Los Angeles Takes a Stand Against Hate and Racism

Op-Ed
By Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
and Councilmember Marcqueece Harris-Dawson

In a moving and emphatic show of solidarity after the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, hundreds of people from across Los Angeles County gathered for an interfaith worship service at the First AME Church. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In a hate crime meant to instill fear and incite violence, vandals recently spray-painted swastikas across the faces of Black Panther women on a beloved South Los Angeles mural celebrating African-American history and achievement. A week later, another swastika was discovered in a bathroom at California State University, Northridge, this time with a threat: “Shooting in Sierra Hall 12/12/18.”

The chilling messages came in the wake of white supremacists committing mass murder against Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and against African Americans at the Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston.

A moment of prayer during the interfaith ceremony at First AME Church. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Unfortunately, in the age of Donald Trump, racist and fear-mongering rhetoric have emboldened purveyors of hate once driven into the shadows by decades of civil rights activism and sacrifice.

The FBI recorded a 17 percent nationwide surge in hate crimes in 2017. Locally, the increase was 32 percent over the last four years, according to the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Rights.

We’ve seen swastikas painted on synagogues in Woodland Hills, North Hills, Westwood, Woodland Hills, Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, and enough is enough.

When vandals defaced the mural that stretches along a block of Crenshaw Boulevard, a potent symbol of black pride entitled “Our Mighty Contribution,” it immediately drew strong condemnation.

The community activist who broke the story to the press sparked a national conversation.

The artist who painted the Black Panther women immediately removed the offensive symbols scrawled across their beautiful and fierce faces, and dozens of local residents came out to clean the surrounding neighborhood.

Holding hands in solidarity at First AME Church. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

How ironic that the vandals who sought to denigrate a community ended up uniting them instead. The mural remains a cultural anchor and a centerpiece of the Destination Crenshaw project to elevate Los Angeles’ African-American heritage.

Coincidentally, while the community was taking action in South L.A., a diverse group of more than 100 government, business, philanthropic, religious and civic leaders were participating in a Days of Dialogue event at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The theme of their discussion: “Reclaiming Civility and Tolerance in the Face of Violence.”

At Cal State Northridge an investigation is under way and patrols have been stepped up.

The university issued a statement condemning the hateful language in the strongest possible terms, and denouncing the threat against the community.

With a troubled history that includes the Chinese massacre and the Zoot Suit Riots, as well as the 1965 Watts rebellion and 1992 civil unrest, in which police brutality ignited powder kegs, Los Angeles cannot afford to take hate lightly.

We must be vigilant against efforts to tear communities apart by animating the hate in some people’s hearts.

In the aftermath of the attack on the mural, the city and county of angels lived up to their name.

Los Angeles rallied — and will continue to rally — against hate because, in the words of an old saying of the civil rights movement, “We are the ones that we are waiting for.”

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors representing District 2. Marqueece Harris-Dawson is a member of the Los Angeles City Council representing District 8. This article is republished with permission from the Daily News.