By Dennis J. Freeman
LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti said Oct. 24 that violent threats have become “a regular part of business the last five years.”
Speaking at an informal press briefing after federal authorities announced that a string of potentially explosive packages had been found in various locations in the eastern United States mailed to several politicians, including former President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, Garcetti said: “We get threats all the time.”
“It’s definitely a toxic environment, and one in which people’s ability to anonymously threaten violence is probably greater than it’s ever been,” he added. “We take physical threats or virtual threats very seriously, but I trust the LAPD with that. And not just with me, but with other elected officials and notable people that live here in the city.”
“This is the violence of this moment politically,” Garcetti added. “We used to resolve our disputes in a civil manner. Now we are not only uncivil, we have a president who rallies people like a blood sport for going after a journalist physically.”
Garcetti was equally forthcoming during a discussion Oct. 18 with members of Los Angeles’ black press in his downtown office.
No subject was left off the table in a wide-ranging roundtable discussion about issues concerning and affecting African Americans living in the city.
The discussion was an open forum for the members of the black press to informally sit down with Garcetti and discuss issues that impact the city’s black residents. Garcetti, with his gracious style, navigated the conversation with aplomb.
Among the many topics Garcetti was asked about and tackled included how the city is working to address its homeless issue, particularly when it comes to African Americans. African Americans disproportionately make up the biggest number of those who are homeless in Los Angeles County, with a dramatic increase in numbers on Skid Row.
“We’re looking at strategies that are literally about income assistance,” Garcetti said. “Some people are against it, philosophically; I’m not.”
According to the latest numbers documented by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), there are more than 39,000 people who are unsheltered in Los Angeles County, 22,000 of those individuals living in the city of Los Angeles. LAHSA’s 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count details that there are more than 4,000 people living homeless on Skid Row alone.
And according to that same report, African Americans represent the greatest number of homeless people in the county with 17,825 black people affected. This issue was front and center for Garcetti, who talked at length about some of the solutions the city has in place and is working on to combat this countywide epidemic. More affordable housing is one solution the mayor proposed. The other would be to make living wages just that.
As far as how that relates to the plight of the large numbers of African Americans living and surviving in the streets, Garcetti suggested that there is no definitive answer that could eradicate the problem.
Cheaper housing could potentially be a lifeline.
“For African Americans, the big underreported … something that I’ve been a very loud voice about, trying to further reform, is the criminal justice reform that we have that we all support, right? Somebody shouldn’t be going away to prison for 20 years because they were drinking too much or for the color of their skin or if they’re smoking crack,” Garcetti said.
“California led the way with that. The problem was, and the premise was the governor said all this money you’re wasting in prisons, which we all agreed, should be captured instead and put into programs to help people get back on their feet. But what they did, they changed the law on letting folks out, decriminalizing or making misdemeanors of what used to be felonies at the time, all good. But we didn’t see the savings.”
In short, perhaps the biggest driving force for the disproportionate numbers of black people on the streets has been a trickle-down effect of the criminal justice system, Garcetti said.
“So, one of the disproportionate causes is you have a disproportionate number of African Americans that were in jail or in prison,” Garcetti said. “If you’ve been to prison and you’ve had problems with addiction, the moment you get out, you’re going to get high, live in a tent. Two days later, nobody caught you, nobody serves you. You don’t have a job. Nobody is dealing with your mental health issues.
“So, I think that’s it’s the trauma that is in the AfricanAmerican community, not uniquely, but it’s been disproportionate. It’s been violent. It’s been domestic and sexual abuse. It’s been all sorts of things. It’s been poverty.”
When you include the number of black people who are substance users (2,085), suffering from serious mental illness (4,312), developmental disability (1,026), and are physically disabled (2,549), those statistics account for over half (9.972) of the African American homeless population in Los Angeles County.
While the homeless issue was a major point of discussion during the hour plus conversation with representatives from the Inland Valley News, Pace News, Los Angeles Wave and Los Angeles Sentinel, this wasn’t the only point that Garcetti responded to.
Garcetti also answered questions as it relates to the effectiveness of community policing, his thoughts on the relevancy of Black Lives Mater and the organization’s tools of civic engagement, and how the city is working to assist local or small black businesses affected by the ongoing 8.5 miles of pipeline development of LA Metro in South Los Angeles.
When it comes to this subject, Garcetti said the city already has an economic mechanism in place to assist local or small business owners displaced by construction work associated with the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project, which will serve the Crenshaw District, Inglewood, El Segundo and Westchester.
“I think the last time I checked, five million dollars was disbursed to primarily black-owned businesses on the Crenshaw line,” Garcetti said. “We’re doing that on the Wilshire subway as well, because it is disruptive.”