James Farr Is Not Afraid to Ask Tough Questions

James Farr asks probing and uncomfortable questions of community leaders during his online show ‘The Conversation.Live.’

By Justin Chapman, Colorado Boulevard, 4/4/2020

Pasadena-based freelance journalist James Farr is the host of “The Conversation.Live,” a hyperlocal online show he created in September 2017. In each episode, he interviews one of Pasadena’s movers and shakers, including city officials, political candidates, police officials, activists, attorneys and other community leaders. On April 2, Farr delivered a virtual lecture about police, racial profiling and the Christopher Ballew incident for Professor Peter Dreier’s Urban Politics class at Occidental College.

Farr produced two short documentaries about the Ballew incident, “False and Deceptive Statements” and “Attempted Murder.” On November 9, 2017, Pasadena police officers Lerry Esparza and Zachary Luhan pulled over 21-year-old Ballew in Altadena for having tinted windows, then proceeded to beat him, violating a number of Pasadena Police Department protocols. Farr’s documentaries break down the body cam and bystander videos of the incident and explore what the officers could have done differently to deescalate what should have never been a violent encounter.

Critical conversations

At the top of each episode of “The Conversation.Live,” Farr reminds viewers that the focus of these dialogues is “social justice, restorative justice, equality and inclusion,” and that the discussion could be “provocative and possibly uncomfortable.” His first guest was immigrant rights advocate and Dreamer Lizbeth Mateo of Pasadenans Organizing for Progress (POP).

Notable interviewees on his show have included Black Lives Matter Pasadena organizer Jasmine Abdullah, former Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez, restaurateur Robin Salzer, civil rights attorneys Dale Gronemeier and Skip Hickambottom, cannabis retailer Shaun Szameit, Tournament of Roses President Gerald Freeny, all four 2020 Pasadena mayoral candidates and many others.

When Farr’s laptop overheated during an interview in the summer of 2018, he knew it was time to up his game. Last year, he teamed up with the local public access channel, Pasadena Media. He took the studio’s training courses, became a producer and professionalized the look of his show, which had previously been recorded through Skype video conferences. “Now because of social distancing, I’m going to retool and start doing it back online again until the studio opens up,” Farr said.

One phrase encapsulates what James sees as his mission in Pasadena: “I am determined to create and maintain dialogues within and across communities that will promote actionable steps followed by sustainable change.”

James Farr and his wife Tamika moved to Pasadena in 2002, where they quickly established strong roots and had two kids. In 2011, Councilmember Jacque Robinson appointed Tamika Farr to the Commission on the Status of Women. In 2016, Council member John Kennedy appointed James to the Accessibility & Disability Commission.

Critical Conversations, Farr’s new book, will be released on July 1. It is a retrospective of his experiences over the last three years.

[A longer version of this article will appear in Critical Conversations.]