Gentrification Comes to LA’s Skid Row, and the Homeless Get the Shaft
One of the worst things about being rich is sometimes you’re forced to interact with the poor. When not in a sitting in orthopedic chairs in skyscrapers or on Italian leather sofas in luxury condos, the wealthy are often forced to walk on their own two legs—at street level—as if they were proletarian slobs. And this is upsetting, for on a sidewalk, anyone, even the hideously unprivileged, can look you in the eye.
Developer Geoffrey H. Palmer thinks this is wrong. In 2009, the real estate mogul sued the city of Los Angeles and successfully overturned its requirement that he provide some affordable housing in his massive faux-Italian apartment complexes. But while that kept poor people out, it didn’t do anything to address the problem of the poor people Palmer’s wealthy future tenants would have to deal with in the still-gentrifying downtown area.
So when Palmer started construction on two new buildings, complete with a pool and indoor basketball court, he proposed a pedestrian bridge connecting them to minimize “potential incidents that could occur during the evening hours, when the homeless population is more active in the surrounding area.” In other words, the rich will be able to literally walk over the less fortunate.
The Dark Continent
This is the second chapter of Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia’s sprawling 35,000-plus word epic exploration of the crisis in South Sudan. We will release a new chapter daily, but you can skip ahead read the full text here or watch the documentary.
Black Israelites Say Whites Are Possessed by the Devil
In case you missed it, neo-Nazis were supposed to take New York City, and much of America, by storm on March 15. It was all part of a scheme hatched on the white-supremacist chat rooms of Stormfront. They called for a national “white man’s March.” Unsurprisingly, the planned nationwide protest ended up being a complete dud. I know, because I spent the day scouring Manhattan looking for fascists.
They were no shows at Grand Army Plaza near Central Park, where they had planned to congregate. Nor were they on hand in Queens, where they had advertised a barbecue party that day in front of the outlet strip mall on Jamaica Avenue, which is heavily trafficked by African Americans and West Indians. The only other white person around on Jamaica Avenue that afternoon, besides myself, was a dude handing out yoga-studio flyers. Instead of hitting the streets, many of this country’s racist white folks rang in “white man’s March” by lazily posting photos of themselves holding white-pride banners on the internet.
But that’s not to say I didn’t find racists on March 15; they just weren’t white. In Queens, I came upon a group of about a dozen individuals lined up in a row, wearing purple robes with faux-gold edging in front of the Jamaica Center shopping complex.
If you live in a major American city, you may have encountered a variation of the scene I witnessed: men who look like they’ve wandered off the set of an all–African American production of Jesus Christ Superstar, soapboxing on the street corner to puzzled passersby. While the first rule of advertising is to keep it short, with these guys the message travels a long, windy route through the Book of Deuteronomy and other texts before arriving at the takeaway: Black people are the real Jews, and white people are possessed by Satan.
When I asked the strange group of men who was in charge, I was directed toward a robed gentleman who said, “People call us the Black Israelites. But that’s not right. We are the Israelites.”
Their garments read “Israelites United in Christ” in a font that looked as if it had been borrowed from a poster for Disney’s Aladdin. There on the street, one fellow read from a Bible, overseen keenly by a preacher who would interrupt him periodically and interpret the text. The gist of the message from what I could gather was, “Down with the white man’s science.”
Four Years of Greek Austerity in Forty Pictures
This coming May will mark four years since the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund took control of the Greek economy. Although massively important, it’s an anniversary not many people are going to celebrate.
As more of a memento than a celebration, photographer Dimitris Michalakis has put together a selection of 40 photographs that he’s taken over the past four years. The series depicts the social impact of austerity in Greece, and serves as a snapshot into almost half a decade dominated by headlines about social polarity, debt, and economic crisis.
A Town in Florida Has Made It Illegal for Homeless People to Cover Themselves with Blankets
There’s a new Tumblr blog making the rounds called Selfies with Homeless People. Apart from the rare picture in which the homeless person is complicit in the act, the majority of the photos are posed next to a sleeping or comatose human. Cue snap after snap of the worst sort of millennial douchery, as fresh-faced youngsters exploit the impoverished, dispossessed members of society for Instagram likes and hashtag LOLs.
Although their young souls may be dog shit, they aren’t actually physically harming homeless people. But don’t worry, because Florida, the internet’s favorite affront to human decency and legal reason, is picking up the slack. Thanks to a “camping” ordinancepassed by the Pensacola City Council last summer, homeless people in the city will becriminalized for, among other things, sleeping outdoors while “adjacent to or inside a tent or sleeping bag, or atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers, or inside some form of temporary shelter.”
That’s right. For the grievous offense of trying to shelter yourself from freezing conditions while homeless, you are considered to be breaking the law. For a state so obsessed with the right to defend oneself, it’s shocking that Floridians wouldn’t extend this right to those confronted by the elements. But why is it illegal to use a blanket during those tricky periods when you don’t live in a house? Are blankets harbingers of infection and death? Possibly. The city council argues that “camping” has a detrimental effect on Pensacola’s “aesthetics, sanitation, public health, and safety of its citizens.”
The Brazilian Slum Children Who Are Literally Swimming in Garbage
The Brazilian city of Recife is known for its majestic bridges, but in November a newspaper photo highlighted one of the metropolis’s uglier aspects. Published in the Jornal do Commercio, the picture showed a nine-year-old kid named Paulo Henrique submerged in a garbage-filled canal beneath one of those famous bridges, picking cans out of the filthy water so he could sell them.
According to government estimates, some 6,500 children live in the slums in the Arruda and Campina Barreto neighborhoods on Recife’s north side. Many of them wade through garbage to eke out a living just as Paulo does, but it was only after his image appeared in the press that the local government and international authorities took notice of their plight. In response to the photo and the accompanying article, the government promised to place Paulo, his mother, and his five siblings on welfare.
Riding the Dirty Dog: A Love Song to the Greyhound Underworld
In the 1957 Jayne Mansfield–heavy film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s mostly forgotten novel The Wayward Bus, an assistant mechanic named Kit Carson stands chatting with a lunch-counter girl with Hollywood ambitions in a little dusty Central Valley bus depot named Rebel Corners. “I wonder if there’s going to be any important people on the bus today,” the girl asks. “Important people,” Kit tells her, “don’t ride buses.”
Nelson Algren taxonomized the nonpeople he would run into while traveling in his bookNonconformity, written in the 1950s: “The pool shark hitchhiking to Miami or Seattle, the fruit pickers following the crops in the 1939 Chevy with one headlight gone and the other cracked… The ‘unemployed bartender,’ ‘unemployed short-order cook,’ ‘unemployed salesman,’ ‘unemployed model,’ ‘unemployed hostess,’ ‘self-styled actor,’ ‘self-styled artist,’ ‘self-styled musician’… Their names are the names of certain dreams from which the light has gone out.”
Turgenev and Herzen might have called these people “superfluous” Americans. The dregs of the American dream. Though seemingly dated, vanquished Beat-lit stereotypes, these hustlers, dealers, prostitutes, and “freelancing phonies” never really went away—they’re still here today, tucked on the back of a Greyhound bus.
Sometime in 2002, having dropped out of college and moved back home to North Carolina, unmoored and without job prospects or definite plans, I caught a chance ride to Fort Benning, Georgia, for a protest against the School of the Americas—the academy responsible for training all the Latin American paramilitaries and death squads. There, as frocked Catholic priests thrust themselves over the base’s ten-foot-high fence in nonviolent civil disobedience, I became friends with some young transients on their way down to Florida. After the protest ended, we caught a ride with a guy in a Buick, taking turns driving through the night. On a misty two-lane road in southern Georgia, a rural sheriff pulled us over and ran our IDs. One of the transients had an outstanding warrant and was taken to jail—his girlfriend was only 17, and apparently her parents didn’t approve. We drove around to three different ATMs to get bail money and made it to Gainesville the next morning, stumbling into Denny’s bleary-eyed with exhaustion.
There, as if by magic, an expired Greyhound Ameripass made its way into our hands. (I don’t remember how exactly, but I think these crusties got it from a friend of a friend.) For the uninitiated, the Ameripass was a reasonably affordable pass that got the buyer 30, 60, or 90 days of unlimited bus travel throughout the United States and Canada. Originally marketed toward European backpackers and students on a budget who wanted to wander cities and towns by day and sleep on the bus by night, the Ameripass offered a nice glimpse of the “real” America before being rebranded as the Discovery Pass and then permanently discontinued in 2012.
Canada’s New Medical Weed Program Puts the Poorest Patients Last
At the moment, 40,000 Canadians are currently authorized to possess medical marijuana. Until April 2014, these patients can purchase their supply from a licensed personal producer, or they can get permission to grow it themselves, but soon every Canadian medical marijuana user will be forced to comply with a new medical program that will push them to buy legal medical weed from commercial government-regulated facilities.
Canada’s new “Marihuana for Medical Purposes” (yes, they spell it with an ‘H’ for some reason) program is creating an emerging for-profit market that will regulate crop control, dump money into the economy, and attempt to position Canada as one of the world’s top exporters of medical marijuana. But it’s the patients who are caught in the middle of an evolving system that threatens to make medical weed so expensive many will no longer be able to afford it, forcing them to continue growing their own personal stashes—which will be illegal as of April 2014—or buying it from regular ol’ pot dealers.
According to Health Canada, no one’s trying to turn sick Canadians into criminals with these new laws. It was more in response to problems with the current Marihuana Medical Access Program(MMAP), which a Health Canada spokesperson says is “open to abuse.”
The Mike Tyson Interview
Last week, I sat in a dark room in the New York Public Library to hear an author read from his new book. Although a screen on the side of the stage advertised an upcoming event with Pulitzer Prize winners Toni Morrison and Junot Diaz, I wasn’t there to see a literary novelist read about the postmodern condition. I had come to the library to see a a heavyweight champion best known for his facial tattoo and the night he bit off another boxer’s ear. Yes, I was at the library to hear Mike Tyson read from Undisputed Truth, his new celebrity memoir co-written with Larry Sloman.
While it was a bit odd that Mike was standing on the same stage Toni Morrison would speak from a few weeks later, he was full of profound (and also stupid) statements. He schooled the moderator on ancient history and said, “A room without a book is like a body without a soul.”
Yes, several minutes later he said to that same moderator, “What are italics?” when asked why he wrote a passage in italics, but it was clear that both at the library and on the page, Mike’s story is more moving than any novel written by some jagoff from the literati. He openly discussed the effect of having a prostitute for a mother, how the legendary boxing coach Cus D’Amato discovered him and gave him a real home, then died a few years after his career took off, and how he burned through millions of dollars thanks to cocaine.
The critics agree. “Parts [of the memoir] read like a Tom Wolfe-ian tour of wildly divergent worlds: from the slums of Brooklyn to the high life in Las Vegas to the isolation of prison,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in a rave review in the New York Times.
Regardless of what you think of Mike Tyson as a person, it’s impossible to deny that he has led a tremendously interesting life. I called him this week to talk about his obsession with ancient history, how his pet pigeons turned him into a fighter, and whether his is a story of redemption or the story of a troubled man struggling to turn his life around.
VICE: Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Mike Tyson: My wife, Kiki, told me people were going to write a book about me anyway. If they’re gonna write a book, why not have people hear if from your own mouth instead of somebody else’s mouth?
At your recent book reading, you talked about your obsession with the history of ancient wars. Why are you interested in ancient history?
A long time ago, I was at the table, sitting down, and either one of the boxers or Cus said something about Alexander the Great. He said Alexander was 6’ 6”. He must have been a giant back then. This struck an interest in me, but then I found out Alexander the Great wasn’t a giant—he was really a runt. In real life he wasn’t tall, and since then I’ve read about men of war. I relate to the psychology of war. Tom Cruise said when he’s performing he’s like a soldier of war. Men of war are really deep guys, really hardcore people, as far as humans are concerned.
Scrap or Die: Metal Thieves Are Tearing Cleveland Apart Piece by Piece
One sweltering afternoon in July, I found myself breaking and entering into a derelict warehouse on the east side of Cleveland. I was in the middle of a crash course in metal theft from a man named Jay Jackson. Dressed like a plumber with a crumpled blue baseball cap on his head, Jay’s muscular physique belied the fact that he was once a crackhead. These days his life still revolves around illegally acquired goods, but not ones smoked, snorted, or injected: Jay makes his living stripping copper and steel from abandoned buildings like the one we were sneaking into, selling his yield by the pound to scrapyards for quick cash.
“Scrapping is just like being an entrepreneur,” he said, leading me toward a gaping hole in one of the warehouse’s walls, which we then scurried through. “It’s just a job, and you can make as much money as you put into it.”
Earlier that day, I’d used Google Street View to map out our jaunt through the epicenter of the city’s thriving scrap trade, the neighborhood known as Central (counterintuitively located on the east side of town). But the building Jay and I broke into looked completely different from what I had seen on my computer screen. The photos on Google, taken in 2009, showed a tidy vacant office building with nearly all of its windows intact and sturdy wooden boards blocking off its many entrances. But now it looked like the aftermath of a drone bombing in Afghanistan: every window was blown out, every orifice torn open. The stinking carcass of a rodent was splayed on the floor. The drop ceiling had been ripped down, revealing empty tracks where ventilation, piping, and wires once snaked through the building. I couldn’t believe that we were only a ten-minute drive from the stadiums, skyscrapers, and fine dining of downtown Cleveland.
The place may have looked like a dump to me, but to Jay it was a treasure trove of unknown proportions. “I could bring my torches in here and cut that steel box right over there,” he said, tiptoeing as he critiqued the work of the scrappers who’d already hit the spot, rattling off a litany of different ways to dissemble the building “properly.”