Opinion: Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative is a step toward creating a Long Beach for everyone

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 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

“When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.” 

Those are the words of Rep. John Lewis, in an essay he published in the New York Times shortly before his passing on July 17, serving as a call for how we can come together and redeem the soul of America. This passage spoke to me and reminds me of the great responsibility of each generation to meet the challenges of the moment, with courage, compassion and fortitude.

I think of Congressman Lewis’ accounts of growing up in the Jim Crow South with a relentless fear that he might not come home one day, the same way Emmett Till met his fate. I think about my mother, who was among the first class to integrate Alabama’s schools 50 years ago, and the important contribution that even a second-grade girl can make in the world.

The struggle for equal rights, human dignity and freedom for Black people is alive today, as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and too many other tragic endings are a reminder of why we continue to demand changes to systems that are laced with anti-Black racism.

We see this injustice every day. In Long Beach, the life expectancy of a baby growing up in our city differs by 17 years, based on the ZIP code they live in. Black-owned businesses are less likely to receive emergency relief funding and are twice as likely to shutter than those of other racial groups.

And, a disproportionately large number of Black drivers in Long Beach are stopped by police and subjected to greater scrutiny than their White and Latino counterparts, according to a report published by the Long Beach Post in June.

According to the report, Black people made up 24% of our traffic stops in 2019, while only making up 13% of the population. While detained, officers were two times more likely to pull Black drivers from their vehicles than White drivers and also more likely to search Black detainees than either Whites or Latinos. And yet, only 11% of searches involving Black detainees found drugs, weapons or other contraband, compared to 19% for Whites.

Evidence of racial inequity is apparent across all systems and is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Congressman Lewis empowered us in his final essay, I see something is not right, and I’m using my voice to say something. I’m also pushing for Long Beach to do something.

Earlier this summer, we heard your voices in the streets declaring Black Lives Matter and demanding change, like reprioritizing our budget to invest in our community.

In June, the Long Beach City Council adopted a Framework for Reconciliation that opened up a dialogue on how we can acknowledge, listen, convene, and catalyze a plan to create a more equitable and resilient city.

I want to thank every resident and stakeholder who participated and shared their vision for a more inclusive Long Beach.

As a result of your advocacy, today, the Long Beach City Council is moving forward with the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative – Initial Report. This report details actions to advance racial equity, build public trust and accountability, and reconcile with the vision that race should not determine social and economic outcomes for those who live or work in Long Beach.

Long Beach will work across all of our local government agencies to:

  • End systemic racism in all local government and partner agencies, through an internal transformation.
  • Design and invest in community safety, violence prevention, community resources, and alternative forms of safety, as well as strategies to invest in re-entry, de-escalation and trauma-informed practices.
  • Redesign police approach to community safety, oversight, and accountability processes, including replacing the Citizen’s Police Complaint Commission with a modern Community Oversight body.
  •  Improve health and wellness by eliminating social and economic disparities in the communities most impacted by racism.

The new model of a modern and resilient city is one that prioritizes public health, invests in an inclusive economy, and embraces racial equity as a superior growth model for our city. This comprehensive strategy will make Long Beach stronger as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, by placing a racial equity lens on our government systems and ensure we focus intentionally on updating policies, closing gaps, and restoring public trust in local government, including our police department. And, to be clear, this is not the end of the process, but rather the beginning of a transformation.

Additionally, our city has taken meaningful steps to fund programs that will help us achieve our Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative’s goals.

First, we are proposing to dedicate $3.2 million in this upcoming budget to pursue structural reforms and help jumpstart programs that address racial inequities within the first year.

This funding will elevate the Office of Equity to the City Manager’s Office, placing a greater focus on redesigning the city’s structure to promote equity, remove barriers and close gaps. The budget also invests in strategies to establish an Office of Youth Development and Violence Prevention and strategies to increase equitable access to services, healthy food options, public services, community services, mental health services and support for seniors and youth.

Second, we have placed a measure on this November’s ballot that will ask voters whether we should tax oil production in Long Beach to fund programs that address climate resiliency, health disparities and racial inequality.

Only companies that produce oil will pay this tax, generating $1.6 million annually to invest in local youth and violence prevention programs, designed to create better outcomes for our younger residents. This measure is an important local action we can take to help build a more equitable future.

Together, the 107 recommendations within Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, the proposed FY 21 budget, and the proposed youth investment ballot measure, will place Long Beach in a great starting position to achieve long-term structural change that will benefit the lives of generations to come.

I’m encouraged that we’re already seeing an impact across the region, based on steps Long Beach has taken. Southern California Association of Governments, the metropolitan planning organization representing six counties and 191 cities across the Southern California region, joined Long Beach in declaring institutional racism a public health crisis and has voted to institute a new program promoting racial equity in housing production strategies.

I am hopeful that we can continue bending the arc toward justice in our city. Though it will take time to adequately address the structural inequities that our Black and Brown residents experience, Long Beach can meet this moment and embrace racial equity as a core philosophy and guiding principle in decision making.

Let’s come together and take the baton from our past generations to ensure every member of our community, no matter your race or ZIP code, can live, work, learn and thrive in a safe and healthy city.

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