Like many, I’ve listened to the appalling audio, read transcripts, as well as watched and read news reports, and pored through all the reaction statements.
One question is rattling around in my head: Why do we wait for murder before defending Black lives? We often wait for the smoking gun, literally, before we express concern, protest, advocate, or invest in Black lives.
Society seems to presume that anti-Black racism doesn’t exist until a Black life is taken by the police. Such a presumption shows how limited our understanding of anti-Black racism is. Instead, we must recognize the everyday and pervasive way that anti-Black racism operates in all communities, institutions, and systems.
It’s the everyday decisions by the elected officials and decision-makers closest to us that reinforce and expand anti-Blackness in our institutions and systems through racial and economic violence.
Yes, the overt racism expressed on tape is shocking. But equally as infuriating are the hundreds of failed policy decisions each of these lawmakers has guided.
The topic of conversation between Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León, and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera centered on their frustrations with redistricting maps proposed by the Los Angeles City Council Redistricting Commission in 2021.
The commission was tasked with redrawing city council district boundaries according to the census with the goal of ensuring fair and inclusive representation. The redistricting process, in light of these revelations, seems far from fair and inclusive. The result left the city’s majority Black voting block politically marginalized and bereft of any major economic development.
Also at the forefront of the behind-the-scenes conversations was a selfish desire to maintain political power for a select group of politicians and the interests of an affluent electorate. And to be sure, anti-Black racism featured prominently in the remarks about the Black community, but it was also prevalent in descriptions about indigenous people in Koreatown.
Anti-Black racism begins with Black communities, but is certainly not limited to them. Colorism is an epidemic in Brown communities, and the inability to come to grips with that reality presents a dangerous problem for our collective future.
In addition to revealing all the ways anti-Blackness functions in our institutions, this political mess highlights the critical need to build Black political power in Los Angeles and throughout California.
The California Black Freedom Fund is a one-of-its-kind, five-year, $100 million initiative to ensure that Black communities win decision-making power over the systems and institutions that shape their lives.
Established by community leaders and philanthropy in response to the uprisings of 2020, a central focus of California Black Freedom Fund is to invest deeply in Black power-building and movement-based organizations by providing the resources they need to eradicate systemic and institutional racism.
One core grantee is the California Black Power Network, which began as a project of California Calls and has its roots in their California Black Census and Redistricting Hub. The Hub sought to expand the Black electorate by working with over a dozen grassroots organizations to ensure they had the capabilities to educate, motivate and activate the voices of thousands of Black Californians throughout the census and redistricting process.
The California Black Power Network is building on this important work by seeking to increase the power of Black communities to be engaged in policy processes statewide. They are advancing the ability of Black communities to have their issues and perspectives inform policy-making.
In Los Angeles, many of our grantees are working with communities to ensure the school district, city council, board of supervisors, and all those in positions of power are accountable to Black Los Angeles and prioritizing their issues and perspectives.
Black civic engagement and the advocacy to combat anti-Black racism is a year-round endeavor – not an episodic activity connected to an election cycle or a political or tragic moment. Support for the California Black Freedom Fund ensures the permanence of networks and organizations, like the California Black Power Network, that are fighting to make this real.
Where do we go from here?
As a metropolitan area, Los Angeles has one of the highest Black populations in the state. Getting Los Angeles right is crucial for racial justice efforts in California and our nation.
As of Monday night, Councilmember Martinez has resigned her post as president of the City Council, and Ron Herrera has also resigned as head of the LA Labor Federation. It’s not enough. Martinez and each participating council member must resign and vacate their positions. They’ve irreparably breached the public’s trust and, as Manuel Pastor has said, forfeited their leadership and squandered decades of work to build solidarity.
The city must also dig more deeply into the myriad ways in which anti-Black racism permeates all facets of policymaking and make systemic reforms through investments and partnerships to reverse trends of discrimination and inequity. Such reforms are essential to ensure we prevent routine injustices from occurring while also facilitating healing from past harms.
Finally, the city must make a historic investment in Black communities. Such an investment should seek to repair historic harm, close inequities Black communities face, educate public servants and the general public about anti-Black racism, and improve and expand social programs that serve the most marginalized Angelenos.
An inclusive multi-racial democracy and just economy are possible. But it can only be realized if we work to dismantle anti-Blackness and defend Black lives, every day.