Three years after the Long Beach City Council approved a broad plan intended to address systemic racism – and a year and a half after a city report found uneven progress on the plan’s goals – leaders in Long Beach’s Black community are frustrated and angry about the recent dismissal of the city’s violence prevention coordinator.
Cathy Snuggs had worked for the city for more than a decade, and had been in the violence prevention role since early 2022.
Some local Black activists and leaders were surprised and upset to learn Snuggs was terminated in July, and they feel like it’s part of a pattern of how Long Beach officials handle programs and initiatives focused on the city’s Black residents.
James Marks II, a founding member of the Long Beach Advancing Peace steering committee, said Snuggs was doing “an outstanding job,” and would go above and beyond to support families who lost loved ones to violence, getting them resources and just being there for them.
She was also helping bring the city’s diverse minority groups together and making connections with residents who felt neglected by the city, Marks said.
“She was building genuine relationships between the city and the community,” he said.
“She was kind of like mending some of that hurt and that pain and distrust.”
Snuggs and city officials declined to discuss the circumstances of her departure, which is not uncommon with public employee personnel issues.
Marks and several other residents went to the Aug. 8 City Council meeting to praise Snuggs’ work and question the decision to let her go.
As the violence prevention coordinator, Snuggs helped put together the Safe Passage program, which protects children walking to and from school from crime and traffic hazards; she held listening sessions to give residents a voice in solving problems in their neighborhoods; and she created a “healing space” to help a community in grief after a 12-year-old was killed in a drive-by shooting in May.
City Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy, whose department oversees violence prevention programs and staff, said those programs have been successful thanks to the combined efforts of the city team, community groups and residents.
The Health Department is close to hiring someone to lead the city’s violence prevention efforts and will be recruiting soon for the vacancy left by Snuggs, Colopy said. The city also recently got more grant funding to expand violence prevention programs beyond the Washington and Downtown neighborhoods, and it’s ramping up a Black health equity initiative.
The Health Department is committed to “working with, supporting and, you know, connecting and making things better for our Black community,” Colopy said.
“We are planning to move forward and continue that work.”
But not everyone is convinced of that.
When protests erupted around the country after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020, one way Long Beach officials responded was creating the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, which was intended to tackle discrimination in policing, housing, health and other areas.
A year and a half after the initiative was launched, a city report found that while some progress had been made, many of the plans had languished with little to no work done on them.
Marks said he sees that as par for the course, and Snuggs’ dismissal is part of that trend. The city might apply for funding for grassroots programs such as “Hoops After Dark,” he said, but “once the grant rolled out, I call it the Cinderella theory – at 12 it turns into a pumpkin because (the city) would not support it.”
Snuggs said some residents are frustrated when they see initiatives to support their communities sputter out as the people working on them come and go.
“People are tired of there being, you know, somebody there for one year, two years, and then they’ve gotta start all over,” she said.
Mayor Rex Richardson, who spearheaded the racial reconciliation initiative, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed about the city’s violence prevention efforts. But after hearing from Marks and others at the Aug. 8 meeting, he told the community the city is “very, very committed to, and I’ve always been committed to, the Advancing Peace program,” and that city leaders would continue striving to ensure “that people feel confident in working together with the city, because that trust is incredibly important.”