LA County Leaders OK Antiracism Mandate for Services, Policy-Making

A girl holds a protest song during a protest against police violence in downtown Los Angeles on June 3, 2020. (Courthouse News photo / Nathan Solis)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Policies on education, law enforcement, health care and housing in Los Angeles County will be guided by a mandate to rid civic infrastructure of racism and systemic bias that create harm for residents of color, according to a proposal approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The first-of-its-kind proposal takes aim at LA County policies that have fueled disparities in housing and education, led to poor health for low-income residents and shaped conditions that have filled jails with disproportionate numbers of Black residents.

When slavery was abolished, the ideologies that upheld the racist institution were engrained in the fabric of American society through the implementation of systems like the Black codes and Jim Crow laws, according the motion by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Those ideologies continue to shape civic life and prop up the structural barriers that sustain wealth inequality in the county, according to the motion.

“The legacy of the intentional structuring of opportunity, implementation of policies and practices, and assignment of value based solely on skin color and other physical characteristics, has created and continues to mete out unfair disadvantages to African Americans,” the motion says.

“The United States has reached an inflection point and it is time for every jurisdiction in the nation to collectively and publicly confront this country’s history, beginning with the acknowledgement of its actions and inactions toward African Americans over the last 400 years.”

The board’s approval of the proposal triggers a far-reaching assessment of how county policies and services may be upholding racism and preventing Black county workers from advancing to higher positions in their respective departments. 

Supervisor Hilda Solis said the board’s action Tuesday is a tribute to Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader and Democratic congressman from Georgia who died Friday.

Taking to Twitter, Supervisor Janice Hahn said the board’s action shows the county is committing itself to an antiracist framework for policy-making.

“We talk a lot about institutional racism,” Hahn said Tuesday. “It’s time we look at our own institutions, how they’ve failed Black residents, & how we can improve them for new generations.”

Voter suppression, over-policing, housing discrimination, mass incarceration and poorly funded schools in Black communities can all be traced back to structural racism in the county and across the nation, Ridley-Thomas said in the motion.

“As a result of these conditions, African Americans have systematically experienced unequal access to the foundational aspects of this nation that are universally envisioned as essential to building strong individuals, families, and communities,” the motion says.

Black people also represent nearly 30% of the overall population in LA County jails and more than 34% of people experiencing homelessness, according to the LA Homeless Services Authority Homeless Count of 2019.

And Black people account for 11% of LA County’s deaths from the novel coronavirus but represent only 9% of the county’s over 10 million residents, according to LA County Department of Public Health data.

To further support its antiracist agenda, the board also voted Tuesday to draft a November 2020 ballot measure that would ask voters to set a 10% limit for county general fund expenditures on law enforcement and the court system. 

“This proposed amendment to the county charter puts that power in the hands of the voters so that we may never go back to the ways things were,” Solis said in a statement.

In other board action Tuesday, supervisors voted to extend an agreement with the California Community Foundation to provide legal defense for undocumented immigrants in LA County.

The $1.5 million contract will fund legal defense services for undocumented immigrants who are facing deportation.

In a statement, LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said that while she opposed the motion, she empathizes with immigrants impacted by the nation’s “broken” immigration system.

“It is the responsibility of the federal government to support states and counties in their efforts to address the costs of illegal immigration, and we should focus our energy on supporting comprehensive immigration reform at the national level,” Barger said. 

Supervisors also voted unanimously to extend an existing eviction moratorium in LA County until Sept. 30. The county’s temporary moratorium, which first went into effect in March, bans evictions for all residential and commercial tenants impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion, said in a statement the moratorium extension is critical for supporting residents who lost income due to the pandemic.

“More than 90% of renters have continued to pay some or all of their rent during this terribly difficult time,” Kuehl said. “Unfortunately, the virus has forced us to slow our economic recovery and many people are still out of work or working reduced hours.”

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