June 30 marked the two-year anniversary of the South Los Angeles firework explosion. The explosion was the result of a catastrophically failed operation to detonate approximately 32,000 illegal fireworks, which were anonymously reported to be located in a resident’s backyard on East 27th Street.
The Los Angeles Police Department bomb squad planned to detonate the fireworks on the street in a special containment vehicle. The operation, which was expected to be done safely, resulted in a tragedy. The fireworks tore through the containment, and in seconds, the explosion injured 17 people, damaged 35 properties and displaced more than 80 residents.
Two years later, residents of 27th Street, an area that is home to a large Latino population, continue to seek justice for what they call a “mistake and wrongdoing” by the LAPD.
Last Friday, the affected families and allies held an event in the middle of the street where they spoke about their frustration, their loss and their demands.
“Today is a historic day. Today marks two years since the criminal and negligent act of the LAPD when they decided to destroy this neighborhood,“ said Ron Goche, community organizer with Unión del Barrio, a community organization that has helped organize the families of 27th Street.
“Today we are here to celebrate, not to celebrate the explosion, but to celebrate the people you see behind me, who have continued to be resilient, who have continued to organize, and they are not going to give up until they have justice,“ he said.
After their homes were destroyed, the city of LA agreed to house the affected families at the Level Hotel in Downtown LA while repairs were done to their homes. The stay of about 15 families is being paid for, but the affected families say the city has failed to commit and dictate when they will continue to be assisted at the Level Hotel, leaving many to worry if they could be evicted at any point.
In addition, residents are still angry, saying the city has not made any reconstruction efforts.
Today, many homes have windows and doors missing, cracks in the walls and fallen ceilings. Others are completely inhabitable because of the unstable floors. These conditions are what prevent families from returning home.
At the community event, the families called for the city to fully repair their homes, pay hotel expenses until their homes are fully restored, and for the LAPD to release the names of the officers responsible for the explosion.
Maria Velasquez and her parents are some of the people unable to return to their homes. After many decades, Velasquez’s parents finally paid off their home. What they never imagined was for their house to be destroyed only ten years after they finally made their final mortgage payment. “We are still in the hotel,” Vasquez said. “Although the hotel is nice and fancy, it’s not the same as coming into your home, coming into your own space.”
Vasquez said that city representatives told them that their stay in the hotel would be short. “But it’s been two years, and we are not even close to coming home,” she said. Velasquez also said that the city has threatened to end their stay at the hotel, which would leave them homeless.
Union del Barrio (UDB), an independent political organization in LA, has been supporting and assisting the families since 2021. The organization, which operates solely through volunteer membership, believes the explosion, negligence and damage to homes would not have happened in wealthier, higher-class communities in LA.
“If this was done in an affluent neighborhood, the problem would have been solved in a month, but these houses behind us are a testimonial of utter neglect and lack of representation of working communities in the city council,“ Adrian Alvarez, an organizer and member of UDB, said. “There is no way that any politician can stand their kids living in a hotel for two years.”
Another affected person is Paola Benitez. She is an elderly woman who not only lost her home, but also her shoe business, which was adjacent to her house. Benitez said that as an older woman, being away from home takes a toll on her health.
“I lost my happiness,” she said.
Benitez said she used to rent her property and that would help her make her mortgage payments, but after the explosion, she was not able to use her home anymore. “I’m still paying for my house, but I lost my job, which was my shoe business.”
Living in the hotel has not been easy. All the affected families live on different floors, with many elders living on the first five floors. Rosalva Beltran is one of them.
Beltran had lived on 27th Street for over 40 years. The explosion not only destroyed her entire house but also her daughter’s small business. Her husband had renovated and decorated a shed for her daughter’s nail business. “When I come back and visit my house, I see the shed and all the materials my daughter had, being eaten by rats, and it’s infuriating,” she said.
For Beltran, living in the hotel is uncomfortable. “In the hotel, there are people from other statuses that we feel look at us up and down, and that’s not a good feeling,” she said.
Beltran also said that resources around the hotel are limited. “There are stores in the area, but since the hotel is in DTLA, the stores are expensive,” she said.
Last Wednesday, June 28, UDB, the affected families and LA City Coulcilman Curren Price, who was recently charged with embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest, had a private meeting.
The meeting resulted in an “ultimatum,” as Gochez called it. “We have told the councilman, by August 1, if we do not see a crew of workers working on every single one of these houses, this neighborhood will rise, and they are not going to like it,” he said. “We played nice so far; we have not called for the resignation of the council member, we have not done any major actions. But not for a second think that we cannot, because UDB has at least one year in this community organizing, and we have no problem organizing directly against the city.”
On July 2, Chief Michel Moore announced that four Bomb Squad personnel were subject to “departmental discipline based on their involvement in this incident.” In addition, new protocols for the LAPD Bomb Squad were implemented to “prevent any similar events from occurring in the future,” as stated in the LAPD announcement. “Even our best intentions cannot take this neighborhood back to where it was before this event occurred. However, as a department, we remain committed to supporting the impacted residents as we continue to work to make this right,” Moore said.
For the affected families, this is insufficient. Holding the LAPD officers responsible for the explosion is crucial. The names of the officers have not yet been released. “That’s a joke for us,” Beltran said.
UDN and the affected families invited Price and LA Mayor Karen Bass to Friday’s event. None of them showed up.
Alvarez said that it was disappointing that Bass nor anyone on her team was present.
“The invitation was extended in good faith. It would have been a good time to work on a relationship because she intervened in the teacher strike and helped out, so why is it that we are not receiving that type of attention?” Alvarez said. “One of her main points, when she was running for mayor, was to eliminate homelessness, and some of the families here are on the verge of being homeless, and yet they are invisible to her.”