Two very ambitious motions were passed by the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday, July 21, virtual meeting, and both were discussed with a lot of emotion.
The first of these motions intends to profoundly change the way Los Angeles County deals with racism.
This motion, authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, will cause the county to establish what it calls “an eighth Board-directed priority” to address the elimination of racism and racial bias in Los Angeles County — meaning that, from now on, antiracism is to be one of the county’s primary concerns.
“The United States has never fully addressed one of the original sins of its colonizers — the institution and practice of 250 years of chattel slavery,” writes Ridley-Thomas in the motion.
“The ideology that established and maintained the institution of slavery has left an indelible stain on the fabric of this nation and is embedded in virtually every facet of American culture and civil society. Sadly, when slavery ended, a new era of repression emerged and became the common thread in the lives of African Americans.”
The Ridley-Thomas motion — which is worth reading in its entirety — also points to the fact that, when it comes to Los Angeles County, racism is a matter of public health.
In LA County, “racism against Black people has reached crisis proportions,” the motion continues, “as demonstrated by the large disparities in family stability, health and mental wellness, education, employment, economic development, public safety, criminal justice, and housing.”
Thus, to have healthy communities, and a healthy county, fundamental changes must be made.
When Ridley-Thomas formally introduced the motion to the hundred or so people listening to the meeting virtually, he explained further.
“It is structural racism that is rooted in a long history of overt racial discrimination, segregation, and overt violence,” he said. “And it manifests itself across multiple systems. Too often, structural racism “is just there, taken for granted, as if nothing can be done about it.
“Well, today, we seek to do something about it.”
The motion borrows its title, and a part of the thrust of its proposed methodology, from Ibram X. Kendi, the founder of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, and author of National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racism in America, and Kendi’s more recent book, “How to Be an Antiracist”, which in the past few months has lodged itself at the top of the LA Times, New York Times, and Amazon bestseller lists.
“We are surrounded by racial inequity, as visible as the law, as hidden as our private thoughts,” writes Kendi in ‘How to Be an Antiracist.’ “The question for each of us is what side of history will we stand on? A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by the actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist society by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea.”
Yet these “nametags are not permanent tattoos,” Kendi writes. “We can only strive to be one or the other.”
With a prominent name-check to Kendi, the text of the new motion describes its focus and intentions similarly.
An antiracist policy “is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.”
As for what needs to be done to begin to make a genuine change, the new motion asks the county’s CEO to “develop a strategic plan and underlying policy platform articulating the goals, actions, and deliverables” that will “advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism.”
On Tuesday, when the Ridley-Thomas motion came up for discussion, it seemed that everyone who spoke in its favor seemed to be unusually affected by the depth of change the six-page document said it hoped to accomplish.
Several of the speakers invoked Congressman and civil rights icon, John Lewis, who died last Friday, and the ongoing effect of Black Lives Matter. Most thanked Ridley-Thomas for pushing the challenge that the motion embodies front and center.
As an elected official, said Sheila Kuehl when she talked about the motion, “every time you cast a vote, you are answering the question, ‘Which side are you on?‘” On this day, she said, “I only have one thing to give, and that is my aye vote. And I give it wholeheartedly.”
Among the most emotional of the public officials who spoke was LA County CEO, Sachi Hamai, who said she spoke, not only as the Chief Executive Officer of Los Angeles County, “but as the daughter and granddaughter of proud Japanese Americans who felt the distinct humiliation and injustice of being uprooted to internment camps during World War II.”
She only brought this up, she said, to express the “common cause” that she felt in “joining with my colleagues of all races and ethnicities to strongly endorse this motion.”
Supervisor Hilda Solis said that she too had “been a victim of racism and discrimination,” which something “we continue to see it in our daily lives.” This motion, she said, is an opportunity to “change the trajectory for our young people.”
Board chair, Kathryn Barger told Ridley-Thomas that the preamble of his motion should be “must-reading for everybody.”
Janice Hahn talked about how the last few months since the killing of George Floyd, have been “a wake-up call.”
Right before the vote, Ridley-Thomas spoke one more time. “It seems like the opportunity is now for us to lean in, to advance structural change…” he said. Then he “respectfully” asked for a unanimous vote.
A Charter Amendment on the Nov. ballot or….Mad Max
The second of the two motions that intend to “reimagine LA County” was authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, and passed after a debate that was emotional, but unlike that of the earlier motion, also involved some anger.
This motion, titled “Reimagining Los Angeles County: Shifting Budget Priorities to Revitalize Under-resourced and Low-income Communities,” appeared at the last minute on Monday on the board’s supplemental agenda, and asks CEO Hamai, in collaboration with County Counsel, to do what whatever it takes to put a new Charter Amendment on the November 2020 general election ballot that, if passed, will set aside at least 10% of the county’s “generated unrestricted revenues” in each future year, and then direct that money in two complementary directions.
The first category will be for direct community investment, including:
- Community-based youth development programs
- Job training and jobs to low-income residents focusing on jobs that support the implementation of the “Alternatives to Incarceration” workgroup recommendations, especially construction jobs for the expansion of affordable and supportive housing, and a decentralized system of care
- Providing access to capital for small minority-owned businesses, with a focus on Black-owned businesses
- Rent assistance, housing vouchers and accompanying supportive services to those at risk of losing their housing, or without stable housing
- Capital funding for transitional housing, affordable housing, and supportive housing
The second category will be for programs and initiatives that are directed toward creating programs specifically aimed at achieving the goals of the “Alternatives to Incarceration” workgroup.
(As readers may remember, in March of this year, the board-launched “Alternatives to Incarceration” workgroup, delivered a 98-page final report describing how “to create a countywide system that would be designed to provide care and services first, and to use jail as the last resort.”)
Among the recommended ATI categories were:
- Community-based restorative justice programs
- Pre-trial non-custody services and treatment
- Community-based health services, health promotion, counseling, wellness and prevention programs, and mental health and substance use disorder services.
“To address racial injustice, over-reliance on law enforcement interventions, limited economic opportunity, health disparities, and housing instability,” wrote the authors to further explain their intent, “it’s time to structurally shift our budget priorities and reimagine Los Angeles County.”
The goals of the motion duplicate many of the points that have been made in the last few weeks by one of the county’s justice advocacy coalitions, Re-Imagine LA, which is made up of organizations ranging from Dignity & Power Now, to the United Way of LA, and the JusticeLA Coalition, which made up of its own list of organizations including the Youth Justice Coalition, Color of Change, and the Ralph J.Bunche Center’s Million Dollar Hoods research program at UCLA.
Yet, not everyone who was virtually in attendance was thrilled with this motion, and a number of them said so during the public comment section of the meeting.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva expressed his displeasure to the board by going “live” on Instagram.
“You say there is a time to prioritize the Office of Diversion and Reentry, and other care-first, jail-last programs with a stable dedicated budget commitment,” he said. “But that “budget commitment seems to be defunding law enforcement.”
Any additional cuts taken from the department, said the sheriff, “will result in the loss of Altadena Station, East Los Angeles Station, Marina Del Rey station” and more beyond that.
After his comment time was over, the sheriff stayed on the air and continued to say a bit more regarding the motion to his Instagram audience.
“We’ve seen reimagining LA,” he said. “It’s the movie Mad Max!”
As the matter moved toward a vote, it looked for a while that the motion would go down in flames, especially given the fact that an LA Times editorial published Tuesday morning had been very critical of the proposal, calling the possible ballot measure “irresponsible” and “last minute.”
Supervisor Barger, who was leaning against the motion, said something about The United Way for Los Angeles putting out a survey about defunding police “in the dead of night.” (The United Way of LA was one of the coalition’s organizations that reportedly had been quite involved with giving input for the motion.) Barger also pointed to the highly critical LA Times editorial.
Then Sheila Kuehl bounced back against naysayers. “This is a request” for top-level data “to allow the voters to consider these issues and decide what they might like to do in order to make this the kind of county in which they want to live.”
Solis, the motion’s co-author, seemed at one point as if she might be wobbling, but instead gave an impassioned speech for a yes vote.
“I would ask that the board really consider that this is a real big-time reckoning for all of us,” she said. “It’s challenging to respond to our constituents. But I know that’s why I was elected…And I would ask the board to really consider that.”
Both Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas talked at length about the rushed nature of the motion, and how it wasn’t adequately vetted, and that they didn’t like having it sprung on them.
“How about an open conversation,” Ridley-Thomas said, “so that three votes might be assembled in order to do this, and potentially more, rather than running us into a trap fraught with fiscal complications, legal issues, and the like.”
Then both supervisors proceeded to do a 180.
“The budget,” Hahn said after shooting at the motion, “is not just a document, it’s a statement of our values.” And nothing, she said, “speaks to all of our values more than I think this charter amendment does.”
Yes, maybe it was too rushed, she conceded. Yes, maybe it wasn’t completely vetted. “But these two big things happening in our lives, the moment of George Floyd and the moment of this pandemic, compel us to act quickly. Thank you very much. Amen! Hallelujah! Praise God!!”
(Yes, Supervisor Hahn really said that. There was something about these motions….)
Finally, like school children all racing deliriously after the same ball, the board members stumbled over each other verbally, each wishing to be the ones to call for the vote.
In the end, the second motion, however imperfect, passed in a four to one vote, amid a few seconds of muffled, but still audible and slightly hysterical giggling, with Kathryn Barger voting “enthusiastically” against the proposal.
There will be another go-round on the issue of the ballot measure on Tuesday, July 28, when the CEO comes back with more information.
After that, it appears that the result of this ambitious motion’s reimagining will be left up to the voters of Los Angeles County.
Photo at top is a screenshot courtesy of the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.