life, Warren had the plight of the homeless on his mind, posting to his Facebook page: “Instead of building mega-churches, how about building mega-homeless centers?”

Following the funeral service, friends discussed launching a legacy project to keep Warren’s spirit alive. Musician Paul Goldstein, with whom Warren had planned to record, pledged to name his studio after him. One of Warren’s former supervisors at Su Casa suggested a campaign calling on the tech giants that are transforming Venice’s real estate landscape to subsidize the conversion of the Cadillac Hotel into a homeless center with rooms both for sleeping and for art.

In the meantime, Westside activists have renewed a commitment to defend the rights of homeless people to exist in public space.

A hastily organized protest along Ocean Front Walk on Sept. 13 drew about 70 people. Demonstrators marched from the Cadillac Hotel to Windward Avenue, where on May 5 another African-American homeless man in his 20s was shot and killed during a confrontation with police.

As it was with the still-unresolved police shooting of 29-year- old Brendon Glenn, Warren’s killing came as a shock to many. Tension between the swelling ranks of the boardwalk’s homeless and Venice’s increasingly upscale new residents has risen in recent years from grumbles to rumbles, to be sure. But nobody had predicted that gentrification would pick up the gun.

Perhaps that was naïve. This bizarre and callous killing or one just like it should have been expected in a social climate that casts Venice’s homeless as a threat and in which violence has been inflicted against the homeless with impunity.

It’s been less than two years since attacks on campers and sleep-in SUVs drove many unhoused people out of the Penmar Park area, just east of Lincoln.

An apparent campaign of “trailer terrorism” — largely unreported in the media, due mostly to the vehicle dwellers’ hesitation to speak on the record — started out small with “Keep Moving” notes on windshields, then escalated to slashed tires and drive-by window breakings before finally culminating in the suspected firebombing of a trailer on Glyndon Avenue.

That trailer’s 50-something resident — Ernest Roman, known as “Magoo” — no doubt seemed a transient and outsider to the neighborhood’s new residents, but he had in fact grown up less than a mile away, behind what is now Whole Foods Market.

Immediately following Glenn’s death, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed serious doubts about the officer’s need to shoot. But what’s happened since? Despite community demands, video of the shooting hasn’t been released and there’s been no public accounting for Glenn’s death.

On days when guns aren’t being fired at them, the homeless are facing intermittent harassment in their sleeping quarters.

Some city leaders are pursuing new laws to make it easier for police to seize homeless people’s property and issue tickets they have no way of paying, further complicating their already difficult lives. They should consider that some of these people would not be homeless had the city had done its job to maintain affordable housing and control predatory developers.

In this current anti-homeless climate, what message are we sending about the worth of homeless lives?

John Seeley is chair of the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action Foundation.



    Three homeless people shot to death in three months. What’s wrong with this picture? And yes, they were all black. Why is this not an emergency? Why does our city not feel disgraced by these acts? Yes, I know one of the killings was allegedly “in policy.” But what kind of policies produce these results? We should be ashamed.

    Ferguson, MO is turning over a new leaf and changing its policies. Yet even after the Federal courts have repeatedly told the City of LA that it’s serially violating homeless peoples’ civil rights, and even with the Federal Justice Department now breathing down its neck, our City government apparently feels no urgency to look honestly at its own behavior and change policies that have resulted in death after death after death. Instead, it mouths “Housing First” doctrine while neglecting to produce any substantial housing. The doctrine has become an excuse for doing nothing positive, while finding ways to skirt court rulings so it can continue kicking the homeless around.

    We know that real “housing first” not only saves lives, it saves the taxpayers money. But that would require leadership.

    Thank you, Mr. Seeley, for illuminating some of the background that has been largely ignored in the coverage of this most recent homicide.

    Hank Nelson

    John Seeley is absolutely wrong when he writes that the courts have affirmed that people have the right to sleep on the sidewalk. The ordinance that prohibits people from sleeping on the sidewalk in Los Angeles is still on the books. However, due to the Jones Settlement the law isn’t currently being enforced. But the Jones Settlement doesn’t give anybody the right to sleep on any sidewalk they want to. There are restrictions, one of which is you cannot sleep within 10 feet of any doorway or loading dock. On Dudley where the Cadillac Hotel stands there is very little sidewalk where it is actually legal for anybody to sleep.It is a very short street and most of the sidewalk is within 10 feet of the front door of the hotel. I wasn’t there so I don’t know exactly where anybody was sleeping but if they were within 10 feet of the hotel’s entrance the owner absolutely had the right to tell them to move. And that request should have been honored. Do I think that somebody should have lost their life over this ? Of course not but homeless people ignoring the terms of the Jones Settlement just makes it that much easier for the residents and property owners to make the case for why the Jones Settlement should no longer be honored. Just for the record I am homeless myself in Venice so I am by no means a “homeless hater”, just somebody who is sick and tired of seeing the total disrespect for the terms of the Jones Settlement that many homeless people have . And it certainly doesn’t help when they are being misinformed by homeless advocates who tell them that they have a right to sleep anywhere on the sidewalk they want to because they don’t. If they are within 10 feet of anybody’s doorway or loading dock or if it is between the hours of 6AM and 8:59 PM they’re not supposed to be there.

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