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After Leaked Audio, ‘Community Safety’ Initiatives Deserve Scrutiny

Nonprofits should be held accountable for their complicity in racist policies.

LAPD building
Source: Wikimedia.org

Along with many residents in Los Angeles, we woke up to the anti-Black and anti-Indigenous recordings of Latine* councilmembers earlier this month. For us, these comments came as no surprise. We have worked and participated in programs for low-income, gang-labeled people of color and realized much of these services are profit- and prestige-driven, rather than rooted in genuine respect and safety for our community members.

Councilmembers Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo have consistently promoted pro-police surveillance and removal tactics that disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous residents of LA.

What was stark was the silence from community organizations in the non-Indigenous and non-Black Latine community, especially those who have uplifted the work of these Latine councilmembers on issues around community safety. How do we address accountability when community organizations are complicit in promoting racist councilmembers under the illusion of “community safety”?  

The removal and displacement of people in Los Angeles is nothing new. From the removal of Indigenous people living in the area we call La Placita Olvera in the late 18th century to the displacement of Palo Verde, Bishop, and La Loma communities for the construction of Dodger Stadium in the 1950s, LA City Council has consistently worked against poor and working class communities. But these strategies only work well when nonprofit organizations work to facilitate policing in their own communities.

Social services have historically been implemented in partnership with extreme suppression tactics in Black and Indigenous communities. After the 1992 uprisings in LA, the city’s attempt at job creation and educational program development was promoted by Rebuild LA, a public-private partnership with nonprofit leaders and corporate investors. Through this partnership, concerns over increased gang-related crime fueled displacements and drove gentrification efforts in the 1990s with the use of racist and classist gang injunctions and gang enhancements in the South LA and MacArthur Park areas. 

The legacy of Rebuild LA is seen in the promotion of removal and displacement practices by Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Mitch O’Farrell. The removal practices in the two districts resembled the tactics previously used during the Rebuild LA campaign: community policing through nonprofits.

Organizations such as the Salvadoran American Leadership and Educational Fund (SALEF), Community Warriors 4 Peace, and Homies Unidos in Councilmember Cedillo’s district have worked with his office to remove street vendors and unhoused people in the Westlake and Pico-Union neighborhoods. Community policing takes several forms in LA. For example, the mayor’s Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) office works in a triangle partnership with the LAPD, regional program coordinators, and community intervention workers from nonprofits. Organizations gather private information from community members receiving their case management or youth services, which is then shared with the LAPD. 

When we follow this money, we find that funding for GRYD has been tied to the Department of Homeland Security. GRYD programs have spread to certain areas of the city labeled “high gang crime” zones to provide services for intervention and prevention services using an algorithm similar to that used by predictive policing. It is with the help from the “community” that police can better map the area to predict gang-related crimes.

We both have worked in gang intervention and prevention and recognize the need for youth programs, employment opportunities, and legal services in our communities, but we do not believe that these services must come alongside the displacement and incarceration of our community members.

The discussions around the racist, classist, and homophobic comments from City Council call for the immediate resignation of these members, but the issues will persist if we refuse to hold all leaders accountable, including nonprofit leaders.

What does it mean to promote community care and safety when the community organizations meant to help us have also been complicit in upholding racist and classist policing practices? Latine nonprofit organizations consciously promoting programs that lead to the increased incarceration of Black and Indigenous people, including immigrant Indigenous people, should raise concern among Latine LA residents, regardless of race.

We call on our community to ask questions collectively to find the solutions. This is a call to action for folks engaged or interested in what community care and accountability mean when the state has historically used nonprofits as a way to surveil and misdirect movements. We highlight three organizations, but these are only a few that have been complicit in promoting community policing and surveillance on behalf of the city and the federal government. 

As we continue to work on strategies of community care without police, we call for a serious reckoning among community members and Latine social-justice-centered organizations: How are you complicit in promoting racist policing practices and dispossession of land in Black and Indigenous communities? Is funding worth selling out your community?

* We use the term “Latine” to encompass the gender expansiveness of people from Latin America or Latin American descent, as a term replacing “Latino/a” with the gender-neutral “e” in Spanish. More information: callmelatine.wordpress.com/