• John Farrell: Tiger of San Pedro’s Theater Reviews Dies at 63

    Photo Courtesy of Steve Moyer

    The Random Lengths News family is mourning the death of the paper’s longtime theater reviewer, John Farrell. Farrell died May 7 at the age of 63.

    The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office had yet to determine Farrell’s cause of death as of press time. However, he was known to suffer from diabetes.

    Known for his eclectic style, which included wearing a top hat, Farrell loved theater in all its incarnations.

    “He was bigger than life—big in size and big in personality,” said his younger brother, Edward.

    Farrell, would commute to San Pedro and Long Beach to do what he loved the most: attend the theater.

    Charlotte Irons, a longtime friend with whom he lived, found him at his computer in her Sherman Oaks home at about 4 p.m.

    “He died at his computer and that’s how it should be,” said Irons about Farrell’s dedication to his craft.

    Irons, who met Farrell as a student at Cal State Long Beach in the early ‘70s, said Farrell and she shared a love for theater and world cultures. She remembers how he seemed to carry “100 cameras around his neck” as a photographer for the Daily 49er, the school’s campus newspaper.

    “We had so much in common,” she said. “It was he who brought me back to opera. He brought me back to a lot of the things I developed as a child.”

    Farrell was born on Sept. 19, 1951, in San Pedro. His father, John Farrell Sr., was a postal supervisor. His mother Martha was a teacher.

    Farrell’s brother, Edward, two nephews, a niece and a great-grand nephew, survive him.

    A graduate of San Pedro High School, Farrell was much less of a bohemian in his youth than he was in his later years. He always wanted to be a writer. In fact, he even started a small newspaper, Edward remembered. He later attended Harbor College before transferring to Cal State Long Beach to study journalism.

    Farrell also was a proud member of the Baker Street Irregulars, a literary society established in 1934 that’s dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes. Farrell’s title at the society was “The Tiger of San Pedro.”

    “He really had three lives: Sherlock Holmes, music and theater,” his brother said.

    Farrell will be cremated. No funeral services are planned at this time. A celebration of life might be in the plans for the future. In lieu of flowers, Farrell’s family is asking friends, readers and loved ones to attend a show in his memory.

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  • RL NEWS Briefs of the Week: May 15, 2015

    Tanaka and Carey Plead ‘Not Guilty’

    LOS ANGELES — On May 14, Paul Tanaka and William Thomas Carey plead not guilty to obstruction of justice during their appearance in court at the Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles.

    A trial was scheduled for July 7. Both were released yesterday afternoon on bond. For Tanaka, bond was set at $50,000, and will be secured by property owned by his wife.  Carey’s bond was set at $100,000, but is unsecured.

    Tanaka, who was the second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and Carey, who oversaw internal criminal investigations at the LASD, were indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations by sheriff’s deputies at two downtown jail complexes.

    A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Tanaka and Carey, who allegedly participated in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation, a scheme that started when the sheriff’s department learned that an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail was an FBI informant.

    Tanaka and Carey allegedly directed, oversaw and participated in a conspiracy that this past year resulted in the conviction of seven other former LASD deputies.

    Tanaka and Carey, both 56, are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of making false declarations for perjuring himself last year during the trials of co-conspirators.

    Tanaka was the undersheriff – the No. 2 in the LASD – until 2013, and he ran an unsuccessful campaign for sheriff last year. Carey left the LASD after reaching the rank of captain and heading the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

    Tanaka and Carey surrendered themselves to the FBI early May 14.

    According to the indictment that was unsealed, the two defendants were well aware of “problem deputies” at the jails, “allegations of rampant abuse of inmates,” and “insufficient internal investigations” into deputy misconduct. But against this backdrop, Tanaka allegedly told deputies assigned to the jails to work in a “gray area” and that he thought that the LASD Internal Affairs Bureau should be reduced from 45 investigators to just one.

    The scheme to thwart the federal investigation allegedly started when deputies in August 2011 recovered a mobile phone from an inmate in Men’s Central Jail, linked the phone to the FBI, and determined that the inmate was an informant for the FBI and was cooperating in a federal corruption civil rights investigation. The phone was given to the inmate by a corrupt deputy, who subsequently pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges.

    Alarmed by the federal investigation, members of the conspiracy, guided by Tanaka and Carey, took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the United States Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate to testify before a federal grand jury in response to an order issued by a federal judge. The indictment alleges that as part of the conspiracy, the deputies altered records to make it appear that the cooperator had been released. They then re-booked the inmate under a different name, moved him to secure locations, prohibited FBI access to the informant, and then told the cooperator that he had been abandoned by the FBI.

    Over the course of several weeks, members of the conspiracy allegedly sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to the LASD. After the judge refused to issue the order because he had no jurisdiction over the federal law enforcement agency, and even though it was clear that the FBI was properly acting in the course of a lawful investigation, Tanaka and Carey met to discuss having two sergeants approach the lead FBI case agent. Soon thereafter, the sergeants confronted the agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her. The sergeants threatened the agent with arrest and later reiterated this threat to her supervisor, stating that the agent’s arrest was imminent.

    “As the allegations demonstrate, Tanaka had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the sheriff’s department,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “This case also illustrates how leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture, will be held accountable, just like their subordinates.”

    The indictment also alleges that Tanaka and Carey oversaw co-conspirators who told fellow deputies not to cooperate in the federal investigation. Members of the conspiracy allegedly engaged in witness tampering by telling fellow deputies that the FBI would lie, threaten, manipulate and blackmail them to obtain information about the sheriff’s department.

    “The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts,” said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The public held the defendants to the highest standard, but, instead, they spent their time and energy setting a tone which minimized the value of their oath and dishonored the badge they wore.”

    An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

    The conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, and the obstruction of justice charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years. The two false declaration counts against Carey each carry a potential penalty of five years.

    As a result of this investigation, a total of 21 defendants who held various ranks in the LASD have been charged, including the deputy who took the bribe to smuggle the phone and seven co-conspirators in the scheme to obstruct justice (see, for example: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2014/161.html).

    The investigation into corruption, civil rights abuses and obstruction of justice related to the Los Angeles County jails is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    LBPD Release Name of OIS Officer
    LONG BEACH — On May 12, the Long Beach Police Department released the name of Officer Jeffrey A. Meyer, who killed an unarmed 19-year-old man on April 23.
    The fatal shooting of Hector Morejon took place in the central area of Long Beach known as Cambodia Town. Morejon’s family want officials to release his autopsy report and the 9-1-1 dispatch call.
    The shooting took place after officers responded to reports of a break in to an unoccupied residence. Police officials said Meyer thought he saw Morejon pointing a gun before shooting. No weapon was found at the scene.

    Bird Theft Suspect IdentifiedZermeno
    LONG BEACH — On May 15, Long Beach Police Department detectives identified 42-year-old Jose Jesus Zermeno as a suspect wanted in connection with the theft of exotic birds from a Long Beach home.
    The LBPD is seeking the public’s help with locating him and identifying two additional suspects.
    Officials said that on May 4, Zermeno entered a residential backyard in the 6700 block of Harbor Avenue, where he stole five exotic birds from separate birdcages. Video surveillance captured the incident where Zermeno is seen climbing over the fence into the backyard, opening birdcages, removing the birds, and handing them over the fence to a second suspect. A third unidentified suspect drove a red Ford Ranger truck.

    A police officer spotted the truck, at about 5 a.m. May 14, 2015, near Wardlow Road and Atlantic Avenue. The officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop but the driver of the failed to yield and led the officer on a short vehicle pursuit. The officer lost sight of the truck. It was later found abandoned in the 2200 block of Cedar Avenue. The truck was impounded and is in the custody of the Long Beach Police Department.
    Zermeno is about 5’ 3″ with a medium build. The second suspect is a 25- to 30-year-old man, about 5’10” to 6’0” and 185 to 200 pounds. The description of the third suspect is unknown at this time.
    If anyone has information about this incident call (562) 570-7351 or visit www.LACrimeStoppers.org.

    Long Beach City Council Helps Cab Company Stay Competitive

    LONG BEACH — On May 12, The Long Beach City Council voted 9-0 to ease regulations on Long Beach Yellow Cab so that it could increase its fleet size.
    The cab company will increase its fleet size by 24 to 199 taxicabs in Long Beach.
    The council’s decision will allow for the company to offer discounts to make them more competitive with rideshare companies Uber and Lyft, for example.
    The company has stated that it plans to rebrand itself and incorporate mobility technology.

    CSU to Get $38 Million
    SACRAMENTO — The California State University system is slated to receive an additional $38 million for investment as a result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget to the Legislature.
    However, the proposal falls $59 million short of what the CSU Board of Trustees deems is necessary.
    The Legislature has until June 15 to send their version of the State Budget to the governor for his final approval by July 1.

    UC’s Largest Employee Union, AFSCME 3299, Reacts to Governor’s May Budget Revise
    OAKLAND — In response to the release of Gov. Jerry Brown’s May Budget Revise, which includes a two-year tuition freeze at the University of California, AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger has released the following statement:
    “We are encouraged by … [the] May Budget revise, which includes a framework for preventing the planned UC tuition hikes that would have been devastating for students. The University’s commitment to contain the exorbitant executive pensions that divert resources away from UC’s core public mission is also an important step forward, provided it is not used as a tool to undermine the retirement security of its lower paid, frontline staff.
    Ultimately, there remains much more to do to restore UC’s promise of offering ladders to the middle class for Californians, particularly on issues of in-state access and the rising number of UC workers who are living in poverty. That’s why we will continue to urge legislators to tie increased state funding to in-state enrollment targets, and to enact legislation that guarantees ‘equal pay’ for UC subcontractors who do the same jobs as career UC employees (SB 376, Lara).”

    Hahn Tries to Honor World War II Merchant Mariners
    WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 14, Rep. Janice Hahn, who has been leading an effort to honor World War II Merchant Mariners spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    Despite courageous and heroic service World War II Merchant Mariners did not receive benefits like the G.I. bill provided to other veterans.
    As the House considers the National Defense Authorization Act, Hahn offered an amendment that would have honored those who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. However, the House Rules Committee did not rule her amendment in order.
    Hahn earlier this year introduced the Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2015 (H.R. 563).
    Video of Congresswoman Hahn speaking today on the urgency of honoring surviving WWII Merchant Mariners can be seen at https://youtu.be/Q5vmvcfgJms

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  • Queen Latifah, Empress of the Blues

    By Melina Paris, Columnist

    If there was ever a question as to which present-day actress would be one of the best choices to portray Bessie Smith, Queen Latifah would certainly be the best answer.

    Queen Latifah will indeed star in the legendary singer’s biopic, Bessie, which airs on HBO May 16.

    The film is loosely based on the acclaimed biography Bessie, by journalist Chris Albertson. The book focuses on Smith’s escape from her turbulent personal life to become one of the first major blues stars, earning the distinction “Empress of the Blues.”

    Smith dealt with many adversities in her life, including racism and the Great Depression. She was also a business woman and one of the most successful recording artists of her time, earning up to $2,000 a week. She lived hard and created some of her own hardships.

    Smith has been a strong influence on such female vocalists as Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Queen Latifah has the chops to measure up to Smith’s legacy, and has the voice for the role, having garnered Grammy nominations for her albums as a jazz singer. Latifah has recorded many of Smith’s well-known songs for the film, and a soundtrack release is expected.

    Producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck first approached Queen Latifah for the role when she was only 22. At press conferences, Queen Latifah has said she is glad the film took 22 years to get made.

    “When the project came my way, I don’t think I had the life journey that went along with it,” she said. “I got to live more of the blues.”

    The remarkable similarities between the two women make this role a good fit for Queen Latifah. Both are savvy business people, both are beautiful with big voices and curvaceous figures, and both have enormous charisma.

    In an interview with CBS, Latifah spoke about the first time she was approached for the role.

    “I didn’t know who Bessie Smith was,” she said. “I had to go do some homework. And I did. When I listened to her music, I was initially intimidated. She had so much power—power in her fist, power in her heart, power in her body, her soul. I do admire her. I mean, I relate to her in a lot of ways. I’ve lived her life in a lot of ways.”

    The film also stars Mo’Nique as blues legend Ma Rainey, Bryan Greenberg as John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive who signed Smith, as well as Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Tory Kittles, Mike Epps, Oliver Platt and Charles S. Dutton.

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  • Making it Big While Staying True

    Fr3qu3nc3 band members Frank Unzueta, Lucas Valenzuela, Chey Espejo and Tommy Pinteric. Photos courtesy of Lucas Valenzuela.

    Luke Von Duke talks about the road he’s traveled from Somehow Still Alive to Fr3qu3nc3

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    I talked to Luke Valenzuela at Alvas Showroom during a Frank Unzueta’s One World concert in November of 2013.

    I was there on assignment covering Frank Unzueta. I knew he was Luke’s uncle and thought at the time it would be great to interview both musicians together. Luke caught my attention in 2009 as Luke von Duke with his band, Somehow Still Alive. He was different. At the time, he was the only local artist I saw who embraced hip hop and rock music the way he did.

    When I greeted Luke at Alvas recently he didn’t immediately recognize me. I was just the guy that did the photoshoot of him and his band for the feature. B. Noel Barr wrote the story. His eyes lit with recognition when I said I was from Random Lengths.

    “Hey man, how you doing?” he said. “Man, I got a new band called Fr3qu3nc3 (pronounced “frequency”), but I’m not ready to talk about it just yet.”

    “That’s OK—get in touch with me when you are,” I told him.

    A year-and-a-half later, Luke messaged me on Facebook with links to his music and a query about running a story about him.

    I told him I’d get in touch the week after next, when Random Lengths wasn’t publishing. He tagged me first.

    Luke has three songs: “Laugh at Myself,” “Don’t Hold Your Breath” and “I’m Nothing.” They struck me as being strangely familiar. It reminded me of the industrial-sounding, British, pop music from the 1980s.

    It turned out, I wasn’t far off.

    When Luke and I finally met up at Averill Park, he explained that Fr3qu3nc3 emerged out of a low point, when Somehow Still Alive disbanded. I remembered back in 2009, there was a great deal of excitement that that band was on the verge of making it big and breaking out beyond the confines of San Pedro.

    “The music I was doing in 2008 and 2009 seemed like it was starting to break through but it was pushed back to the underground,” Luke said. “We were opening for headliners and we were being looked at by labels and that was in ’09. Back then, the music business was a little bit better.”

    Fr3qu3nc3’s music was inspired by Depeche Mode, an English electronic band that formed in 1980. The band’s original lineup included Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Vince Clarke. Clarke was replaced by Alan Wilder in 1982.

    Gahan fronted the band as lead vocalist, while Gore played guitar and keyboards and was main songwriter for much of their first 13 years together.

    Luke attempted to make a cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 song, “Enjoy the Silence” using FL Studio, a music production program. He wasn’t satisfied with the result, explaining that his software didn’t have the right patches to correct some of the bugs in the system, making his effort sound amateurish.

    “It was as if I used a Playschool beatmaker,” he said.

    But it was during this process that he found the Asian Strings patch and created what became the first line of Fr3qu3nc3’s debut song, “Laugh at Myself.”

    “I’ve always loved Depeche Mode and The Smiths’ Morrissey and The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary,’” Luke said.

    After completing “Laugh at Myself,” Luke gained momentum. Working with a guitar and the melodies inside his head, he started cranking out original music. That’s also when he hooked up with lifelong friend “Tommy Gunn” Pintaric.

    “That’s my boy; I loved that guy,” Luke said. “I’ve known him for 27 years. I’d take a bullet for him… Well, I’ll take a punch for him, not a bullet.”

    Charismatic and funny, Luke’s “taking a punch” slaps me as an inside joke that is both funny and real. Luke said he had produced five more songs before he approached Tommy. He had previously reached out to another drummer who ultimately flaked. Luke and Tommy believed Fr3qu3nc3’s sound needed some funk. That’s where Uncle Frank comes in.

    “Chances are, nine times out of 10, the kids that shred around here were taught by Uncle Frank,” Luke explained. “His guitar playing…to me, he’s one of the most amazing guitar players around. He’s not Frank Unzueta. He’s Uncle Frank around here.”

    As Luke puts it, Fr3qu3nc3 got real sexy after Frank’s inclusion. His guitar playing reminds Luke of Johnny Mar from The Smiths, one of his all-time favorite guitarists.

    Sean Herrera from Sifa joined the group, but he parted ways from the band due to scheduling conflicts. Luke and Sean remain close enough that Luke said for Sean, he would also take a slap in the face.

    Chey Espejo next joined Fr3qu3nc3. Chey was a member of Knucklebuster, who we’ve also featured in these pages, as well as Luke’s late 1990s band, Beer Drinking Weather.

    “I keep my eye on both of them [Herrera and Espejo] because they are so good,” Luke said.

    After explaining how he put this current band together, Luke got to the real reason why we was ready for a write-up.

    He had found some muscle in the industry with 12-time Grammy winning producer and musician, Rafa Sardina.

    “His playing is just clear and he’s worked with everybody,” Luke said excitedly. “He’s worked with Lady Gaga, He’s worked with Beyonce.”

    Luke said his production sounds like Jesus recorded them.

    Indeed, Rafa’s client list reads like a Who’s Who in all the major music magazines from Rolling Stone to The Source with artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Roots, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Harry Connick Jr, Mariah Carey, Shakira, Dr. Dre, Dru Hill…. the list goes on.

    Luke sent Rafa an email and amazingly got a response. More importantly, he got an audience with Rafa at which time he listened to Fr3qu3nc3’s music.

    “I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I almost pinched my own ass to see if I was dreaming,” said Luke jokingly. But he was serious.

    Rafa apparently liked Luke’s music enough to shop it around to some of his industry contacts—a pretty freaking huge deal.

    At 34, Luke has been chasing his dreams for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s suffered many disappointments.

    “It’s a rat race; I feel like everybody is fighting over the same piece of moldy cheese,” he said, reflecting on his years in the game. “When you get a taste of what the music industry is all about, it’s kind of scary.”

    “They’re not about development anymore,” he said. “You could have great music, but if you don’t have massive social media support, they won’t talk to you.”

    Pantomiming the typical conversation artists have with music executives before they make it to the big time—if they make it—Luke begins:

    “Hey, you got the best music in the world. I listen to it every night with my wife. How’s your following? How many Facebook likes do you have? 200. How many YouTube views? 500. Get out of here.”

    “They don’t want to mess with you,” he said.

    Luke and his Beer Drinking Weather bandmates thought they had it made when Interscope Records was looking at them. It ultimately didn’t work out. He blames oversaturation of artists as the biggest hurdle, noting that there’s a Fr3qu3nc3 at every corner, a Luke rapping on every stage, and somebody making beats everywhere else.

    This time, Luke is hiring a public relations agent to help him get his recognition up in social media and beyond. Right now, the stars seems to be coming into alignment and his dreams of financially supporting himself and his parents seems a little bit closer. He intends to stay on his grind, making use of any opportunity, ‘til the wheels fall off.

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    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine Writer

    If you were unable to attend the West Coast BBQ Classic at the Queen Mary May 9, I feel sorry for your loss. What you missed was some of the best barbeque this side of the Mississippi, so allow me to paint a picture for you.

    Imagine thousands of hungry attendees, 80 certified barbecue judges and 57 eager teams competing for the ultimate prize: a wifi barbecue grill, a check for $10,000 and a chance to hold the state title of Grand Champion. Brought to you by the Kansas City BBQ Society, this was the fourth annual barbeque classic here in Long Beach. And, let me tell you, it was well worth the heartburn I experienced after sampling some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted in my life.

    Contestants were able to compete in several categories, submitting entries for chicken, ribs, pork and brisket. Judges rated each team’s entry on a scale from one to nine and allocated points for appearance, taste and tenderness. Oh, to have been a judge that day…

    I’m horrible at “sampling” anything. If someone hands me an excellent piece of barbecue chicken or a pork rib, there is no way I’m taking just one bite. If it’s out of this world, I’ll happily take the whole thing down (and probably ask for seconds).

    Naturally, I lasted about two hours before I had to army crawl back to the car just so I could drag myself home and take a nap. From what I was able to try, there were four teams that really stood out above the rest. While they didn’t place in the top five of any category, their entries were so on point, I can only imagine how sensational the winners must have been.

    Competing for their second year at the West Coast BBQ Classic was Team Woodshed. Based in Orange, the Woodshed is actually a brick-and-mortar store, and is well known for their premium firewood.

    Purchased by husband–and–wife team Mike and Patty Sharpe in 2006, the Woodshed gained notoriety in the restaurant world in Southern California. In 2012 Patty lost her beloved husband to leukemia, but she continues to honor him by continuing to run the business with genuine enthusiasm.

    I found the team to be incredibly upbeat and eager to please everyone. They didn’t have an arrogant air about them; they were there to have fun. Of course, it’s about the food, but competing as a team that is actually known for providing cooking wood to other contestants, I still thought their entries were quite incredible. The kalua pork was a particularly bold move considering most judges are looking for traditional barbecue fare, but sometimes you need a break between smoky ribs and charred chicken. Served alongside spicy pineapple beans and rice, the kalua pork was the perfect combination of sweet and tangy.

    Outta Gas BBQ deserves an honorable mention, particularly because they won the People’s Choice Award. Husband–and–wife team Chris and Laura Ades started grilling in the backyard. Their love for exceptional barbecue quickly turned competitive in 2013. Their team, comprised of friends and family and their loving entourage, gave them a competitive advantage.

    Outta Gas BBQ catered to the hordes of people like a well-oiled machine. Their booth alone was a crowd favorite, giving them an added appeal. Crowds formed in front of their grilling station, which looked like a roadside barbecue shack and waited patiently for their ribs.

    My personal favorite was their short rib taco with romaine lettuce and cabbage slaw served with a lime wedge. I almost asked for two but instead Laura gave me a generous serving of their special beans cooked with chunks of bacon. I have no problem with bacon; I say put it on everything.

    But the true showstoppers were the soon–to–be husband–and–wife duo Harry Soo and Donna Fong, who compete as Slap Yo Daddy BBQ and Butcher’s Daughter BBQ. Unlike most of the competing couples I spoke to at the event, Harry and Donna have a whole different dynamic. In fact, they are not a team at all. They travel around competing against each other and the stakes are high.

    By day Harry is an information technology manager in downtown Los Angeles, but by night he’s a barbecue grill master—a title which he undoubtedly earned. The man has so many barbecue accolades, it’s almost ridiculous.

    His most incredible win was placing first among 7,000 contestants in a barbecue contest in Kansas where he did it with chicken. Harry is well known in the world of barbecue. He currently teaches barbecue techniques to eager and willing enthusiasts. Many of his students were competing against him at the Queen Mary.

    Donna is a quiet, introverted molecular biologist who lives in Northern California. She had her first taste of barbecue several years ago and decided the only way to eat great barbecue all of the time was to become a judge. She started taking barbecue courses from Harry and as they say, one thing led to another. They have since been happily competing against each other for years.

    I stood between their booths, watching in complete awe as they kept passing me slices of different things to try. My heart went pitter-patter. With expert precision, Donna sliced off a piece of her Wagyu beef brisket from Snake River. For those of you who don’t know, anything from that breed of cattle costs a pretty penny, but my god it is worth every cent. Her brisket melted in my mouth; I’ve never had anything like it.

    Harry offered up his pork ribs, his famous chicken, both of which were excellent. The chicken, in particular, was so juicy that I forgot I was eating chicken.

    As I turned to leave, Harry handed me a tender morsel of something that blew my mind. To this day I still have no idea what I put in my mouth but whatever it was, I have a new appreciation and fondness for barbecue. After that bite, the world stopped for a moment. In some respects, it was life–changing. That one piece will forever be my first, my last, and my only (until, of course, next year).

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  • Human Trafficking:

    A Look at Modern Slavery in the Harbor Area

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Editor’s Note: Above is a still photo from the film, Niña Quebrada, which tells the story of a young girl forced into prostitution by her boyfriend upon arriving in Los Angeles from Mexico. Though the story in the film is based on fictional characters, the circumstances in which these characters are found are accurate depictions of the travails that many victims of human trafficking face. The accounts reported in this article are true stories that focus on the many aspects of human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking.

    Mary didn’t have the best home life when she met a man who pulled down the stars and the moon for her, promising everlasting love.

    But the illusion of a better life soon turned into a nightmare. The man forced her to have sex with other men for money, threatened her and even tattooed his street name on her face. Alone, trapped and forced into prostitution, Mary feared for her life and the lives of her family members.

    “They had tortured, sexually abused her; it was horrible,” said Lt. Dan Pratt of the Long Beach Police Department’s Vice Investigations detail, whose group handled the case. “She didn’t have the wherewithal to seek help. She was just afraid. She didn’t know what she should do and she believed everything he said. He manipulated the heck out of her.”

    Pratt said it was satisfying to put her perpetrators in jail. One is facing life in prison and another is awaiting sentencing.

    Unfortunately, Mary’s story is not unusual.

    In 2014, the Vice Investigations detail handled 24 cases, made 26 arrests and rescued 29 minors from modern slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking.

    According to a 2007 United Nations report, human trafficking generates about $9.5 billion in the United States, annually. There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the United States, but estimates show that about 100,000 children are involved in the sex trade industry in the country each year. The Attorney General’s office states that between mid-2010 and mid-2012, California law enforcement officials identified 1,277 victims and arrested 1,798 people. Los Angeles is among three of the FBI’s highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation, according to a 2009 Department of Justice report.

    The victims of human trafficking are hiding in plain sight, while being controlled and held captive. They are people waiting at the bus stop as you drive by on your way to work. They might be your neighbor’s housekeepers, or the workers who made your child’s toy.

    “Human trafficking essentially is a continuum of exploitation,” said Kay Buck, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, also known as CAST, a direct service provider to survivors of human trafficking in the Los Angeles region. She further defined the crime: “It is when a person is forced through physical force, fraud or coercion to remain in a situation of exploitation.”

    CAST helps survivors escape and provides shelter, case management, legal services, and advocacy. It works collaboratively with more than 90 organizations. In 2014, it served more than 350 survivors and their family members.

    Sola, a domestic slave from Africa, is one of the human trafficking survivors CAST helped rescue. Seemingly employed as a nanny, she was in the United States with a family—her captors—were on an extended vacation. They were staying at a hotel. Sola managed to get the hotline number for CAST at the African embassy, when Homeland Security officials interviewed her separately from her traffickers. They gave Sola the CAST hotline number. When the family went out to a theme park, Sola was left alone at the hotel and told not to leave. That’s when she took the opportunity to call.

    “She hid it there in her bra strap for a whole month before she summoned up the courage to call when the family was out,” Buck recalled.

    The first day CAST planned the escape with her over the phone, Sola didn’t show.

    “She didn’t have the courage to leave,” Buck said. “She called back that night and we did the same the following morning. That time, she did have the courage to leave. We were able to help her escape and take her to our shelter where she stayed for a year.”

    A June 2012 International Labor Organization report estimates that globally there are 20.9 million cases of human trafficking, including 5.5 million children. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world after drug dealing. Many victims of trafficking are forced into prostitution, pornography or exotic dancing. But trafficking also occurs in the form of labor exploitation such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, “sweatshop” factory work or migrant agricultural work. Buck explained that modern slavery cases are really an extreme form of labor exploitation, where people are physically threatened or beaten to force them to work.

    “Many times they are nearly starved to death,” according to Buck. “There is a lot of threats and coercion that occurs in human trafficking cases that make it different from maybe wage and hour violations that are also labor exploitation, but are not modern slavery cases.”

    Diego experienced that violence firsthand. He was 15 when local gangs in Central America threatened to rape his sister and kill his mother if he didn’t join their gang. According to Buck, Diego’s family put together some money to send him out of the country. After much hardship, he made it to Mexico, where he was faced once again with more gang violence. Diego watched as a friend who was travelling with him from the same region was shot and then burned in a trash can. He was also forced to carry drugs over the U.S. border.

    Fortunately, Diego was caught by border patrol officers, who recognized that he was caught up in a trafficking case and called CAST.

    “You can imagine the trauma that this 15-year-old kid endured through that journey of just trying to live a normal life,” Buck said. “Traffickers do swoop in and they do target vulnerable populations.”

    CAST has helped Diego with legal services and with accessing health care, that included the mental health care the boy was in extreme need of, after his ordeal.

    Diego is reportedly doing well now, said Buck. In fact, he was recently named a student leader at his school.

    “It shows that with the right support, survivors of trafficking have so much potential and they go on to live successful lives,” Buck said. “Survivors are not broken people. They have experienced horrific, terrible ordeals with usually unspeakable violence, but with support they can really start to rebuild their lives and become our neighbors in the community.”

    Random Lengths News did not use the real names of the human trafficking survivors in this story because the agencies involved are trying to protect the identity, privacy and safety of the survivors, some of whom are minors. For more information about CAST visit www.castla.org. The CAST hotline number is the (888) KEY-2-FREE or (888) 539-2373.

    Other sources include:
    Free the Slaves: http://freetheslaves.net
    Mary Magdalene Project: (818) 988-4970
    Gems Uncovered: (562) 275-1698

    Click here to read a related story about students who examined the role of human trafficking in their lives.



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  • Filling in the Blanks

    Harbor Commissioner Dave Arian leaves nothing unsaid at POLAHS State of the School address

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    In four minutes and some change, Harbor Commission member Dave Arian spoke clearly and directly about a new place the Port of Los Angeles High School finds itself. The former head of the ILWU International and Local 13 began his remarks by cracking a joke.

    “I’m a little different from the other speakers,” he remarked during the State of the School address May 6. “Not too many people ask me how to get into POLAHS. They just ask me how to get into longshoring.”

    Before Arian spoke, Principal Tom Scotti and Councilman Joe Buscaino both joked about how parents peppered them with questions and petitions, at restaurants or at their offices, for help in getting into the highly touted school.

    To be sure, Scotti laid out the school’s successes and the milestones they—the teachers, students, community and board of trustees—were able to reach in 10 years.

    In fact, three alumni and a current student of the school spoke about the impact the school has had on their lives, and Scotti was able to cite statistics indicating the areas in which the school surpassed both the state and the school district in narrowing the student achievement gap between that of white and Asian American students and that of black and Hispanic students.

    Arian served as a counterpoint, and was blunt.

    “I’ve never been a big supporter of charter schools,” he said. “I’ve always been a big proponent of the public schools system. I’ve never been fully won over by the charter concept. And I’m still not.”

    Arian said he recognized that new examples need to be set about how to educate young people.

    Scotti, who had been with the school since its beginning when temporary classes were held on Cabrillo Beach, spoke about how in a pro-labor and pro-public school community, POLAHS was viewed with skepticism and had much to prove to naysayers.

    Scotti’s remarks covered all of the bases. He joked about the emerging, multi-generational student body made up of children of varying class grades from the same family.

    He also spoke about the coming shift to Common Core and his desire to build on the school’s strengths and to guide student achievement along four pathways of success: maritime industry, environmental studies, digital media and geographical systems.

    Scotti noted that these pathways would help students aiming to enroll at universities and would also put them on the front doorstep to getting a credential that could lead to an above-minimum wage job right out of high school. He even alluded to changes that still needed to be decided upon by the board of trustees at next month’s meeting.

    And, Scotti said it all with hardly a mention of the activism that forced the changes in the first place.

    Arian was the only one to address directly the campus turmoil that occurred seven months previously—a period that saw Scotti’s resignation, student demonstrations and board meetings packed with upset parents, students and teachers, and ultimately Scotti’s return.

    Arian cast the campus struggle on a national scale and what it portends for the future.

    “In this last year, the struggle that took place is the kind of struggle that we should exemplify in America,” Arian said. “Where teachers, students and the community rose up and said ‘No. We don’t like what’s going on. We want to go a different way.’”

    Arian didn’t weigh in on either the board of trustees or the community side of the conflict, but rather on the necessity that there be a process by which all stakeholders in the school can have a voice and affect change.

    “It’s either that or Baltimore,” said Arian, referring to the recent social upheaval in the Eastern seaport town. “That’s our choice today because these kids [at POLAHS] are becoming a part of something that’s possible…That community in Baltimore was not given that opportunity in America.

    “When we look at POLAHS, and what POLAHS has begun to do—not only in San Pedro, but in Wilmington and other areas—these kids were given an option to struggle within the system against the system for a better system, rather than destroy it because they have no connection to it.”

    Arian was also the only one to note that the teachers have unionized, something that many local opponents of charter schools didn’t imagine happening 10 years ago.

    “When it came time to struggle, some of the teachers came to me knowing that I had organizing experience,” Arian said. “I did everything I could to help them organize and get into a union…It’s not just about a contract. It’s about improving the condition of the environment of your profession.”

    POLAHS Board of Trustee President Jayme Wilson—the other locus of community ire aside from the school’s former chief executive Jim Cross—was noticeably absent from the proceedings.

    Wilson has guided the board through this evolution. That has included the hiring of an auditing firm; initiating discussion on how to change the board’s bylaws to make it more inclusive of the parents and community members, and setting up systems and processes that conform to the California Public Records Act. And, he has done so despite vociferous calls for him to step down by parents and students over the past several months.

    Wilson did not respond to Random Lengths News requests for comment.


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  • Connecting the Dots

    Between the Waterfront, Minimum Wage, Homelessness, Free Trade

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    So, one day, this guy walks into the newspaper’s lobby to check out our used books for sale and says off-handedly, “I love reading your newspaper. It’s so quirky.”

    I stopped what I was doing at my desk and pondered his comment, fixated on his choice of words. Being in the “word” business, I tend to take what people say both seriously and with a grain of salt. English is such an imprecise language, particularly in terms of verbal communication.

    I thanked him for the perceived compliment. My newspaper has gotten far worse compliments from some local conservatives over the past 35 years. He bought a book and left happy.

    If quirky means unique, then I think he gets that what we are doing here is different from what the corporate media feeds the public every day.

    If putting the news in some context or perspective that allows readers to sort out the chaos of infotainment, political punditry and uber-conservative slant that is so often pawned off as “fair and balanced,” then I feel we have done our service to humanity, if not our community.

    Take the battle lines that have been drawn in the debates over raising the minimum wage, homelessness, waterfront development and free trade in Los Angeles and beyond. In one shape or form, these are all connected to local and global economics. Looking back we can see how past free trade agreements have decimated domestic jobs markets and stagnated wages while enhancing other sectors such as the high-tech and import industries.

    The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are prime examples of globalization’s effects. There are many around here who still remember the canneries, shipbuilding, fishing and manufacturing industries that were lost to overseas competition.

    What few in the Harbor Area seem to remember is that there was a collective job loss of 30,000 jobs during the course of a decade. That’s half of the local job base and there hasn’t been a full recovery of those well-paid middle class jobs since.

    They called it Reaganomics, trickle-down economic theory that included tax cuts for the wealthy and banking deregulations that collapsed the savings and loan associations. The communities of the Harbor Area were devastated and continue to see the residual effects years later, while virtually nothing has replaced those 30,000 jobs.

    In the interim, with the addition of the USS Iowa, Crafted, the Arts District and other cultural amenities, local civic leaders have pushed to turn Pedro into a tourist destination. This, as the long-awaited Bridge to Breakwater promenade and the redevelopment of Ports O’Call Village is completed.

    The Port of Los Angeles has shouldered much of this responsibility with little help from the rest of the city. Just recently, at the urging of the neighborhood councils and executed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the relevant city departments hosted an invitation- only summit meeting to discuss a possible collaboration on redeveloping this waterfront. The neighborhood councils were not invited. Sadly, the same kind of thinking that got us into this decline is the same kind civic leaders are proposing to get us out.

    The challenge of course, is how to invest in something other than low-wage service jobs or industries that can and will be eventually shipped overseas with a new Trans Pacific Trade Agreement.

    Two of the best candidates along this spectrum are AltaSea, the proposed marine research collaborative being planned at the foot of 22nd Street in San Pedro, and the new biotech research facility at Harbor-UCLA county hospital just up the 110 Freeway in the Harbor Gateway. Both hold significant promise for creating better and sustainable jobs while suggesting spin-off businesses related to their core mission.

    Even PortTech, the futuristic thinking creation of the local chamber of commerce and the Port of LA, seems to be on the path forward along with the creation of POLA High School and the partial relocation of Marymount College to this area. However, none of this is as futuristic as Virgin Galactic, that is taking over some of Boeing’s Long Beach Airport manufacturing facilities and is advertising job openings for hybrid propulsion specialists and information technology support technicians right now.

    My fear is that it will take another decade to create even 10,000 new middle class jobs, which merely amounts to a third of what was lost. Even if we add up all of the good ideas listed above, the global trade industry is racing to automate the good paying jobs we have now out of existence. The future can be seen, I’m told, in ports like Hamburg, Germany, where entire terminals are run by a handful of workers, not teams of longshoremen.

    Raising the minimum wage or eventually supplying housing to the homeless as a part of some bigger development plan either here or citywide is actually an admission that our past economic theories were more like failures than a cure in our pursuit of a sustainable economic future.

    Obviously, the billions in profits made from overseas investments never seemed to “trickle down” or back to those who could most benefit from a few thousand dollars. Tourist dollars only go so far in supporting enough better jobs and aren’t recession proof.

    Unfortunately, what we need now is a bigger and bolder vision with a billion dollar budget-–not more excuses as to why what needs to happen can’t get done.

    It’s as if the same 12 people are recycling the same two answers for the same three problems over the past 20 years—tourism and gentrification. It is far past the time for the leadership of this city and community to connect the dots.


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  • Angels Gate Examines Human Trafficking

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Although Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves 150 years ago, modern forms of slavery are thriving throughout the world. The housekeeper, the quiet young girl working in the nail salon or the teenage boy standing on the street corner could all be victims of human trafficking. Perpetrators profit from the control and exploitation of other human beings.

    Inspired by their plight, tenth-grader Deandra Blade examined his relationship to freedom and containment, dominance and submission, and power within life in his first work of art. The result was a representation of the Emancipation Proclamation.

    “The theme I was going for was the feeling of entrapment,” Blade said. “It started out as a tribute to the Americas and the Emancipation Proclamation just appeared…. I was thinking about the way some African-Americans feel entrapped.”

    Blade was part of a group of students at Angels Gate Continuation High School who were asked to examine those themes during an intensive 18-week art program. The culmination of the program is Hidden in Plain Site: Creative Referendums to Human Trafficking, a powerful exhibition in the main gallery at Angels Gate Cultural Center.

    There are a half–dozen eye-catching 3-foot by 5-foot, brightly colored acrylic paintings on canvas in the main gallery at Angels Gate Cultural Center.

    The personal creations portray the lives of the young students who came to reveal their own familiarity with the topic of human trafficking. All but one of the student artists had no previous art training, but they have all produced highly individual, strikingly intimate works.

    Funded by a grant from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, artists Jerri Allyn and Inez S. Bush worked with a group of 15 at-risk students. They were asked where they feel dominated, then researched and wrote essays about the subject.

    “Three-quarters of the students admitted to feeling enslaved by addiction, three-quarters said they had an older sibling that they felt dominated by, and we discussed the potential for being vulnerable to trafficking in their own lives,” Allyn said. “During the course of the class, two students revealed that they believe they may have people in their lives who are victims of trafficking, confirming the ubiquitous nature of this issue.”

    Walking into the main gallery at Angels Gate, the vibrant canvas paintings block traffic in the gallery. The hanging of the art was deliberate and intended to obstruct movement—reflecting the loss of freedom suffered by trafficking victims.

    The work of Christopher Alvarez is among the first visitors encounter when they enter the gallery.  The theme of his painting is the bondage of drug addiction.

    “People who are in jail are used for forced labor against their will, to make money off them. That is a form of human bondage,” Alvarez said.

    A senior, he served a brief stint in jail. The red, black and green flag used in the background represents Rastafarian beliefs. The Rastafari way of life encompasses the spiritual use of cannabis and the rejection of the degenerate society of materialism, oppression and sensual pleasures.

    “I am showing freedom through confinement, and confinement through freedom. It is the paradoxical nature, where he finds freedom through a drug that really limits your options,” said Alvarez who is pursuing a career in film.

    A wild figure with bloodshot eyes is depicted in the foreground of his painting, representing the “average pothead.” It is not coincidental that the figure is wearing a jump suit that reads, “L.A. County Jail.”

    A group of professional artists worked on their own representations of forced labor. Their art installations were placed in and around two cargo containers on the grounds of Angels Gate— representing one method of transportation used to smuggle workers.

    Professional artists Allyn, Melissa Crandall, Katelyn Dorroh, Leah Laird, Christine Palma, Leah Solo, April Williams and Erich Wise featured their works in the cargo container installation.
    Solo considers the real cost in the manufacturing of  toys such as Barbie dolls, which are assembled using child labor. Viewers are invited to use the objects to meditate on “enslavement” in this interactive installation.

    Williams takes on the subject of the glorified “cool pimp,” who has worked his way into American pop culture by enslaving young girls into prostitution. Her charcoal series of a girl disappearing from vision, while the pimp lurks behind her, is beautiful and ominous at the same time.

    Inspired by a model United Nations program, Hidden in Plain Sight: Creative Referendums to Human Trafficking will run through June 6 at several venues throughout San Pedro.
    The full schedule of programming at Angels Gate Cultural Center is as follows:

    May 16
    1 p.m. Tour cargo containers and youth exhibits with artist team. Bring lunch and picnic on the bluff.
    2:30 p.m. Art is Action: Conversation about human trafficking with participants
    Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through June 6
    Cost: Free
    Details: (310) 519-0936; angelsgateart.org
    Venue: Angels Gate Cultural Center, 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro


    photography by Slobodan Dimitrov

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  • 62 Teams Compete at the West Coast BBQ Classic

    LONG BEACH — Meat, whether it’s beef, pork or fowl rubbed with savory seasonings then roasted over an open fire… those transformed fats and proteins recalls a certain something that’s been with us since our hunter-gathering past. It’s primal but it’s also communal.

    Every region in the world has its own tradition for preparing and cooking meat. Some of them will be represented at this year’s West Coast BBQ Classic this Saturday on May 9, from 11a.m. to 6 p.m.. (more…)

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