Susan Estrich: My town is waiting
Summary: We are holding our breath waiting for a vaccine. We also need to hold our breath until all of us are willing to recognize and fight the stubborn correlation between race and crime that turns decent people into silent racists.
Almost 30 years ago, my mom called me in a panic after seeing photos of a Nordstrom store that had collapsed during the Northridge earthquake. And for the first of many times, times I miss, I had to reassure her that it wasn't my Ralph's that was burning, wasn't my CVS that was looted, wasn't my neighborhood where police were staging. Los Angeles is a very big place.
This time, it was my CVS. They did it just for the hell of it They didn't get anything; the pharmacy was already locked off. But neither did my neighbor, who was trying to get his medicine.
Santa Monica used to jokingly be called The People's Republic of Santa Monica. Hillary Clinton got 80% of the vote here. Politically speaking, the developers hate Santa Monica because of all the restrictions, from environmental requirements to especially strict requirements for affordable housing in otherwise-unaffordable developments. They have more clout in L.A.
A few years ago, "South Park" did an episode during which the boys solved the town's homelessness crisis by chartering a luxury bus, which everyone happily boarded, surfboards in tow. The final shot is the sign at the front of the bus with its destination: Santa Monica.
A city known for compassionate politics and people? Here?
So Santa Monica became the target of Black Lives Matter, the target not for peaceful protests but for shameful looting of our small businesses and for terrifying my neighbors. Tuesday's curfew was 2 p.m. Yesterday, we had until 6 p.m. to lock ourselves in, but all the stores are boarded up, and the people who needed their jobs back still need them.
Of course, it was done to get attention.
It had nothing to do with us, the real people who live here.
Officials reported that 95% of those arrested were not from Santa Monica. They came to my neighborhood to destroy everything they could. They came in vans with baseball bats to smash windows, and then they left.
A videotaped execution for allegedly counterfeiting a bill is an outrage that should trigger outrage. It provides what optimists call a teachable moment. I'm pretty certain that most of the people who came here wanted to express their constitutionally protected frustration, not inflict injury on those who live here. But that's not how it felt when my son called to tell me to get home quickly and lock all the doors. I was actually on my way to the pharmacy and turned around. It felt like I was racing against all these vans filled with angry men.
All these men will be sitting waiting for tests in two weeks, because we are also a hot spot for COVID-19, and it is not under control, and so many people were not wearing masks, and the reopening is more theoretical than real. No one is going anywhere.
And then the chief of police stepped in it. He was trying to make a point, but he got it all wrong. He was trying to explain why police officers (including black police officers) treat young black men differently, and he referenced the looters. Now, looting is bad, but murder is something different entirely. The comparison made people even angrier, rightly so.
But any police officer who tells you he doesn't profile is almost certainly lying. It's not unconscious bias, the sort of instinctive reaction that leads us to think the most qualified people are a younger version of the face in the mirror. NO, it's very conscious. Depending on whose numbers you use (they are all bad), young black men are 5 or 6 times more likely than their white counterparts to have been convicted of a violent crime. If cops get out of their cruiser and see a middle-aged woman, they are pretty sure they'll be home for dinner that night. Even Rev. Jesse Jackson sadly acknowledged the relief he felt when he would walk down the street and turn around to see a white man walking behind him, not a black man. It's not that race causes crime; it just correlates with everything else that correlates with crime (drugs, lack of education, single-parent families, no fathers, low income, drugs in the household).
We are holding our breath waiting for a vaccine. We also need to hold our breath until all of us are willing to recognize and fight the stubborn correlation between race and crime that turns decent people into silent racists.
In Santa Monica, there is a petition circulating to remove the first woman police chief because her officers waited for the looting to begin before stopping it. Not exactly the agenda of those seeking change.
Susan Estrich can be reached at email@example.com.