View More

This is just one, very limited perspective of the L.A. protests from a Lyft driver.

Everyone’s story deserves to be told. I want to share a few simple stories of people I met today. But let’s not forget whose story this really is: George Floyd‘s, Aubrey Ahmad, Breonna Taylor‘s, and the people and communities who are daily terrorized by a broken criminal justice system created by and allowed by those in power who turn a blind eye to the struggles of people they don’t identify with.

There are a lot of rideshare drivers who are currently (understandably) collecting unemployment instead of driving right now because of COVID-19 and risk to their health here in L.A. And there are a lot of rideshare drivers who are either rejecting pickups in certain protest “hotspots” or simply not driving at all because they don’t want to be out on the chaotic streets.

To make matters worse, Lyft is shutting down it’s app during curfew hours along with the Metro suspending services, so anyone who couldn’t get a last minute ride before curfew started gets stranded. Anyone who needs to get to or home from a job deemed “essential” during curfew hours needs a car or a friend with a car, otherwise they are out of luck.

Today, I gave rides to people through the Lyft app from noon to 6 p.m. Then my app got blocked because the Los Angeles County curfew went into effect.

These are just a few of the people I met and the things I saw today:

The Guard Rolls In

When I started my day, I was immediately shocked into reality by a caravan of tan trucks carrying National Guard troops rolling down the 101 towards downtown L.A. Throughout the day I saw hundreds of troops, sometimes in tight formation around full downtown city blocks, sometimes guarding street access to Hollywood Blvd. with armored humvees and trucks.

Narrow Escape From Pershing Square

I picked up a woman who lives across the street from Pershing Square in the heart of Downtown L.A. This is the epicenter of any protest movement that starts in L.A. and she told me she has seen all manner of horrors outside her window in the last 48 hours: Live rounds being fired, people being run over by cars, cars being set on fire… She just wanted to get out of downtown L.A. to stay with a friend away from the center of the protests.

Five drivers canceled on her before I pulled up to get her. As we were leaving, we drove past dozens of national guard troops in desert battle gear carrying rifles. And then we drove directly into the path of an oncoming crowd of hundreds of protesters. Organizers on bikes and skateboards were swarming intersections and directing traffic away from their path. As we turned off the main street, we passed within just a few yards of the front of the protest that stretched on beyond my line of sight.

Trapped on the Freeway Going to Venice

I picked up two young men in Hollywood who needed to get to Venice Beach. One was a rapper and the other was a cinematographer. They flew out here on Thursday from Boston to shoot a music video at the iconic location. I asked them why they chose this weekend to come to L.A. and shoot and they just said they got here before the protests started and couldn’t afford to cancel their flights or leave and come back another time. They just wanted to try and get all their shots and get out of here without running into any more trouble.

As we were eastbound on the 10 heading towards Santa Monica, a few miles away a group of looters broke off from a peaceful protest and started systematically burglarizing shops on the 3rd Street Promenade. Suddenly, a highway patrol car flew by me with his sirens blaring and I noticed traffic starting to build just ahead. I tried to get off the freeway, but the trooper positioned his cruiser to block the exit.

The freeway instantly became choked with cars who started creating extra lanes on the shoulder. Dozens of highway patrol cars came upon us, forcing people off the shoulder and blocking each exit into Santa Monica. We were originally just 12 minutes away from their destination, but driving the 10 all the way to the coast, we were forced to exit onto the Pacific Coast Highway, drive that north a couple miles and then double back to the 10. We made it there 45 minutes later without too much more trouble.

Just Get Me Home

Then, I picked up a woman in Venice who needed to get home to Hollywood and couldn’t get any rideshare drivers to pick her up. Before I showed up, she was worried that she would be stuck in Venice and would have nowhere to go. As we left her neighborhood I saw hundreds of protesters marching down the sidewalk at Venice Beach. I couldn’t help but wonder how the artists I dropped off earlier were fairing with their shoot.

We were able to get away from the crowds and I realized that the best way to get her home would be to make a big loop around and away from all the protest hotspots by going north of the Hollywood Hills then doubling back towards Hollywood, but this would add 13 miles to our journey. I asked her if this route was okay with her.

“I don’t care how you do it, just get me home,” she said.

She seemed pretty stressed out, so I asked her what kind of music she liked. We rocked out to some gospel music all the way home.

Chasing Their Dreams

I drove two girls from Beverly Hills to North Hollywood, sisters, both barely 20, who moved to L.A. from Indiana to “chase [their] dreams.” They were currently out of work because their employers were shut-down during the pandemic. They were picking up random odd jobs through anyone they knew to make ends meet and keep it together.

They said they were super scared to be out and about, but they didn’t have a choice – they were broke, behind on bills, and had to work every chance they could find a job to do. I had picked them up from walking some rich guy’s dogs. I hope he paid them well.

Almost Stranded

After I dropped the sisters off, I received a desperate call from my next rider, an elderly woman who had just found out the county moved curfew up from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. She was just leaving work, desperate to get home, but couldn’t find an available driver. She begged me to not cancel on her. She had been in my que for 15 minutes already and was worried I wouldn’t make it to her on time. I picked her up at 5:58 p.m. – just two minutes before the Lyft app shut down ride requests – and was able to get her home without any problems.

Then I went home and called it a day.

Tomorrow, and the Next Day

I’m going out again tomorrow. I have to. There aren’t enough people providing rides and there are too many people without any real good choices – for one reason or another they have to get where they are going because they have a job to do and they need to go do it and get home.

And I have a job to do too. I need to earn a living. And I have to do what I’m good at: safely driving people where they need to go using my intimate knowledge of the city streets (after giving nearly 11,000 Lyft rides) to avoid potential dangers, and calmly assuring people that they are going to be okay while I listen to them get all their thoughts, worries, anger, & concerns off their chest.

I know I will be okay. I am protected. I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Whatever comes my way will come my way, and whatever won’t, won’t. I can handle it because I’ve spent my whole life preparing me for today. And today prepared me for tomorrow, and then I’ll be prepared for the day after that. If you pray, please pray for me (if you don’t please send me positive vibes), that wherever I go and whatever situation I encounter – that I can continue to serve others as a peacemaker like I have been called and prepared to be.

Let’s Get Real

But let’s keep it real here for a moment. I’m a clean cut, well-educated, white male. No threat to my safety, no danger that I drive into, and no fear that I summon on the streets of Los Angeles can ever come close to being comparable with the domestic terrorism and injustices that communities of color, indigenous Americans, and marginalized “others” deal with every day at the hands of the powers that are supposed to serve and protect them.

What I’ve written here, this is just a story. This is just what I saw through my eyes today. But this isn’t about my story.

This is about Ahmaud Arbery, Aiyana Jones, Alton Sterling, Amadou Diallo, Anthony Hill, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Clifford Glover, Corey Jones, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Emmett Till, Eric Garner, Ethel Lee Lance, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, John Crawford III, Jonathan Ferrell, Jordan Davis, Jordan Edwards, Keith Lamont Scott, Mike Brown, Myra Thompson, Oscar Grant, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Stephon Clark, Susie Jackson, Tamir Rice, Terence Crutcher, Trayvon Martin, Tywanza Sanders, Walter Scott and the thousands of other individuals who have unnecessarily lost their lives. Because some people seem to think their lives don’t matter.

Read their names. Read their stories. You read my story. Now, do the right thing and read theirs. Don’t look away because it makes you uncomfortable. Don’t ignore them because you think you already have it figured out. You have power. You can do something. Now that you know, what are you going to do? There is plenty to be done.

UPDATE (6/4): Sadly, David McAtee has joined the list of people whose stories you need to know.

One Last Thing

Every one of the individual riders I picked up whose story I told above belongs to some kind of marginalized or oppressed group who are constantly “othered” and ignored. I didn’t mention those identifying details because I wanted you to know them for their simple, human experiences first, so that you could relate to them on that level without seeing them through the filter of their outward identity – which to you may be an “other” – and then miss your connection to them. Now you know.

Image credit: JP Designs Art
Featured photo by @goEastLos
Background photo by Axel Koester, contributing photographer for the Los Angeles Daily News
View More

President Trump made a “go back to your country” tweet recently and arguments have broken out between the left and the right about whether or not it was racist. Several strange defenses have been made of his tweet. Let’s walk through some of them and see what we can all learn about ourselves and our attitudes toward race.

First, let’s look at exactly what the President said:

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.

Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

Based on the timing and the context, many people have concluded that this tweet is about “The Squad,” four non-white freshmen Democratic congresswomen who have been working closely together to shake up establishment politics in Washington. Pictures above from left to right, they are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (NY, 14th), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI, 13th), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (MA, 7th), and Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN, 5th).

Many people have pointed out how ludicrous this is since representatives AOC, Tlaib, and Pressley were all born in the U.S. and only Omar was born in another country. It has been pointed out that President Trump must be assuming that all of these women have foreign ties and roots because they are all women of color.

Now, one of the strangest defenses I have heard is that President Trump was only referring to one person in particular, and not all four of these women. His use of plurals is dismissed as being a generalization about anyone who fits the description, but only one person was on the President’s mind when he came up with that description.

Of course, that person is Rep. Omar, a U.S. citizen who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the U.S. when she was twelve. Even if President Trump was only referring to Rep. Omar, that doesn’t make him any less of a racist to tell her to “go back to their [her] country.”

I might be willing to buy the argument that he was using using the colloquial sarcasm trick of speaking in the plural but having one specific person in mind, except that he ended his tweed by saying, “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!” If he had any one person in mind, then that would mean he was clearly Rep. AOC since it is her ongoing power struggle with Speaker Pelosi that President Trump has been trying to inject himself into and highlight in order to foment division within the Democratic Party.

Some have pointed out that Rep. AOC was born in the Bronx and is of Puerto Rican heritage so President Trump couldn’t possibly mean her since she is clearly from the U.S. The problem is that President Trump has demonstrated a history of being confused about world geography, so it would be no surprise if he makes no distinction between different Latin American countries. To many Americans, Latinos are all the same and since Rep. AOC is latina it wouldn’t be a stretch that he assumes she is foreign. He also has proven to be somewhat ignorant about Puerto Rico in particular, repeatedly referring to it as if it is a separate country from the U.S. so it wouldn’t surprise me if he knows Rep. AOC’s heritage but that doesn’t matter to him.

However, even if you assume that he was only referring to Rep. Omar, that would still make it the most disturbing feature of his tweet. To tell a Somali woman to “go back to their [her] country” is kind of like telling her you wish her to live a tortured life and to die young. And especially in the context of telling her to “help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they [she] came,” only reveals a callous ignorance about the human rights conditions for women in the country to which he is referring.

In 2005, UNICEF ranked Somalia the number one country for female genital mutilation because 97.9% of all women and girls there have undergone the procedure. In 2011 Somalia was ranked the fifth worst place in the world to live as a woman due to domestic violence, rape, FMG, infanticide, acid attacks, limited access to healthcare and education, high maternal mortality rates, and economic discrimination.

While it is true that one third of Somalia’s parliament is comprised of 30% women, this is merely to meet a token gender quota to give the appearance of women having political power when the reality is that they have little to no political power according to a 2017 study published by Social Development Direcct and Forcier Consulting. Somalia’s own women’s minister, Maryan Qasim, said of the country’s 2011 ranking, “I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth.”

And speaking of Tokenism, President Trump seems to be a perfect case study in this practice. He has added token people of color into his administration to give the appearance that he is not racist, but it is all to obvious that this is his motive for doing so because he cannot help himself referring to their race every chance he gets, as if he is desperate to remind us. Thou doth protest too much.

In reality, President Trump’s cabinet is dominated by white men: 11 out of 15 plus four token members: Ben Carson, Alex Acosta, Elaine Chao, and Betsy DeVos. Even their positions reveal some not-so-subtle racism and misogyny: Putting the only black man in charge of Housing and Urban Development, and one of the only women in charge of the Department of Education (both of whom had no qualifications for either job prior to their nomination).

If there was any doubt that the women and people of color in President Trump’s cabinet are only there for the token defense against racism, you need look no further than Vice President Pence’s own chief of staff, Marc Short, who pointed out this weekend that President Trump couldn’t possibly be racist because he appointed Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, to his cabinet. This sounds an awful lot like the tired old ‘black friend’ defense.

What Mr. Short is failing to realize is that you don’t have to be racist against ALL races to be a racist. In fact, approval of Asian Americans, America’s non-threatening “model minority,” is quite common among even the most virulent of racists who think other people of color are less-than human and often used as a wedge between Asians and blacks.

Why is the token defense so hideous? Because it is not only makes no logical sense, but it is also a common pre-planned defense by racists to justify their planned racist behavior in the same way that someone planning a major crime will try to set up an alabi for themselves ahead of time. And yes, the token defense makes as much logical sense as it would if Ted Bundy defended himself by saying, “I couldn’t possibly be a murderer, just look at all the friends I have who are alive!”

The bottom line is this: None of the defenses of President Trump’s tweet actually hold any water – in fact, they only serve to further pile on additional evidence of his bigotry, misogyny, ignorance, and callousness. If you heard any of these defenses and thought, “Oh, okay that makes sense. That clears him,” then you should take a serious look into your own biases and cultural influences. The thing about being in a moving car is it often feels like you are standing still and it is the rest of the world that is moving.

The thing about being a racist is that it is so normal and acceptable to you that you don’t even realize that you are. If an overwhelming number of people are pointing to an action or attitude and saying, “Hey, that’s totally racist!” the correct response is not to immediately assume they are all over-sensitive snowflakes looking for something to be mad about. The correct response is to assume that maybe there is something you are missing and it is worth investigating yourself and questioning your own beliefs and assumptions first rather than writing off your critics and surrounding yourself with other people who agree with you (they are probably just as racist are you are).

Racism isn’t an on or off switch. Racism is a spectrum. When someone’s defense of their racist action or attitude is to simply distinguish themselves from a worse action or attitude or to compare themselves to the worse racist they can think of, that is pretty good evidence that they actually are truly a racist and not simply misunderstood.

The lyrics to the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” are more than just a couple of clever jokes They speak to a truism that we all need to start embracing and learning from. The song not only points out that we can all stand to make improvements, it demonstrates degrees of racism, and destigmatizes it as a common human foible so that avoiding self-loathing won’t be a roadblock to truly being honest with ourselves about our racist attitudes.

We all need to constantly be examining our biases and beliefs, myself included, and listening closely to people who are critical of us and our politicians, because that is the only way we are ever going to catch our blind spots. I learn more about myself, my blind spots, biases, and inappropriate beliefs and actions every day, and the work is far from over. It is a humbling, but extremely necessary habit to form if we truly want to make this world a better place.