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 Eduardo Lara, a lecturer of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and a former candidate for the LBUSD school board and for District 2 council member, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

What city do we want to be?

That is the central question we must wrestle with locally in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The reconciliation process the city has engaged in recently, frames the response as a social justice emergency of law enforcement violence that demands intervention. In other words, it’s a crisis. And LBPD Chief Robert Luna recently furthered this crisis by saying a viral photo many have taken as illustrative of police violence is an example of child endangerment. This is racist dog-whistling, unacceptable, and not a first-time offense for Chief Luna when considering his defensiveness when questioned on his handling of protestors on May 31; he needs to resign or be fired immediately.

Black researcher William Smith reminds us of the damaging consequences of racism, referring to the mental, emotional and physical strain People of Color experience everyday as racial battle fatigue. It often leads to psychophysiological symptoms such as tension headaches, elevated blood pressure, stress and increased frequency in illness. Smith defines racial battle fatigue as the, “cumulative result of a natural race-related stress response to distressing mental and emotional conditions. These conditions emerged from constantly facing racially dismissive, demeaning, insensitive and/or hostile racial environments and individuals.”

Luna’s recent words escalate the racial crisis the City of Long Beach is experiencing and his lack of informed leadership on race matters is not helping the reconciliation process. On the contrary, he is actually making it difficult for community members to trust both the city and LBPD. When a police chief makes comments exposing Black people and other People of Color to racial battle fatigue, it’s counterproductive to the spirit of reconciliation, further eroding trust in government.

Even more alarming is Luna’s call for arresting the father of the child in the photograph, saying, “We believe when we find this person, he needs to be arrested for endangering a child.” From a legal perspective, this indicates he would like for the father to be criminally prosecuted and suggestive of having the child legally removed via the foster care system. From a political lens, his comment comes across as defensive and racially tone-deaf to the political moment the country is experiencing. The moment calls for a pulling away from criminalization of Black people as opposed to further rooting into the racist mechanisms used to tie criminality to Black bodies. Luna has failed the racial litmus test for continuing as chief of police.

There might be temptation to make the excuse that Luna’s problem is more of a communication issue rather than a racist mindset. I have been committed to racial justice work for over 20 years, including research on racism. As an expert, I can tell you it’s not a communication issue, it’s racism masqueraded by dog-whistling. Before anyone chimes in countering that Luna is also a person of color by virtue of being Latino, I offer a reminder that Latino is an ethnic identity, not a racial one. Subsequently, a Latino can be of any race, including Asian, Black, Native, or White. And anti-Black racism unfortunately runs deep in the Latinx community, a damaging legacy of the legal racial caste system forcefully imposed by Spain to control indigenous communities and enslaved Africans.

Pointing out this context is important to help understand why Luna’s comments are so dangerous. Rather than listen to the community, particularly the Black community, as the reconciliation framework dictates, Luna continues along the same road that led society down this path, which is to convince the public that Black people are to be feared. There was never a problem taking children to Women’s rights or LGBTQ+ equality demonstrations. Nor was there condemnation of parents who took their children to protests such as these centered on gender and sexuality, respectively. Why should Luna regard the Black Lives Matter protest any differently?

Because it’s centered on race and Black people. Let that marinate.

When the top of LBPD leadership harbors problematic ideology, that type of sentiment allows for public permission for those under his watch to do the same. It filters down the institution and from both cultural and structural standpoints, history tells us it rewards participants who echo similar racist sentiments. Even more alarming, such sentiment informs behaviors such as police violence against Black bodies. That is exactly how white supremacy continues to march forward through every iteration of racial social control, by politically and economically rewarding those that lean into the status quo as opposed to daring to change it.

For the past four years, we’ve seen a similar phenomenon from President Donald Trump. His own racist dog-whistling has allowed for a wave of overt racism to become louder. Overt racism has never gone away, but prior to the age of Trump, there was a social contract regulating racism to the backstage for the most part. Trumpian politics have emboldened public forms of racism, as evidenced by researchers Sims Edwards and Stephen Rushin who have documented the Trump Effect, concluding that his inflammatory rhetoric causes hate crimes to increase and validates “this rhetoric in the eyes of perpetrators” while fueling an increase in hate crimes.

Both the City of Long Beach and LBPD now have an internal escalated crisis they need to solve. Luna is unfit to lead. I have laid out the case for his resignation or firing. Mayor Robert Garcia, the City Council and City Manager Tom Modica have a decision to make. Their leadership on this matter will be heavily judged to see if they rise in this moment that beckons immediate action on Luna.

My activism with Black Lives Matter Long Beach has taught me an important organizing goal – to reimagine. This re-imagining is specific to envisioning what public safety could look like, one that is not dependent on police, but instead a re-investment in communities.

Let’s re-imagine not only the answer to the central question we must wrestle with, but let’s re- imagine the very question itself.

What kind of city do you want for your children in the future?

I hope it’s one where children can be free to exercise their right to protest, parents free from judgement for taking them and free of police violence.