Opinion: A framework for reconciliation

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Councilman Rex Richardson, who represents Long Beach’s 9th District, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

On the night of Memorial Day, I received a call from my mother, who spent the holiday in isolation, social distancing during the pandemic. We had a conversation about a disturbing video that was circulating on the news, highlighting the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by four police officers. The images in the video invoked the feelings of fear that she felt every time my brother and I left home, or interacted with police, while growing up. She expressed feelings and sentiments that mothers of black and brown youth experience all too often in America.

Long Beach, communities across the country, and those beyond our borders are awakened and speaking out about the gross injustice of the treatment of blacks in America. Through peaceful protest and civil unrest, we are living in a pivotal moment, and history will have its eyes on us in how we, as leaders, respond.

For some of our residents, their eyes are being opened and beginning to comprehend issues of systemic racism and social justice. It is important that we take this moment to share our own experiences with racial injustice in our own lives, more specifically the ways we have experienced the persistent effects of government, economic, and social systems designed to exclude black and brown communities, within our history as a nation and as a city.

Every generation has faced the plight of racial injustice in America. As a boy, I was told stories about my great-grandfather’s store in Alabama being burned down by the Ku Klux Klan. My mother attended school during the time of Alabama desegregation, 15 years after Brown v. Board of Education. I’ve had my own experiences growing up in Southern California, with the police handcuffing and detaining me for merely fitting a description.

And today, as a community leader, I believe the burden of ending racism is not only the responsibility of impacted communities. This is a multicultural world-wide movement for a better future. It is the responsibility of all people to demand and normalize a common standard of human dignity.

In Long Beach, our current reality is that we have a crisis on three sides—a pandemic that disproportionately affects African Americans and seniors, a historic loss of jobs and continued economic disparity, and a social justice emergency, rooted in persistent inequities and lack of investment in communities of color. We need to ask ourselves, as a city, state, and country, how do we adapt for the future? How do we reconcile with the dark history of racial injustice? How do we address the three crises we are currently experiencing with an equitable response? What do we need to do to prevent passing this responsibility onto future generations?

This moment demands that governments across America reexamine and reform use of police force policies, in response to the global demands for action, and in alignment with President Obama’s call to action. We are not starting from scratch—the city of Long Beach has a number of data-driven efforts that provide a great starting point but have not yet been fully implemented: such as, the My Brother’s Keeper Local Action Plan, the Long Beach Office of Equity Toolkit, and the ‘Everyone In’ Economic Inclusion Initiative Implementation Plan.

We need to embrace racial and economic equity and set a foundation for how cities and police departments can restore community trust. To begin this process, I believe that there are four steps that we should take as a community – Acknowledge, Listen, Convene, Catalyze.

First, we need to start by acknowledging our history with racism and begin working toward solutions that lift and protect black lives. Acknowledge that racial injustice is as great of a threat to our public health as a global pandemic.

Second, we need to listen to the experiences of impacted community members, youth, and the people of the city. Determining a path forward requires us to listen to those affected and recognize our collective community pain.  I’m grateful for Mayor Robert Garcia’s leadership in releasing a statement today committing the leadership of the city to begin a process of listening and informing our city’s response. We should take him up on that offer and share your stories.

Next, we need to convene, and begin the discussions, with stakeholders, on the framework for the future as it relates to redefining structural resiliency and redefining safety. These conversations will be difficult.

Lastly, we need to catalyze a plan to ensure a strong, resilient, and equitable city. We can plan for safer and more secure communities through budget investment in housing, jobs, education, youth development, healthcare, community centers, and open spaces. We can set a framework to build community trust and redefine our relationship with law enforcement with transparency and reform, implement the mandatory use of de-escalation tactics, and expand pre-arrest youth diversion programs, like Long Beach’s Promising Adults, Tomorrow’s Home (PATH) Program. We need to unite in our commitment to progress and shape our city’s future for the better.

And there are things that we can all do to help. Here are a few ideas:

Speak Up—You can mobilize your community organization to host public discussions on racial equity. If you have a personal story, you can submit a ‘letter to the editor’ in our cities numerous press outlets, including the Long Beach Post, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Long Beach Business Journal, and The Grunion. You can also reach out to your elected officials and city management about the urgency of this moment and the need for change.

Get Social —You can leverage social media’s power through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to share your story and help shift our culture. Use the hashtag #LongBeachStrong.

Help Local Small Business Recover—I saw our commitment first-hand as thousands of volunteers showed up on Monday to pick up trash, sweep up the glass, and put our city back together. We need to continue coming together. We need to help our businesses recover and to heal the wounds inflicted by those who took advantage of a peaceful call to action. Long Beach Center for Economic Inclusion has established an #InThisTogetherLB crowd-fund to help small businesses cover their insurance deductibles and repair the damage caused on Sunday.

Long Beach will rise to the occasion. This moment demands that we commit to creating a more inclusive, equitable and resilient city where everyone thrives.  I am confident that our residents, whether you live Downtown or on the Westside, Bixby Knolls, or Cambodia Town, Belmont Shore, or Uptown, will stand together. We are Long Beach Strong.

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