LOS ANGELES — By a unanimous vote, the City Council approved the creation of the Office of Racial Equity Dec. 10, which would be in charge of addressing systemic barriers against people of color in the city.
Although Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world and the majority of its residents are people of color, there exists rampant racial disparities, according to Race Counts, an initiative that utilizes comprehensive tools to measure racial disparities in California.
Race Counts reports that people of color experience inequities in housing, education, poverty, policing, employment and civic engagement.
According to a recent report, African Americans have the lowest median household income, at $32,256. Native Americans have the highest percentage of denied mortgage applications, at 27.3%. And Latinos have the highest contaminant score due to exposure to toxic releases, at 6229.5.
At City Hall, Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson gave an example of how he believes government actions are inherently racist.
He said that trash is picked up faster in wealthier white neighborhoods on the Westside of Los Angeles, compared to lower-income black and brown neighborhoods in the east and southside of Los Angeles. This act reflects the bias in local government in prioritizing resources to its more affluent white population. Those are the things the Office of Racial Equity need to address.
There is also a legacy of discriminatory policies and practices throughout Los Angeles. In a recent analysis by the Los Angeles Times, it demonstrated that Los Angeles Police Department searches black and Latinos more often than whites during traffic stops, even though whites are more likely to be found with illegal items.
The LAPD stopped more than 385,000 drivers and passengers during a 10-month period and nearly three-quarters were black or Latino. During those stops, 24% of black drivers and passengers were searched, 16% were Latinos, and 5% were white.
“It is time for government to recognize the root causes of these issues and do our job to try and correct it,” City Council President Herb Wesson said.
The establishment of the Office of Racial Equity is meant to advance racial equity through proactive programs and policies. The first step is for the city’s chief legal analyst and the city administrative officer to create a report with information on the scope of responsibilities, structure, and budget for the proposed office.
One key function required of the Office of Racial Equity is the presence of a community racial equity advisory committee. Members of the committee would consist of community residents impacted by racial inequities.
The goal is for the committee to inform and advise the office and hold it accountable for its commitment to solving racial injustice.
Another function is to improve the civic engagement of populations that have historically low levels of participation. The objective is to make public participation more accessible and build a sense of political empowerment among communities of color.
“I hope that the city from a government level with all of its entities and all the organizations that are associated with the city can shift their culture and can shift their way of thinking so that … the default is not racist policies, the default is not racial inequity and so that hopefully we can create a community, create a city and society where anyone from any community can really be supported and get to a place where they can succeed in whatever it is that they define,” said Rodrigo Moreno, a member of Community Coalition. “Because unfortunately, a lot of folks in communities like my own, communities of color in Los Angeles are not set up to succeed. This country was not designed for people like us and so we have to demand and be able to work with the city to be able to shift that culture.”
The finalized report is expected to come back to the council some time after the new year.