‘Not the end of a process, but rather the beginning of a transformation,’ 112-page reconciliation report and budget proposal scrutinized by the public

The Civic Center in downtown Long Beach.

On June 9, the Long Beach City Council approved the creation of a racial reconciliation framework. On Tuesday, August 11, just two months after the initial motion, city staff presented a 112-page racial equity and reconciliation report.

The report and subsequent framework is the product of over 1,500 voices utilizing four town hall meetings, fifteen listening sessions for community members and two for city employees.

The framework laid out four goals for the city, which come with corresponding actions for improvement:

1.End systematic racism in Long Beach, in all local government and partner agencies, through internal transformation

2.Design and invest in community safety and violence prevention

3.Redesign police approach to community safety

4.Improve health and wellness in the City by eliminating social and economic disparities in the communities most impacted by racism

“These patterns of disparity, they don’t happen by accident. They’re a result of systems and systems are laced with values based on race and gender, values of policy-makers and influencers,” Councilmember Rex Richardson said. “This moment demands we take a critical look at the persistent health and economic disparities within our city and understand how public institutions perpetuate inequity so that we can lead meaningful system change.”

Conversations about reconciliation were born out of civil unrest in the city and throughout the nation. The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers catalyzed a nationwide movement against police brutality and, more fundamentally, racial inequities within the country.

As George Floyd’s death served as a catalyst for change, Councilmember Rex Richardson so too hopes that the framework will act as a catalyst for a renewed focus on equity in Long Beach.

“Earlier this summer, we heard the voices of thousands of our residents in our streets declaring that Black Lives Matter and demanding change,” Councilmember Rex Richardson said. “To be clear, this is not the end of a process, but rather the beginning of a transformation.”

The report echoes protesters’ demands. In general, the most popular suggestions from the report related to improved equity among Black populations through education reform, job training, and affordable housing. Additionally, many called for increased transparency among the police, the city government and the relationship between the two.

As a result of the listening sessions, city staff came up with four goals, 21 strategies and a whopping 107 potential actions to reconcile racial disparities in the city. The 112-page report presented to the council lists these actions.

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Prefacing the report, Richardson quoted an essay written by the recently deceased civil rights leader John Lewis, who wrote, “When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

A bumpy start

When listening sessions began, many criticized the process. According to Deputy City Manager Teresa Chandler, some believed the sessions didn’t center enough Black voices. Others criticized the program for its lack of unbiased outside moderators. The city listened and provided outside moderators for some listening sessions.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat or minimize how difficult this process was,” Chandler said. “There was deep pain, rawness and vulnerability in many of these community conversations. In our efforts to move urgently through this process, we made mistakes along the way, were not always trauma-informed, and in turn, elicited more trauma and pain from many people.”

She went on to apologize for mistakes during the process, which the city completed in two months rather than the traditional six-month process.

“I want to acknowledge and apologize for these actions. Talking about racism in this country has never been easy,” Chandler said. “We recognize that this is only a starting place, acknowledging that there is so much work to be done and committing to dismantling anti-black racism and achieving racial equity by way of this reconciliation process.”

During the city council meeting, some felt that their voices were being silenced yet again. Ironically, public comments on the listening-based framework were limited to a 1 minute and 30 second time limit. This is a regular practice used by the council to reduce the length of meetings.

“Limiting public participation in a traditionally held forum is not conducive to expressive activity,” third-district resident Laurie Smith said. “During this time of public distress due to pandemic, economic turmoil and the reckoning of [the] Black Lives Matter movement, great leaders want to hear from constituents. They do not repress them.”

This feeling was likely exacerbated by the fact that Councilmember Stacey Mungo accidentally unmuted her audio and could be heard talking with her family during the presentation of the racial reconciliation report.

Matching priorities with actions

One of the main priorities of the reconciliation, and community members, was to “redesign police approach to community safety.”

The City Council responded to community suggestions by proposing a $10.3 million cut from the Long Beach Police Department budget. However, the proposed budget only shows a reduction of $4.1 million, representing a meager 1.7% decrease.

As the City faces a $30 million shortfall due to the pandemic, members of the public urged councilmembers to consider a further reduction in the police department’s budget.

During the same session as the framework for reconciliation, leaders from the fire, health, and parks and recreation departments all made their fiscal year 2021 budget proposals. Many are facing cutbacks that will cause a reduction in services.

Public commenters came forward to suggest an alternative to these cutbacks— diverting police funding to fill the gaps.

“The proposed defunding of 1.7% for fiscal year 2021 is despicable. It is not enough,” Miles Haisley said. “The proposed $3.2 million budget for the racial equity and reconciliation initiative, that’s only 1% of the police budget which really shows how much stock you put into addressing the systemic inequality and brutalization of the Black community.”

Patrick Swymer, president of the Long Beach Young Democrats, proposed reducing the police’s budget to 2017 levels. The 2017 fiscal year budget proposed $216 million for police, while the 2021 fiscal year budget proposes an allocation of $240 million.

“When the budget came out, we felt like we were in a really good place. We were at 5%, higher than [Los Angeles], but then it came back that the numbers weren’t exactly what we needed,” Councilmember Jeannine Pearce said.

Pearce seemed open to reconsidering the current proposal, citing a letter signed by many community organizations advocating for a 12% reduction in the police department budget.

“I do not believe that every single one of our police officers is inherently racist. I believe that our police department has lacked accountability, has lacked transparency, is positioned in a military way that allows it to operate without the council having full oversight, and without the voters […] having a say,” Pearce said. “That is what this process has to be about. This process has to be about transparency and accountability in making sure that people’s tax dollars are going to make every single person feel safe in this city. “

No budget cuts are final yet. The police’s proposed budget will come to the council at next week’s meeting on Tuesday, August 18, at 5 p.m.

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