Locked down and out

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Councilman blamed after city shuts down Crenshaw Boulevard community center

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

CRENSHAW — Nearly two years after it was served with an eviction notice by the city of Los Angeles, the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association (AFIBA) Center, a longtime cultural hub in the heart of the black community, was chained and padlocked Feb. 3.

The lockout didn’t sit well with Jabari Jumaane, executive director of the center, who blames the closure on 8th District City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the area.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Jumaane, who found out about the closure from a concerned community member. “No one from the city said anything to me. We’ve had disenchantment with how we’ve been disrespected by this councilman. We think the most generous thing he can do is resign.”

Jumaane, along with community activists and concerned community residents, conducted a press conference Feb. 8 outside the center’s padlocked gates. Shouts of “Recall Dawson” and “Throw Him Out” were heard by angry residents.

A reporter contacted Harris-Dawson’s office and the city of Los Angeles’ Department of General Services several times for comment but did not get a response to the question way was the center unceremoniously padlocked two years after the eviction notice.

Prior to becoming the AFIBA Center, the center served as Fire Station 54. Jumaane, who was a rookie firefighter there about 24 years ago, and who currently works for the Los Angeles Fire Department as an inspector, said closing the center, “one of the most celebrated cultural institutions in Los Angeles, will be devastating.”

“The AFIBA organization has been here for 21 years providing economic programs and programs to the socially disadvantaged,” Jumaane said. “It’s invaluable to the community. It’s an extremely valuable resource. We’ve done fundraisers to aid disasters, neighborhood watch programs, and more.

“All of the programs that existed in this building over the last 21 years, obviously are in jeopardy now because of this callous act of this councilman locking us out of the building illegally. How do we end up here locked out of this building during a federal, state, and county moratorium against evictions?”

Some community members, including Jumaane, think AFIBA will fall victim to Harris-Dawson’s Destination Crenshaw project currently in the works along the Crenshaw Boulevard corridor.

“Harris-Dawson’s Destination Crenshaw is a ‘gentrification project,’” said Lynn Moses of Cemotap West. “That project is not for us.”

Jumaane, who saw the chained gates as an “illegal lockout” by Harris-Dawson, added that the “secret eviction effort” was started after he spoke out against Destination Crenshaw, saying it would “beautify but not substantially enhance this community.”

“I believe it’s based on our speaking out against gentrifying elements in this community and things that we feel are being benignly neglected by this councilman,” Jumaane said.

He said it began in 2019 when AFIBA was ordered out of the location it has called home for more than 20 years. In August of that year, the city issued a notice that the organization’s license to use the property was being revoked.

At the Feb. 8 press conference, Jumaane produced an ex parte application dated June 16, 2020, filed by the city of Los Angeles against African Firefighters in Benevolent Association; Jabari S. Jumaane, in the Superior Court of California, which shows the court ruled that the plaintiff’s ex parte application to lockout AFIBA “was denied.”

With that legal document in hand, Jumaane asserted his right to maintain control of the building, calling the lockout “illegal.”

That being said, the multifunctional property at 5730 Crenshaw Blvd., is owned by the city of Los Angeles.

“This attack on this building and the minor league complaints that –Harris-Dawson] puts out to try to damage the reputation of this organization and me to justify this lockout, to justify this eviction, is ridiculous,” Jumaane said.

It’s been two years since the AFIBA Center was accused of not holding up its end of the bargain, which was to provide services to the community, including programs promoting African-American culture.

Jumaane said they have “done that and more.”

In the last two years, the situation has dragged on.

Harris-Dawson told the Los Angeles Times in September 2019 that “under the long-standing deal, the building was supposed to be available to the community, including neighborhood councils, community organizations, and the city itself.”

He told The Times that the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association also was supposed to maintain the property, provide programs and meet other requirements.

Jumaane maintains that everything was done to comply with the agreement.

Jumaane said that during his  21-year stint at the AFIBA Center, there have been four different City Council members representing the district.

“Three of them were black, one of them is white,” Jumaane said. “The only one who ever did anything for us was the white one. There are some consistencies among all the brothers. All of them have denied meetings. The use of Black skin to avoid servicing the Black community is something they deal with. You can’t, on the surface, call them racists, or their activity being racist activity.”

Moses, who has been holding meetings at AFIBA for 16 years, said he has no plans to go anywhere else.

“Harris-Dawson wants to destroy the black community,” he said. “We belong here. We’re going to stay right here. Marqueece Harris-Dawson is the gentrifier in chief, and the king of Black evictions in Los Angeles.”

He added that Harris-Dawson “comes here and wants to destroy the only Black cultural center in the Los Angeles area.”

“Over 20 years we’ve been doing programs here,” Moses said. “We are launching a serious recall campaign against Dawson. We have the financing and we have the manpower. Dawson will be the one evicted.”

The AFIBA Center wasn’t the only thing on the minds of community members at the press conference.

Zerita Jones, Baldwin, Leimert, and Crenshaw Local of the Los Angeles Tenant Union, accused Harris-Dawson of wanting to demolish Dorset Village to make a seven-story high-rise and displace the families that already live there.

“We say, no,” Jones said. “You can’t displace the people that are in this community. Everything going on is obvious. Stop and listen to the people. You can’t take any more services from our community. It’s already been blighted.”

AFIBA supporter Assata Umoja a Hyde Park community activist, said Jumaane has maintained the building for 22 years and “should be allowed to stay.”

“The major problem we have is Marqueece Harris Dawson makes decisions without involving the community in his decision making,” Umoja said. “We are the ones being impacted by his decision-making.

“The same thing with Destination Crenshaw, his pet project. He wants to put it up and made plans for it without including the community. We were told we would be included in that decision-making process.”

Umoja said AFIBA has not only provided space and programs for the community but “hears the voices of the community.”

“Marqueece Harris-Dawson wants to replace Mr. Jumaane with someone he wants,” she said. “We say, ‘No.’ We are not his servants. He’s our servant.”

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.