Message from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas,
Empowerment Congress Founder
In the middle a global pandemic of unprecedented scale and disproportionate impact on the health and well-being of African Americans, the nation reckons with another.
Last week, we all watched in sheer horror as George Floyd took his last breaths under the knee of an officer. Before then, Ahmaud Aubrey was murdered at the hands of two vigilantes for the crime of an afternoon run. Breonna Taylor killed in her own home in the middle of the night from police officer fire. Eric Garner, while, too, pleading for his last breaths. Michael Brown, days after his high school graduation. Tamir Rice, while playing in a neighborhood park. Trayvon Martin, for his choice of clothing while walking to get a snack—iced tea and skittles.
We say their names, honor their legacy, but these tragedies feel uncomfortably familiar —their details have begun to echo each other.
The epidemic of police killings of unarmed African Americans is an unrelenting outrage, and we all have every right to the anger and pain felt so deeply right now.
And it’s not just the injustice of those that have fallen to their deaths. So many have privately talked about what they face each and every day, just by stepping outside their door.
We cannot and will not accept this injustice. Such lawless acts of state violence should never be normalized, nor should discrimination of any kind.
After the pain, after the anger, what are the next steps?
Here, the history of the 92’ uprisings loom large. We know the responsibilities government face in safeguarding justice, as well as the high costs when that trust is betrayed.
There are no easy answers, the deep racist structural inequities in this country go as far back as the 1788 ratification of our constitution at Philadelphia Hall.
While the past informs, we know that the future begins anew with all of us today. We “only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love” in the words of Dr. King. But our hearts and souls must be clear and focused on reform that is reflective of a 21st century reality.
Reform of police misconduct has animated my career of public service for more than three decades. It was the guiding force for establishing the Civilian Oversight Commission, the Office of Inspector General and before then, a police commission with expanded authority on the City Council.
However, as a father of two young black men, assessing the data, seeing the same videos, it tells us all what we need to know, and what so many of us have already known. More fundamental change is needed.
No one is above the law, including the officials who are sworn to enforce our laws. At the very least, the four officers in Minneapolis involved in George Floyd’s death, should be arrested and each charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
In Los Angeles, while we have fortunately come a long way since the racial sinkhole status of the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson verdicts, progress does not require perfection, but a real commitment to its pursuit, especially for the black lives that hang in the balance.
We fail ourselves, and future generations if we only view this as a criminal justice issue. The events of this past weekend, and underlying tensions, have made the discussions of the economic recovery even more critical and more urgent.
The COVID crisis has caused our region’s unemployment rate to rise to more than 20%, and economists project that our unemployment rate could exceed 30%. That rate will surely be higher for African-Americans.
This means we must intentionally and unabashedly focus our recovery strategies in ways that address the inequities that have been long endured by disadvantaged communities and communities of color.
For instance, this was the underlying foundation on our work studying African American’s disproportionate representation among LA County’s homeless population through the Ad Hoc Committee on Black Homelessness. Now is the time to put these recommendations into motion.
Or the recommendations made in the Beyond the Schoolhouse report, by a group of researchers led by Professor Tyrone Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute, that urge the development of a targeted Countywide strategic plan to address the needs of Black children, in response to an increased need for equity in our educational system.
Providing a path forward also means meaningful business opportunities and family sustaining employment, are necessary if we are to be successful in the work that must be done at all levels. I am pleased to see that hair salons and barbershops were recently allowed to reopen. It makes a huge difference economically and culturally. Small. Business. Matters.
We cannot bring George Floyd back, but for all of us who stand for justice, who value life, we must also stand for truth, honor and equity no matter the consequences. This will be the true manifestation of how we make sure this moment is enduring, and most important of all, honor the legacies of those gone too soon at the hands of unrepentant perpetrators of racialized violence.
Rest in power.
This opinion piece first appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel on Thursday, June 4, 2020.