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 Congressman Alan Lowenthal, who represents the cities of Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill, Avalon, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Cypress, Westminster, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Anaheim, Midway City and Stanton in California’s 47th Congressional District., and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.
It is a fair and just demand by every American, regardless of color or class, that they be treated equally under the law. It is the right of every American to peacefully demand change when one set of rules applies to one group of people, while another harsher set is brought to bear on a regular basis against another. The outrage and anger expressed across the nation in reaction to the killing of George Floyd is as understandable as it was preventable.
From Watts to the LA Riots which hit Long Beach so hard, and even more recently in Ferguson, Missouri, we have been given opportunity after opportunity to address the issue of police brutality and social inequality. But we have let each opportunity slide away, as if hoping the underlying problem would go away on its own.
Since my first days as a community activist, I have fought for the reform of our policing system and addressed the injustice in our justice system. In 1990, as a member and president of Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, I helped lead the fight to create the Citizen Police Complaint Commission in Long Beach. As a City Council member, then as an assembly member and a state senator, I fought to ensure that we address the inequalities and injustice built into the system. But for every small success, there were a multitude of problems that the political will of the time could not address.
Since I have been in Congress, I have continued to support and vote to pass numerous pieces of legislation to address the problems that protesters are calling for.
In almost every case, just as in the past, the political will of the majority has fallen well short. In every case, this lack of will has led to the same result. People talk about meaningful change, and little happens. People demand significant change, and still little happens. People shout for change and still nothing happens. Our response to the voices screaming for decades “I can’t breathe,” literally and figuratively, has been to ignore the problem. This cannot go on. You can never stop the pot from boiling over if you don’t take it off the fire.
We all know that violence is not the way. But, given what we have seen, given the systemic inequalities that have been allowed to fester for too long, neither is inaction. It will take action at all levels—city, state, federal—but this moment calls for comprehensive action and change. We are better than this and we can not sweep this under the rug once again.
We must take this opportunity to find the courage and the political will to act and act decisively. I will work with my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to develop, support, and pass a comprehensive package of federal legislation to reform our policing and justice system. Just as I will work with our local and state officials to address these issues.
We must reverse the movement toward the militarization of our police forces. We need to reform “use of force” regulations adopted by law enforcement agencies. We must require better training and accountability of officers nationwide, as well as better hiring practices by police departments. We need a national database to ensure that a police officer’s work history, including complaints and punitive actions, follows them if they seek employment in other police departments.
We also have to provide for better and more comprehensive police oversight by independent groups that have greater authority to address abuse and brutality cases. We must fix the arbitration system that allows police officers to avoid or minimize the repercussions of their actions and return to duty. And most of all, we need to ensure that police are held criminally responsible for their illegal actions.
It is beyond time to take these steps. And it will not be easy. But we cannot turn away from this moment. We have to make clear, as the People’s House, that we hear the voices of the people and once and for all, will take the steps we can to help put an end to the systematic brutality, bigotry, and hatred.
It was remarkable, after violence by opportunists and provocateurs, to see hundreds of Long Beach residents come out to help begin cleaning up their city, just like members of communities all across the nation. They did this out of love for their communities. But cleaning the streets, rebuilding the facades, and restocking the shelves are not the significant challenge we face. Inequality, injustice, and systemic racism are the real problems here. Unless we begin to address these problems directly, as a society, we will only find ourselves in this same tragic position over and over again.