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Open letter to City of LA elected officials, Los Angeles Police Department, public agencies, and others in Los Angeles
We write in sadness and anger at the killing of yet another unarmed man by the Los Angeles Police Department in the Skid Row community. As a predominately African American community, we also declare that #BlackLivesMatter, and view the killing of the man known as “Africa” as part of the growing crisis of law enforcement officers killing unarmed Black men in Los Angeles and across the nation.
We also write with a unified voice about the long-standing and systemic issues facing Skid Row that continue to lead to senseless and unjustified deaths and other injustices in our community.
We call on elected and public officials, and all other Angelinos, to invest in real and large-scale solutions to address homelessness and extreme poverty instead of the overconcentration of police officers as the main “solution” that residents have endured for the past 8 ½ years, after the 2006 launch of LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative brought between 50 and 110 additional officers into a 50-square block community.
There is no denying that LAPD officers shot and killed Africa, who was unarmed and by most accounts living with a mental illness. However, the death of Africa must also be seen within the context of institutional and policy failures that have perpetuated the problems of Skid Row for decades while not sufficiently investing in concrete solutions that would end homelessness and extreme poverty. We present five critical demands that need urgent attention and implementation by our local elected officials immediately.
1. Invest in housing at the scale needed to truly impact LA’s homeless crisis, including creating new local sources of funding, re-allocating existing resources to housing, and actively fighting for much-needed state and federal funding. A minimum of 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing are needed in the City of Los Angeles, yet in the past 8 years the City has produced only about 1,200 units (this number also includes rehabilitation of units previously home to other low-income people). At that pace, it would take at least 65 years to meet the need. Among new housing produced in the City, a significant increase in permanent supportive and other affordable housing is needed within Skid Row and greater Downtown LA. For example, over the past decade or so, tens of thousands of upscale units have been created but only about 800 new permanent supportive or affordable units have been constructed in that time.
2. End the Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) and remove all extra officers associated with SCI from the Skid Row community. The overconcentration of police create an environment of almost constant contact with officers among residents facing homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, or other health conditions that put them at extreme risk of harassment, citation, arrest, or violence by officers. The City must stop the practice of utilizing police as the main response to homelessness and instead invest in housing and other support services.
3. Expand the LAPD’s SMART teams (mental health professionals and non-uniformed officers) and create a dedicated SMART team to be deployed throughout the Skid Row community, within the existing LAPD budget. The prevalence of mental health issues in the Skid Row community is well known and documented, yet there is no SMART team assigned to our community and, in fact, there is no deployment of existing SMART teams to Skid Row. They work solely inside of Central Division, defeating the purpose of them helping to de-escalate situations and avoid arrests and unnecessary force by officers. Additionally, non-LAPD mental health experts should be funded and utilized as first responders within the community as much as possible.
4. Assign an independent prosecutor and/or a Department of Justice representative to investigate the officers who killed our community member known as Africa. LAPD should release all body camera footage, release the officers’ names and place them on unpaid leave until all internal and external investigations/prosecutions are completed, and conduct a full review of use-of-force policies that allow for lethal force on unarmed individuals.
5. Recognize and promote the community-level assets and expertise and local best practices in the Skid Row community and include Skid Row residents and their allies in all policy making and other decision making. Signatories of this letter have decades of experience and investment in the community and our expertise should be utilized and valued.
There are other contributing factors to extreme poverty and homelessness and other systemic problems in Skid Row. However, the extreme lack of housing and extreme over-policing are the most pressing issues today and, if not reversed, will continue to fuel more tragedies like the unnecessary and unjustified death of Africa. We envision a community with policies and resources that reflect the diversity, strength, needs and compassion of our residents. If our elected and public officials share this vision and truly care about Africa’s death, the human rights violations throughout Skid Row, and ending homelessness and poverty, they must take concrete steps to turn this vision into a reality. They can start by immediately implementing the above solutions.
Signed by Skid Row Organizations and Stakeholders:
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice – Los Angeles
Dignity and Power Now
Downtown Women’s Action Coalition
Homeless Health Care Los Angeles
Issues and Solutions
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Los Angeles Catholic Worker/Hippie Kitchen
Los Angeles Community Action Network
Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective
Los Angeles Poverty Department
United Coalition East Prevention Project
Pastor Cue, Church without Walls and Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Katherine McNenny, Skid Row Resident and Founder of Industrial District Green
Carol Sobel, Civil Rights Attorney representing dozens of Skid Row residents
Endorsed by Local, State and National Allies:
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA
Black Alliance for Just Immigration
Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance
Black Lives Matter – LA
Coalición de Derechos Humanos
Hunger Action Los Angeles
Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty
People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER)
St. John’s Well Child and Family Center
Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Union de Vecinos
Western Regional Advocacy Project
Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS)
boona cheema, Founder of Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency
David Wagner, PhD, Professor, Author and National Expert on Homelessness