CityWatch, Aug 17, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 65
From the White House to City Hall, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was commemorated with speeches that fell on deaf ears in Hollywood as taxi cab operators refused to transport deaf tourists and a security guard choked a deaf shoplifting suspect for failing to comply with verbal instructions.
We've come a long way but we have a long way to go.
Media coverage of the 20th anniversary celebrations paled in comparison to the viral impact of a graphic video of an incident that involved two security guards from the Forever 21 store at Hollywood & Highland and two deaf brothers. As one security guard wrestles one brother into a head lock, another security guard blocks the second brother who appears to be indicating that they can't hear. Spectators can be heard exclaiming "You're choking him!" and "He's turning purple!" and "He can't breath!" while the second brother continues to signal and circle, kneeling at one point in a futile attempt to communicate with the security guards.
The incident was picked up in the LA Weekly, the Huffington Post, ABC, KTLA, Blogging.LA, and the Deaf TV Channel while the YouTube video has received over a half million views.
The details are disputed by all sides but have resulted in the indefinite suspension of the security guard from Forever 21, the arrest of the deaf shoplifting suspect, and claims of innocence from the deaf brother of the suspect. Hollywood & Highland Center Management accepts no responsibility for the incident but says "We do not condone the apparent use of excessive force." Forever 21, in a statement from the Marketing Dept., acknowledges "the security guard used excessive force, which is against our store policy."
Hollywood & Highland has at least six layers of enforcement authority on the property, starting with the local security guards, the Business Improvement District security (Andrews International), and the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition, the presence of the Metro Red Line Station within the complex results Metro Fare Inspectors, Metro Police, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Now would be a good time for somebody to determine who is in charge and for that organization to produce a policy on communication between law enforcement and those who can't hear. This would also be a good time for the LAPD and the LASD to clarify any limitations on the law enforcement authority of the many organizations that employ security forces, from local stores to the BID to the Metro.
Hollywood's second shameful incident took place at Hollywood & Vermont's Triangle Park taxi stand. Enci and I were walking past the park when I noticed three women attempting to communicate with the operator of the lead taxi, gesturing unsuccessfully to a piece of paper and finally giving up and huddling together. Then I noticed that they were signing to each other.
It turns out that they were deaf tourists and their car had been towed from Hollywood to a Metro inaccessible tow yard in Atwater Village that closed within the hour. While Enci dusted the cobwebs off her ASL, I put out the call for help and within minutes Alfredo Hernandez of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council arrived and transported our guests to the tow yard where he negotiated for the release of their car. Moments later Bechir Blagui of Hollywood United Neighborhood Council responded and I was reminded again that I live in the community of heroes.
The City of Los Angeles, through the LADOT, licenses and regulates approximately 2300 taxis so that passengers in taxis bearing the Seal of Los Angeles can expect to ride in an insured vehicle, inspected regularly by the LADOT and operated by a trained professional. In fact, the LADOT website even has a Taxi Rider's Bill of Rights although the only mention of disabilities is with regard to wheelchairs and service animals. No mention is made of the significant percentage of our community who are deaf or hearing impaired.
American Sign Language is the third most common language in the United States, surpassed only by English and Spanish. It's estimated that the deaf and hard of hearing population in the Los Angeles area exceeds one million people.
LA's character demands that we embrace and support people of all abilities and challenges, demonstrating our commitment to the Americans with Disabilities Act at every opportunity. From the training and certification of security guards to law enforcement to the licensing of taxi cab operators to the operation of mass transit, it is our responsibility to remove obstacles and barriers so that everybody may enjoy access and mobility.