By Gloria Partida
The moments that have spurred social justice movements the furthest through time, unfortunately, have come at the cost of a person of color’s (POC’s) body. All have been horrendous, but until the advent of a video camera in every pocket they have not been forced upon all to witness. I arrived in Los Angeles shortly after the killing of Ruben Salazar by L.A. county sheriffs. Ruben Salazar had been the first Latinix writer for the Los Angeles Times and a civil rights activist. His death electrified the Chicano movement in East L.A.
There was no way that you could grow up in the area and not be aware of the crushing issues of institutional racism. That was 50 years ago and 20 years after the inception of the civil rights movement. In that time the evidence for institutional racism has mounted. The injustice of racism has been laid out in scholarly writings, examined, and quantified. We can now point to policies and practices in everything from housing to healthcare that have been designed to oppress POC.
Frustratingly, solutions for what must be done to correct institutional racism have remained elusive. In part because racism is a dynamic and complex issue. The move from Jim Crow laws to microaggressions may seem like a huge improvement until you are sitting an emergency room getting subpar medical treatment because of your race.
As my colleagues and I moved towards responding to the call for change in policing spurred by the national outcry over the murder of George Floyd, we carefully examined what our community needed. We are not a high crime area. We do not have high populations of minorities or socially disadvantaged youth. This is not to say we have none, but we had little areas in our local community that we could shift resources into to reroute the path that led people to have negative outcomes with the police.
The formation of our new department is focused on the areas in our local community that are relevant in guiding our vulnerable populations to success and away from those negative police interactions. By coordinating access to housing, mental health, community resources, youth empowerment as well as decriminalizing poverty by refocusing code compliance we begin to address many of the social determinants that lead to those negative police interactions. I am especially keen on what the city can do to support youth. A simple change such as working with the school district to identify underserved youth to prioritize for our summer youth jobs would go a long way.
The objective may not be that we shrink our police budget immediately but rather that it does not need to grow to meet the rising issues of these social determinants. As with many long-term solutions an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The trick of course is applying the correct prevention. Which brings me back to the complexities of addressing institutional injustice.
In the many years of activism I have witnessed, or participated in, a common struggle is finding the handle. Often the answer is that there are many. Seldom does one solution address all issues. On the issue of policing, we have seen the ask for trainings in de-escalation and anti-bias to solve for disparities in police stops. It has been surprising to me lately to hear the opinion now that money for these trainings should be removed from the police budget because they haven’t made a difference.
I find this troubling, especially in light of the push for training in our school district for similar things and on the eve of the push for ethnic studies in our classrooms. In a conversation with a leader for Safe Black Spaces in Sacramento on this subject, they agreed that trainings may not land as they should with all that take them but having none is a step back be it in our police departments, classrooms, or boardrooms.
So, what can be done to fix disparities in stops? Part of what the new department will address is analytics which are critical in getting to the bottom of this issue.
It is also critical to ensure that the problem we are trying to solve for does not move from one department to another. It has always been my assertion that the disparities in stops we see in the police department are an extension of a wider issue. Some of this as mentioned above will be alleviated by the social service interventions. Some are tougher to tease out.
For instance, in a council meeting Darren mentioned that night patrols tend to have more scrutiny because more nefarious activity happens at night. It is also the time that more essential workers, which happen to be more POC, are on the road to get to night jobs. Disparities also trickle down from the fact that more POC are impoverished and have had more trauma, factors that often lead to crime.
The handles to get to a solution on this problem must be more than fixing police bias. Will a civilian task force really be less bias than police officers?
We may also ask, much do we want the police to prevent crime vs solve crime? Often a crime in action is tough to come upon and stop. Maybe we focus more on solving crime. This may require more electronic surveillance, which is unpopular. These are complicated conversations, but we must begin to explore them.
Lastly, I want to give my thanks to all that have advocated tirelessly for these changes, to the city staff that understood the importance of making this happen and our council for rising to the challenge. It makes me proud to live here and represent my community. The names of those that spurred these movements are well honored in your work.