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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

L.A. County Board Set to Vote on Antiracist Policy Platform


From Top clockwise: Hilda L. Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl, Kathryn Barger, Janice Hahn


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on a strategic plan to craft antiracist policies and practices aimed at helping Black people in Los Angeles County.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored a motion requesting that the board declare racism a matter of public health and prioritize eliminating biases from county operations and programs.

“It is incumbent upon those of us who sit in positions of authority to begin dismantling systemic racial bias within the entities for which we are responsible,” Ridley-Thomas said last week when he previewed the proposal. “It’s no longer sufficient to support diversity and inclusion initiatives. The county has made great strides toward addressing and eliminating implicit bias. It is time to advance to the next level.

“The county must move to identify and confront explicit institutional racism to set the national standard and become a leader of antiracist policymaking and program implementation.”

If approved, the motion would direct CEO Sachi Hamai to quarterback a strategic plan to prioritize physical and mental health, housing, employment, public safety and justice in an equitable way for Black residents. Ridley- Thomas has proposed a 60-day deadline for a report back from the CEO.

The motion also directs Hamai to commission an annual report by an academic or research institution to annually track the State of Black Los Angeles County and offer recommendations for supporting local, regional, state and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism. Reports would include economic and law enforcement data related to Blacks countywide.

“We have an opportunity, I want to underscore, a responsibility to take up this mantle and run with it as far as we can because we have endured too much for too long,” Ridley-Thomas said last week. “But we can set a standard, a national standard, and that’s what we hope to do. No one is claiming that it’s going to be simple, easy or uncomplicated.”

Black people make up about 9% of the population in Los Angeles County, but according to the motion, they also represent:

— 11% of COVID-19 related fatalities;

— 27% of the people shot or seriously injured by law enforcement (in 2017);

— Nearly 30% of the overall population in county jails; and,

— 34% of the population experiencing homelessness.

An analysis by UCLA on unemployment in California during the COVID-19 crisis found that as many as 22% of Black workers were jobless.

Ridley-Thomas’ proposal comes in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, which set off nationwide protests. He said protesters took to the streets in opposition to “structural racism and discrimination, asymmetrical consolidation of power, extreme wealth and income inequity — all of which disproportionately disadvantage Black people.”

Also last week, the heads of various Los Angeles County departments issued a statement — now prominently displayed on the county’s website — pledging to stand against racism.

“We acknowledge that as government leaders, we have an opportunity to change the narrative on the role of government and its relationship to the communities it serves,” the statement read. “We stand against racism in any form and pledge to use our offices to advance racial and social equity, diversity and fairness.”

In addition to his call for a strategic shift, Ridley-Thomas’ motion includes support for 67 specific recommendations put forth by the Ad Hoc Committee for Black People Experiencing Homelessness and asks that the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority be given what it needs to implement those ideas.

Separately, Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis have proposed a county charter amendment for the November ballot that would dedicate a minimum of 10% of the county’s general fund to be spent on direct community investment and alternatives to incarceration, none of which could be distributed through law enforcement agencies.

Another planned Tuesday vote involves the approval of a spending plan for $1.22 billion in federal coronavirus relief dollars. In a letter to the board, Hamai indicated the county’s priorities for the money in the broadest possible terms, noting that just over half of the funding will go to support public health. The balance will be split between financial support for residents, small businesses and county staff performing COVID-19 related functions. A referenced attachment with further detail on just which departments and programs will receive funding — and whether any of the dollars are specifically aimed at resolving racial inequities — was not immediately available.

As for Ridley-Thomas, he has less than five months left to influence county policy as a member of the board before he terms out and potentially moves on to serve on the Los Angeles City Council. He said he wants his motion to be a catalyst for eliminating perpetual racism against all races and ethnicities, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was championed by Black civil rights leaders who risked their lives fighting for it.

He took the unusual step of leading off his motion with a quote — from Harvard University professor and political activist Cornel West.

“To engage in a serious discussion of race in America, we must begin not with the problems of Black people but with the flaws of American society — flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. How we set up the terms for discussing racial issues shapes our perception and response to these issues,” West wrote in his 1993 book “Race Matters.”




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