Sunday, July 31, 2005

Something's not right here.

A buddy of mine mentioned to me last week that my blog was getting a bit heavy lately. I'm have to agree with him, but really, it's not like I'm making this stuff up. There have just happened to be lots of shootings recently in the LA area and I just happen to be the lucky photog picked to cover a fair amount of them.

It gets to be a downer at times, but it helps me a lot that I manage to keep it all in perspective. I've got a good life and I'm determined to enjoy as much of it as I can.

Friday I covered the shooting death of Loli Castaneda. He was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Ralph's market at the corner of Vermont and Adams. This wasn't the first shooting I've covered recently. It wasn't the second or third either.

It's like there's two different worlds. There's the one that I live in. It's the one where people play by the rules and there's peace and happiness as long as you're willing to work for it.

Then there's the world I see when I go to work. I don't live in that world. I'm more like a ghost, just bearing witness to events that I don't have any control over.

There's probably a lot of people who feel exactly like that when they're watching these things on the news. We see the events of the day and we aren't affected by them. We simply go on about the business of our lives, because there's nothing we can do to change the way things are in the world.

I don't know if that's absolutely true.

While doing the live shots on Friday from the street in front of the 77th Division Station, we met a group of teens and young adults from the Victory Outreach ministry. Keep in mind when most people speak of South Central Los Angeles, they're talking about a large chunk of the area that the 77th Division covers.

The intersection of Florence and Normandie, considered to be the starting point of the 1992 Los Angles riots, is less than a mile from where we were going live.

Right after our last liveshot (after 11:00pm), this group walks past our van. From looking at them, you could tell they weren't exactly from that neighborhood.

Sorry, but I was thinking, okay, we're gonna be sending a crew back down here tomorrow.

They stopped and we talked with them a bit. Found out a little about why they were out there at that time of night in an area that I'd think twice or more about walking in after dark (or during the day for that matter).

Well, they simply wanted to help people. They were willing to take action and they were out on the streets because this is what they believe in.

Do I think they're crazy?

Well, there's no simple answer. I really feel that-- Hellooooooo? Okay, yeah, I think they're nuts for walking around that neighborhood!

It's probably nothing they haven't heard before. Hmm, come to think of it, maybe I'm being a little too quick to judge. After all, I've often questioned my own sanity for being in places like that.

Lots of arguments could be made for why either us media types or their group should or shouldn't do what we do. I just admit I respect them for their bravery and for following their faith. I wouldn't tell them not to do this, but I don't believe everyone should dedicate their life to helping the world in this way. I tend to feel that open hands have made as many victims as they've helped.

With all that's going on in the world, I guess I'd rather have more people who are willing to try. It's pretty obvious that we have enough people who aren't.

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that there aren't really two separate worlds. There's only just the one and we all live in it.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Bad neighbor.

Why, why, why, why why don't people just do what they're supposed to do? Some guy was storing a massive amount of fireworks and explosive materials in a public storage facility right freaking next door to residential homes in a neighborhood in Anaheim.

I don't think it's much of a stretch to believe that the guy simply didn't care about doing what was right or legal. I'm sure he thought he could get away with it.

Do we need everyone to take a class that teaches the difference between a suggestion and a law?

I wonder what he was going to do with all that pyrotechnic material. Maybe save it for the 4th of July next year? I'm no pyrotechnologistatician, but I don't think this stuff keeps well. I know the cops didn't want to take any chances with it.

They rolled out the bomb squad and started making arrangements to dispose of it. It took a lot of resources to protect the public and safely handle the three truckloads they had to sort through. I wanted to tell them to just give me a book of matches.

It's going to take them days to clear everything out and return the area back to normal. I feel sorry for the people who work and live in the area. They had to evacuate and the cops may not be done until the weekend.

All this because one guy didn't want to follow the rules. Well, at least nobody got hurt (so far) and the people in the neighborhood will have an exciting story to tell for a few years.

The more dangerous explosives were taken to a city park about a mile away. They dug a hole in the field of a stadium at the park and detonated three batches of the explosives through the course of the evening.

I think about the potential damage that could have been done. I think about the resources that had to be allocated to handle this problem. I think about the selfishness some people have when it comes to showing any consideration for the laws of our society. I think about all of this and when the BOOM of the explosion echoed through the air and I could see the bigger than anticipated smoke plume rising in the distance, there's only one thought going through my mind.

Cool, do it again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

At a loss for a reason. Part I

It's not a safe world that we live in. I learned that again yesterday while on an assignment to cover the murder of Brittany Veal. I shot an interview with Brittany's mother and her brother and they desperately want to know the truth of how and why Brittany was killed.

They don't believe they're getting the whole story and I'm inclined to agree with them. After talking to an Inglewood Police Detective and people from the neighborhood where Brittany was murdered, I'm convinced there's more to the story. Maybe not a lot, but something.

What is known comes from the only witness, a young man whom Brittany was with the night of the incident. The young man was shot in the arm during the altercation that left Brittany dead.

It might be difficult to understand, but the police can't always tell everything that they know about a crime. It's true that sometimes there's no way of knowing what information might compromise an investigation. I don't believe they're hiding information from the family, I just believe they need to be allowed the opportunity to do their job.

Mostly, there's nothing for the family to do. Sometimes making a public plea for information through the media can help. Sometimes the image of us as vultures picking at the misery of others is hard to shake.

In this case, we were invited in and asked to help. I want to do my job, but I'm never eager to intrude on the burden of grief someone else is carrying. The slim hope that we might be able to help is what keeps me going.

The family needs closure. I'd be happy to know that the suspect was caught, but I know I may never find out anything more about the story than I know right now.

Just as we were leaving, Brittany's mother asked me pray for them. I don't think I've come across anyone recently that showed their faith as strongly as she did. It was unexpected and caught me so far off guard, I could barely choke out my answer.

I told her I would.

If you're not religiously inclined, this is where you should stop reading.

Our Father who art in Heaven
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,
on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.


Anyone who'd like to add something in the comments, feel free.

Monday, July 25, 2005

After the potato salad is gone.

Over this past weekend, my lovely wife Dellis and I were invited to attend a friendly gathering and an outdoor performance of "The Merry Wives of Windsor".

It was cool, we had a great time.

Now, Martha Stewart might not agree with me, but I've always believed the success of a friendly gathering hinges on one thing.

The potato salad.

Don't get me wrong, the performance was good. The theatre company Shakespeare By the Sea, is a grassroots organization and they put on an impressive performance.

The people who invited everyone to come out and who organized the food and drink may have been too busy being good hosts to have the opportunity to see things the way I did or the way some of their guests did.

I take pictures, so I guess I'm used to seeing life as individual moments. There was a great mix of individual moments at this gathering.

With everything that's going on in the world and with everything that's going on in our own neighborhoods, it was great to see people relax and just take in some of what's good in life.

I'm sure everyone would have their own favorite parts of the evening.

For me, the laughter was one thing that was good. I liked hearing people laugh out loud and enjoy themselves without the pressures of deadlines or competition.

It's sometimes frustrating for me and I think others, during the summer months when the movies with the biggest special effects take up our time and may entertain us, but don't leave us with much.

Seeing people come out to watch a performance that can't be passively enjoyed kind of gives hope.

So, maybe you "get" the concept that with the adrenaline fueled pace of the world, there is something worth savoring in those special simple moments in life.

You never know when a captured moment might turn out to be someone's precious memory.

Those memories might be kind of a jumbled mixture of things, but it all comes together and combines to make for something more than the individual parts.

We don't live in a perfect world and I don't know anyone who has a perfect life. I think the very best any of us can do is hold onto those perfect moments when we have them.

When the sun sets and the play is over, the memories are what's left. Well, the memories, some chicken, a few bottles of beer and wine and apparently one heavy handed metaphor.

I think everyone did agree. We all had a great time.

The potato salad was really really good.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

He's coming back on Monday, right?

Well, I survived a full day of sitting in for our Chief Photographer. It's a pretty huge responsibility and I'm thankful for having been given the opportunity (heh-heh, suckers).

I started the day opening the Chief's office and firing up his computer. I spent some time double checking the schedule and crew assignments that had been set up by the real Chief before he left for his well deserved time away.

After making sure there weren't any surprises in store for me, I waited for the phone to start ringing. Emergencies happen all the time and breaking news can throw a well crafted crew assignment sheet into a tailspin. I waited for the calls.

His phone is usually ringing off the hook and I knew the calls were going to be coming in and I'd have to answer that phone.

I waited. I checked the voicemail. Zippo. I waited.

Eventually noon rolled around, so I coordinated with the assignment desk, then went out to the field and conducted an ENG safety inspection.

We're actually mandated to check to make sure nobody is doing anything dangerous, stupid, or dangerously stupid in operating the microwave trucks. We have to perform a random inspection on all the photographers.

The nearest crew was over by LAX. Actor Tom Sizemore was appearing at the LAX Courthouse today (unfortunately not in a television or film acting roll). I drove down to the court and went through the inspection (yawn). I didn't have the time to hang around and grab a still shot of Tom Sizemore, because I fully expected to find a smoldering pit where I had left the station.

I grabbed some KFC for lunch and was surprised to find the station still standing. Wait, did I say I was pleasantly surprised? That's what I meant. It was a good thing that the station was still there.

I went back to the office and checked for messages. None, so I waited some more for the phone to ring.

Maybe it was broken? I jiggled the cable. Nope, it seemed technically sound. I called the Assignment Desk.

"Anything interesting happening?"


"Okay, you know where to find me."


Yeah, the phone was working.

I'd like to be able to say the biggest news story of the decade happened next. That wouldn't even be close to being true. Almost seeing Tom Sizemore was about as exciting as it got for me in my eight hours of being the Acting Chief.

The day wasn't as filled with the kind of action that I like to experience. Hey, I'm a child of the sixties. My attention span just isn't wired like a normal human's.

I've got a lot to do this weekend. I'll be working part of the time to heal the deep emotional scars from Friday. It's not too often that I have to say this, but I hope something interesting happens this week. One day out of the field and I think I'm already going into withdrawal.

Everybody hug someone with passion and have a good weekend.

Hey, I think I hear the phone ringing. I gotta go.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wash. . .rinse. . .repeat.

Yesterday I didn't have a good opportunity to snap any pictures. I'm trying to make up for that today by shooting a lot of crap that doesn't really have anything to do with anything.

It's just a warm sunny day in July and I was feeling pretty good going into work this morning. Seeing the palm trees made me happy. Same for the Palladium.

Seeing the Los Angeles County Sheriff at a press conference about our current alert status did not make me happy. We were at the Emergency Operation Center (EOC), the place where all the decisions get made when things start hitting the fan.

If you're a fan of Tommy Lee Jones, this place might look familiar. It was used for scenes in his "Volcano" movie. It's where all the city's emergency services have representatives during disasters to better coordinate responses.

All I know is, we're concerned about the possibility of an attack here in the US and we're watching very closely how the British are handling things.

photo by Juan Hernandez

As I go about my daily life and appreciate the freedoms I enjoy, I can't help but think about the terrorists and how much of their job we keep doing for them.

If you didn't lie, cheat or steal from anyone today, then pat yourself on the back. I don't need you to march on City Hall and don't feel guilty if you didn't make it to the candlelight vigil.

Gee, which candlelight vigil? What's today, Thursday? Whichever one was scheduled for today.

I don't need reactionary gestures of sympathy. Others might, but I'm okay. What I need is for you to raise your kids with discipline and love. I need you to live your life well. I need you to be an example to everyone around you, so they can see that it's okay to work hard and be happy with what you have. That's pretty much all I need.

I got up this morning and I feel like I did those exact things all day long today. Tonight I'm going to go to bed and when I wake up tomorrow, I'm going to do it all again.

Exactly the same.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Protest this.

I've covered a lot of the recent community protests against the LAPD. I've heard directly from people how angry they are about the way police handled their duties. I'm talking loud venomous condemnation (with some spitting) of people who are sworn to serve and protect.

It's really tough for me to want to side with the protestors.

You want to know why? The picture below is why.

Want a closer look?

Yeah, that's exactly what it looks like. I apologize if the picture upsets anyone (I do want to point out that nobody apologizes to me). Hmm, where's the protest today?

Under that sheet is an elderly woman who was simply waiting to catch a bus and caught a bullet in her head. Two young adults, each somewhere about twenty to thirty years old had an argument. One pulled out a gun and one ran. I don't know how many shots were fired. I don't know what happened to the shooter. Right now, I just know the outcome. One elderly woman was struck by a bullet and she was killed. She was waiting for a bus and now she's dead.

Where's the community outrage? Where's the protest? Come on, let's march on City Hall.

We talked to several people who heard the shots fired, but most of them said the same thing. The sounds of gunshots in this neighborhood are so common, nobody paid any attention to it.

Nobody realized there was a death in the neighborhood until the police arrived and started closing off the street.

It had been a pretty easy day for me. I'd picked up some shots of robbery locations in the Torrance/Lomita area and driven the tape to Orange County. I drove back and was in Carson when I got the call to head over to 94th and Western.

I was just happy to not be driving back up to Hollywood during rush hour. I'd have gladly done the drive if I could have avoided another one of these "money" shots.

The body being put into the coroner's van and the doors closing (bonus points for door slamming NAT sound). It's been a while since I last covered a story that involved the coroner. I don't really keep track. Lots of the stories I cover involve death of some type, but the victim's body is usually long gone by the time I get to the scene.

I don't ever want to feel like death is a common aspect of my job. Yeah, it is of course. I just don't want to accept it on that casual of a level. I don't want to be like the people who heard the gunshots that ended a life and did nothing because it just wasn't that unusual of a thing to hear.

It just makes me angry every time I look and think of how accepting people have become.

Maybe it's time to quit reserving all our good protest anger for the police and start directing it at the people in our communities who would pull out a gun to settle an argument. Maybe we need to be more vocal in our condemnation of the person who would shoot a gun on a busy street.

I guess I know how unrealistic what I'm saying actually is. When it comes down to it, everybody in the community knows why it's better to complain about the cops shooting someone. The cops in most circumstances have to play by the rules and follow the law.

You just try to pull that community outrage and protest crap on someone who has a gun and doesn't mind using it.

Yeah, you just do that and you know the next bullet is for you.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Pssst, which one is Ronaldo?

I might as well just come out and admit it. I don't know anything about soccer.

Okay, I'm not completely dense. I'm familiar with the sport so far as I wouldn't mistake it for football (real AMERICAN football). There was just a certain amount of excitement that just flew right over my head.

I do admire his taste in hair styles.

From what I was told in Spanish, this guy is supposed to be like the Michael Jordan of soccer. Maybe I got that backwards. Michael Jordan is supposed to be the Ronaldo of Basketball. I guess it's all in your perspective. For the record, unless Ronaldo was playing in the big soccer leagues at the age of eight, I'm pretty sure Michael Jordan was here first.

Okay. Here's the deal. I don't have anything against the sport and I'm smiling as I write this, but that giddy feeling a true fan feels when he or she is seeing their idol in person? I got none of that.

It was kind of weird to be fighting through a crowd of kids and grown men as they tried to get close to this guy. He had about seven bodyguards/security folks to see to his safety. He needed it too. Those grown men were just out of control.

I checked to see if there was some sort of life lesson to be learned from this shoot. I got nothing. It was just another day at the office. Not a bad day for a Monday.

The school where Dellis teaches is close to where the new soccer field opened today. There's a good chance that some of her students may play there.

I bet they know who Ronaldo is.

You know what would have been cool? If he saw me in the crowd, pointed at me and said, "Hey, there's beFrank!"

I don't think I would've signed an autograph, though. That would have just been too weird.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Really? Just shoot the gun out of his hand?

For me there's nothing better than being a firsthand witness to events most people will only see on TV. I don't want you to feel cheated. Most of the time you're getting the best of the situation and all the dull uninteresting parts are left on the raw tapes.

I've spent a lot of time lately downtown at Parker Center. That's the main police station for the Los Angeles Police Department. We park our microwave trucks and go live from the street in front in an area that's marked for media parking. For a while it was a red zone, but the police let us park there anyway.

On Friday I covered a community meeting where the LAPD presented what they know about the sequence of events relating to the death of Susie Marie Pena last weekend. It was also an opportunity to let people address the LAPD about the situation.

I got to talk to a lot of people who never made it onto a newscast. Some of them had good points to make, but we only have about a minute and a half to tell the story.

On the other hand, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to listen to adults who absolutely have every right to be outraged over the death of a child and yet they can be completely unrealistic in their expectations of how the situation should have been handled.

Some of the angry people told me they strongly believe the police meant to kill the child. A lot of people who wanted to be on TV wanted to know why the police couldn't have just shot the gun out of the father's hand (for the last time, that's only in the movies).

My favorite was the person who thought the father was trying to surrender and shot to protect his child from the LAPD.

I'm glad that we can question the tactics of the police department. I think it's good that the community can come together and have a voice loud enough to be heard.

As long as we're fired up and semi-organized, how about a community protest over the drug dealing and gang activity that's a part of life in that area? How about shutting down some of the liquor stores that are on too many corners in that community? Where's the outrage over teen pregnancy or the high dropout rate at the local schools?

I wonder, are people afraid to look at everything that happens in their own neighborhood?

This particular protest seems to stem from a frustration that has grown over a long period of time. It seems to be based in part on a level of mistrust that the LAPD has had their own hand in helping to create. I think people seriously need to realize that the quality of their life isn't determined by the actions or policies of the LAPD. Maybe I'm being unrealistic, but maybe we could pretend that the police shouldn't have that great of a presence in anyone's life.

If they're looking for someone to hold accountable, the people from that community should be willing to look to themselves. They should be willing to take responsibility for the state of their lives.

At least as much responsibility as they're demanding from the LAPD.