The Coronavirus is the symptom of a much deeper problem.
Last week the International Olympic Committee announced the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19 after a messy, protracted refusal to admit the inevitable: these Games can’t go on as planned. While a sluggish step in the right direction, the uncomfortable truth is that the IOC doesn’t deserve a pat on the back for “doing the right thing,” and they definitely don’t deserve more opportunities to jeopardize the lives of residents in Japan and around the world.
The right and only thing to do is to cancel the 2020 Games entirely, and not only because of the pandemic, which is likely to still be roiling the global economy in 2021. The persistent ongoing threat, Coronavirus or not, is what the Olympics do to cities in terms of policing, displacement, erosion of democracy, and diversion of resources, and these issues often get short shrift in deference to other narratives.
The fact that the Tokyo Games have not been outright cancelled offers a telling insight into the dubious value sets of the IOC. Even postponement took an enormous amount of pressure to achieve. It wasn’t until several countries’ NGBs announced boycotts, refusing to send their athletes to Tokyo and significant public outcry that the IOC chose to not cancel, but postpone the Games until 2021. It was not in the name of public safety, or the safety of Olympic athletes. It’s always about profit, and their unquenchable thirst for more leads to all sorts of devastation.
The Olympics have a long and storied history of displacing poor communities, militarizing police, and destroying the environment, and they’ve been doing all three in Tokyo since 2013 when the bid was chosen. The conceit of Tokyo 2020 is the “Recovery Games,” a nationalistic PR campaign to announce to the world that the Fukushima region has rebounded from the 2011 nuclear disaster, even though it’s not actually back to normal or safe.
By postponing the Olympics instead of cancelling, Tokyo officials are allowing another year of continued forced displacement, heightened state of policing, and more brinkmanship with public health at large. We can see the consequences of not cancelling the event here in LA just earlier this month. Three weeks ago, Garcetti and the City of LA allowed the LA Marathon to take place on March 8th, with 27,000 runners from around the world competing. Two days later America would finally recognize the global scale of the pandemic. When (and if) we make it to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, you can already hear our elected officials rebranding the 2028 Olympics as a healing moment for a city that knows how to bounce back from adversity. Just as the Japanese government had dubbed the 2020 Games the “Recovery Olympics” so too will our City Hall exploit a time of hardship for a chance to attract sponsors, tourists, and the reestablishment of “normalcy.”
In LA, normal means corrupt politicians, powerful developer barons, and an increasingly militarized police force, all dynamics the Olympics only make worse no matter where they go. LA is famously home to one of the most violent and murderous police departments in the world, a reality I’ve been aware of my entire life.
I grew up in Los Angeles; one of my earliest memories is of watching the Rodney King beating on TV. I was 4 years old when the 1992 Uprising occurred, but I can still recall with crystal clarity the smell of a burning building, the sound of ambient gunfire in the distance. I watched as the OJ trial unfolded and read story after story about the Rampart Scandal. I knew that the LAPD was plaguing this city but had never experienced it firsthand. And then one day, out of the blue, that all changed.
On July 21, 2018 my sister, Melyda Corado, was shot and killed by the LAPD at the Trader Joe’s in Silverlake. A police pursuit ended outside the supermarket and the suspect ran into the store. The police opened fire. One bullet hit the suspect. Another hit someone in the store, but it took several hours before they released who that was. What was once a thing I heard about on the nightly news arrived at my front door, bringing with it full scale devastation.
My baby sister was found in a pool of her own blood by a customer who was being held hostage. One of her coworkers had to drag her out of the store so that she could be put into an ambulance, but it was too late. This was another unnecessary life stolen by this police department, an event so commonplace it’s become normalized. Mely went from being a vibrant 27 year old to another name on the long list of people killed by the LAPD in a given year.
That night the LAPD told an LA Times reporter that it was the suspect’s bullet that killed Mely. It took days for the truth to come out, as the LAPD and the Mayor took their time. Nearly a year later the LA Police Commission would rule that the officer who killed Mely acted “in policy.” Mely’s death is a small but significant part of this city’s history of policing. Just as the 1984 Olympics helped heighten and accelerate the conditions that led to the ’92 “Riots,” so too have they helped create a police department that shoots and kills at will, with no accountability. So when the LAPD will try to use LA 2028 to expand their power and resources, we know that this will directly translate into more deaths of innocent people. It is a simple but frightening calculus.
Today we are in the first stages of a catastrophe and likely a very difficult chapter for Los Angeles and communities everywhere. We are eight years away from an avoidable, man-made disaster in the form of the Olympics. The consent for the 2028 Games was largely manufactured, as it was in Tokyo, and it comes with a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, essentially undoing any weak sanctuary protections we have via the National Special Security Event. If in these fragile times, we allow CBP, ICE, and DHS to run free in our streets to harass and deport our citizens, we are no better than the authoritarian regimes lambasted by our local Democrats in the media. If we juice LAPD with more power and resources (instead of the opposite), there will be more grieving families trying to make sense of the senseless: losing the people they love for no reason.
No amount of “progress” is worth displacing families.
No amount of manufactured “prestige” is worth endangering the lives of millions of Angelenos.
We should not let oligarchs like Casey Wasserman and Eric Garcetti roll the dice with this city’s future at the behest of their powerful buddies.
The Olympic legacy is one of evictions and handcuffs, incarceration and bloodshed. And we must not keep adding to the pile of bodies. For the millions of people whose lives have been dramatically and violently disrupted through the machinations of mega events and for Mely and every victim of our brutally hyper-militarized police force, we must reject the Tokyo Games as well as LA 2028 if we want LA to have any shot of a future whatsoever.
Albert Corado is an organizer with NOlympics LA