We got to sit down with Richard Cortez from #Venice. He shares some memories of Venice and the Westside from a #Chicano experience. From the days before the #90freeway further distanced #CulverCity from Venice communities from each other, to daily hood life, activities, understandings, and social challenges. He also touches on understandings about “gang” life, addiction, and police brutality.
“I grew up in my later years on 7th and Broadway. First house on the corner from Oakwood Park. When they would shoot, and you know that park got shot up a lot… everybody just kept watching TV. My grandma would just say “who’s not home,’” Richard, a veterano from Venice, ex-convict, and current board member at the addictive studies fellowship program at UCLA, said.
Although Richard started getting in trouble at an early age, he recounts a generation of socially aware Chicano youth in the 60’s and 70’s that were also dealing with poverty and racism. Violence was normal, but so was being involved in the community.
“It was a bunch of poor people. It was no ghetto. Ghetto is a state of mind. It was poor people surviving,” Richard said.
Richard’s addiction and the violence in the neighborhood would eventually find him sitting in Pelican Bay State Prison in the early 90s. Today, Richard is a part of the movement to normalize addiction being viewed as a disease, instead of something to be incarcerated for.
“Venice was the smallest city on the Westside, but we had the most ideas coming out of here,” Richard said, remembering all of the social programs and how normal it was to be actively involved in the community.
“We were very smart about things,” Richard said. “We were in contact with the Mayor Tom Bradley. With Pat Russell the councilwoman. That’s how we got the handball court built. We used to tell them how come you give us tickets on our cars, but the street cleaner don’t come? They wouldn’t come in the neighborhood; They were scared.”
The Neighborhood: Venice, Oakwood, AKA Ghost Town.
“Milwood, West Washington Boulevard (what they now call Abbot Kinney), Rose, and Lincoln was the neighborhood,” Richard said, defining the borders of the Barrio. “That’s where all the Blacks and Mexicans lived. They kept us here and contained. As long as they knew where we were at ,and we didn’t come out of here, they were ok with us doing what we did. When they wanted somebody, they came in deep. They made their sweeps every so often.”
“There were a bunch of racists with the police against us,” Richard added.”They would raid my grandma’s house. This is how I would start to have hatred towards the police: when they would come in looking for one of my tios and disrespect my grandma and talk shit. They would tear the house up for no reason. They just didn’t like us, homes. They would tell us, ‘I got a bullet with your name.’ We would tell them, ‘I got one with your name too.’ That’s just the way it was.”
Activism, gangs, police racism, community, violence. It was all happening at the same time.
“When I was growing up at my grandmother’s house on Santa Clara, a few of the homeboys from Venice came home from Vietnam and from prison,” Richard said. “I got to see the Brown Berets. When Salazar got killed you can see Venice with their banner marching. They were one of the first ones marching in that protest. We were well represented.”
While Richard got to see a lot of the social movements of the time, he was also seeing all of the violence and drug use that was normal in poor neighborhoods.
“When you see a homeboy dying in your hands, that’s trauma. I didn’t know that was trauma. I thought that was normal,” Richard said.
If it wasn’t the violence, it was the drugs choking the neighborhood.
“Everytime we found something we were doing good, the neighborhood would get flooded with drugs,” Richard said, eventually becoming a victim to the drug use.
“Back then we were called “those people,” Richard said. “Well, crack cocaine hit. It wasn’t just THOSE people. People’s kids were coming over here. They don’t wanna call them THOSE people. Now, we got an epidemic. The language changed. The laws changed.”
Frivolous arrests for drug use were just one way to get young people of color involved in the criminal justice system. This was a fundamental piece of the gentrification that started in the 90’s. Because of gang injunctions, parolees were not allowed to return to their homes.
“I don’t know if the law was real or made up,” Richard said. “People in Venice were told their kids couldn’t parole to their houses, or they would get their houses took. So they sold their houses and they moved. That was part of the gentrification in the beginning.”
These gang injunction laws have since been found unconstitutional and racist.
“The city’s use of gang injunctions has violated due process for nearly two decades, with no record of making communities safer. That ends today,” Melanie Ochoa, ACLU SoCal staff attorney, said in a 2018 article.
“This decision is historic in confirming what communities of color have said for decades. Gang injunctions are prisons without walls,” Kim McGill with Youth Justice Coalition, said in the same article.
These injunctions helped uproot families. Next came the developers.
“Nobody wanted to live in Venice back then cause this was known as Ghost Town,” Richard said. Then something changed. “They came in and slowly built under the pretense that they were gonna help people. They called it affordable housing. I don’t know what affordable housing is to them. My grandmother used to rent her house on Santa Clara. The front and the back house for $450.”
The current state of Venice is a far cry from the community of Richard’s youth.
“Back then what was cool was though, is that everybody knew everybody,” Richard said. “It didn’t matter what race. Thanksgiving came and you could go eat at three or four houses. Somebody’s grandmother made a pie different than that pie, or they made pumpkin empanadas.”
Richard doesn’t get too caught up in bitterness or trying to change the past, though. He is very much about moving forward and dealing with what he has now.
“Right now I’m a board member of addictive studies,” Richard said. “I’ve been a board member for 8 years. My title was “Disease of addiction through the eyes of an addict.” I get to make amends to people for all the damage I caused as a kid. I didn’t know no other way to live. I got 3 grandchildren in college right now. We’re breaking the cycle.”
📸 & ✍🏼: Rigo Bonilla | @Snaccmanjones