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WP4BL to Councilman Bonin: Back To Basic Policing is Bad for the West Side

An open letter.

February 6, 2018

Councilman Mike Bonin City Hall Office 200 N. Spring St. #475 Los Angeles, CA 90012

Dear Councilman Bonin,

We are writing as members of White People 4 Black Lives/Showing Up for Racial Justice Los Angeles and as concerned residents, including many who live in your district. We strongly oppose your plan to increase police patrols in our neighborhoods.

For many white people, the notion of “community policing” evokes images of friendly, helpful cops eating donuts at the local diner before heading out to wave at residents and save the streets from “bad guys” (thanks, Hollywood). We know, however, that in Los Angeles, which has the most murderous police force in the country year after year, community policing typically looks nothing like that rosy, cinematic picture. Rather, it looks like too many individuals, primarily, Black, Brown, and low-income being criminalized and even killed in our streets on a regular basis.

The plan you are championing will have a particularly harmful effect on two populations within the District — individuals who are homeless and people of color. As such, our primary reasons for opposing the plan are as follows:

Firstly, we do not believe that criminalizing those around us who are experiencing homelessness makes our neighborhood safer. In your call for more police you say “I am not asking the LAPD to criminalize homelessness” yet that is exactly the effect that more patrols would have on the very population you work so hard to help. We have already seen this ‘Back to Basic Car’ strategy implemented under the guise of the ‘Safer Cities Initiative’, and know the devastating effects it has had on the homeless residents of Skid Row. Police officers are not typically trained to interact with individuals dealing with homelessness, and the myriad issues concomitant with homelessness such as active addiction and/or mental health issues. We have seen time and again that police officers engage with force, when de-escalation and support services are needed, such was the case with Ezell Ford and Brendon Glenn. We are very concerned for the safety of many individuals in the Venice community if your plan is implemented.

We encourage you to continue to work toward assisting our neighbors in need by collaborating with local service providers. You advocate a ‘housing first’ policy in combating homelessness. Increased police patrol in Venice will likely mean many homeless people finding themselves housed more frequently in county jail. This could potentially jeopardize existing, as well as pending services that operate to help them transition into long-term supportive housing. Surely, you can find a better way to support the vulnerable and keep us all safe.

Secondly, not only do more officers threaten the safety of houseless individuals, but their presence can also potentially harm those who are most commonly targeted by police in our communities, people of color. One of our members, who lives and teaches in your district, can tell you about the daily interactions their students — who are all young individuals of color — have with police. They are regularly stopped on their way to and from school in Mar Vista Gardens. This presence of police hardly makes them feel safer; rather, their interactions are frequently traumatizing and deliver a message loud and clear that they are presumed to be criminals due to the color of their skin. As these students so eloquently put when introduced to the proposal, “This proposal calls into question what is meant by ‘safety.’ Safety for whom and from whom?”

The students went on to say: “We should be treated equally, with dignity and respect. Perhaps community input could be solicited from all stakeholders, including those targeted and profiled by police. We feel that any policy decision should reflect the concerns of the most marginalized people and neighborhoods among us. There are more experienced and better trained experts to implement “proactive partnerships with residents” in more effective ways. Instead of funding community policing, we should invest in counseling, youth programs, gang intervention workers, and meaningful jobs. We strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal.”

Lastly, a larger police presence is not the answer to making our streets safer. Research has found that increased police presence in urban areas does not make citizens feel safe. In fact, just the opposite is true. Seeing more officers on the street may remind citizens of real and perceived threats, and create a sense of unrest in the community. A recent study found that “The dominant assumption that a visible police presence will perform a perceptual intervention and increase feelings of safety was evidently not upheld in any direct way” We share your vision of a welcoming and safe neighborhood, but more officers is not the way to do this. You say in your letter that people are living in a “rising climate of fear”. Your plan will feed that fear, not alleviate it.

What if, instead of investing in more officers, whose training is in surveillance, use of deadly force, and (racial) profiling, we invested in community social workers with expertise in trauma-informed care, preventive interventions, de-escalation, and crisis support?

If you truly support all residents in our neighborhoods, we ask you to please take our opposition seriously and consider the implications this proposal will have on the people in Venice who are not wealthy and greatly benefiting from the rapid gentrification of an area that has long been a home for some of the most vulnerable and targeted people in our community.


White People 4 Black Lives-Los Angeles

White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org