LITTLE TOKYO FOR THE PEOPLE
JAS CONDEMNS ANTI-UNHOUSED VIOLENCE
Several weeks ago, a group of merchants and property owners in Little Tokyo led by Brian Kito of Fugetsu-do began circulating a letter calling for Councilmember Kevin De Leon to destroy the unhoused community at Toriumi Plaza. Falling back on long-standing racist, classist, and anti-Black tropes, the letter justified its attack on unhoused people by fear-mongering around images of drug use and broken windows. J-Town Action と Solidarity unequivocally condemns the letter’s signatories for their anti-Black, segregationist tactics against our unhoused community. This is a blatant incitation of police violence. We call on all sections of our community to remember the racist scapegoating that led to our incarceration eighty years ago, and to refuse to allow it to happen again.
LITTLE TOKYO FOR THE PEOPLE
We are a grassroots collective of Japanese Americans and other Little Tokyo residents, and our roots in this community go back generations. All of us love Little Tokyo and have dedicated ourselves to fight for the soul and spirit of our people. We remember the terrible atrocities our people suffered, and we are driven by the fire of so many Little Tokyo activists that have come before us. Little Tokyo was built on the resilience of the poor and the worker; built by the people and for the people. Through a century of struggle, our people crafted our community for a noble purpose: to sustain and nourish the oppressed. We did not build Little Tokyo so that gentrifying businesses could commodify our culture for tourists; we did not nurture our community so that multi-million dollar developers could get even richer while pushing those most in-need further into the shadows and pitting struggling community members against each other. The Little Tokyo we are fighting for is a Little Tokyo for the people—we love our community too much to demand anything less.
DEMAND JUSTICE NOT VIOLENCE
The fact that anyone in our society must live unhoused on the streets fills us with rage. Our government has utterly failed to protect the people, and we continue to demand action from our so-called leaders. But while Kito’s letter demands the repeatedly failed, false solution of police violence and criminalization, what we demand is transformative, economic justice.
Let’s be clear. The true, overarching danger to our community is the developer, the modern commanders of colonization. Why do people become unhoused? Because developers—who have no right to the land—force people to pay unaffordable, ever-increasing rents. Why are so many longstanding businesses teetering on the brink of collapse? For the same exact reason! Developers enrich themselves with hundreds of thousands of dollars from Little Tokyo’s small business community every year, scheming to drive them off the land—and yet some of these small businesses have decided that unhoused people are what’s really hurting their bottom line. These businesses yell for police violence against the unhoused, yet stand idly by—or even cheer—as multi-million dollar developers march them to their own displacement. Our own history as Japanese Americans teaches us that policing and incarceration are the tools of the oppressors. Those who would send the police against our unhoused community members (most of whom are Black) are not protecting Little Tokyo—they are only forging an oppressive, anti-Black alliance with the developers.
The sad reality is that while the developers are the overarching danger to Little Tokyo, these businesses and their rabid calls for violence are quickly becoming the most immediate danger to the community. They cry out about “public safety” and “protecting the community” while calling for violent police sweeps that inflict irreparable harm on our community’s most vulnerable members: unhoused people. None of us are made safer by this policing. As long as economic injustice exists, some of our people—housed and unhoused—will become desperate enough to harm other members of our community. Policing will never create the economic justice necessary for our people to be safe.
Our unhoused community members aren’t safe when LA Sanitation and LAPD destroy their belongings and essential government documents during a sweep. They aren’t safe when BID (Business Improvement District) officers harass and displace them for the apparent crime of existing while unhoused in public space. They aren’t safe when they’re being shot or thrown in jail by trigger happy LAPD officers. When these businesses call for police sweeps, what they are really calling for is an indiscriminate, systematic attack on all unhoused members of our community. And yet they call unhoused people dangerous? Never has an unhoused person sent an army of police to systematically raid the businesses and imprison the owners. Attacking an entire section of our community because of the actions of individuals is not justice—it’s a lynch mob. Only anti-Blackness can prevent someone from recognizing that what these businesses are calling for is tantamount to a race massacre.
DEFEND EACH OTHER AND FIGHT TOGETHER
Brian Kito will probably claim that race has nothing to do with this, going back to his scare-mongering about the dangers of drugs in Toriumi Plaza. Again, let’s be clear about this: using drugs does not inherently make a person dangerous. Business executives use drugs, college students use drugs, middle-class professionals use drugs—but the only people who are treated as a danger for their drug use are those who are Black, Brown, and/or poor. Substance abuse is not new to Little Tokyo: in the 60s and 70s, faced with the loss of brothers and sisters to overdoses, activists in our community recognized that drug use would not be solved with policing or ostracization, but compassion and mutual aid. We must reject the anti-Blackness that refuses to extend that same compassion to the unhoused members of our community. Ironically enough, Brian Kito clutches his pearls about drug use while he himself was arrested for trafficking at least $80,000 dollars worth of cocaine in 1990! If the government had punished Brian Kito the same way he wants to punish unhoused people, they would have tried to bulldoze Fugetsu-do to the ground. All of us would have had to stand together to defend a part of our community from the violence of the criminal justice system. Just like we must defend our unhoused community members now.
What we are demanding is not violence, but transformative, economic justice that serves and uplifts everyone in Little Tokyo, housed and unhoused. We demand an immediate reduction in rents to the cost of utilities and maintenance. We demand the immediate commandeering of unoccupied hotel units and their conversion into free housing for all who lack housing. We demand that the city, in restitution for its gross negligence, drastically increase funding for comprehensive services to reduce and rectify the damage inflicted upon unhoused people. In short, we demand an end to the houselessness crisis by addressing the problem at its source: ending the exploitation of the working class.
We need a coalition to take back our community from the developers. But we can only form a coalition once we’re all willing to fight for each other. Those that choose to embrace anti-Blackness and systematically attack the unhoused (or any section of the community) have decided to be the attack dogs of the developers. They have no place with us. The first standard of any coalition for a united Little Tokyo is to reject anti-Blackness and uphold the rights of the unhoused. We therefore call on all members of the community to reject this hate and violence, and to join us in our opposition to the real threat facing our community: the developer. Furthermore, we call on all to join us in demanding the end of the unjust LAMC ordinance 41.18 and the end of all sweeps against unhoused people in Los Angeles!