Lakewood tackles racial inequality head on and welcomes difficult conversation

The+City+of+Lakewood+displays+the+City+motto+in+various++places.++This+is+the+bridge+that+runs+across+Del+Amo+Blvd.+Photo+credit%3A+Jacqueline+Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran

The City of Lakewood displays the City motto in various places. This is the bridge that runs across Del Amo Blvd. Photo credit: Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran, Community Editor

8 minutes and 46 seconds was the amount of time it took for Minneapolis Police to murder George Floyd on May 25, 2020, but the effects of that murder, previous and subsequent similar murders has sparked a call to action in many communities throughout the United States and the City of Lakewood is no different.

On Sept. 26 and Sept. 30, the City of Lakewood hosted town hall meetings via Zoom to facilitate community dialogue on racial equity issues. The town hall meetings were structured conversations that were moderated by Eric Bailey of the Bailey Strategic Innovation Group.

As the world watched, residents in communities around the globe organized groups to protest racial injustices and police brutality that plagues people of color in their everyday lives. The Los Angeles County Sheriffs Departments response to a protest that took place on June 5, 2020 caused residents to voice their dissent at the Lakewood City Council meeting a few days later.

“I hope that through this community dialogue, we will create a shared understanding of these types of issues. In the end, I hope our residents say, our City Council listens,” Councilman Ariel Pe said.

The virtual town hall meeting highlighted particular questions posed to residents about racism and discrimination. The moderator Bailey specifically asked residents questions like “What do you think the City’s responsibility is in relation to the conversation on race and racism ?”

All questions were crafted in an effort to get to the root of the issues.

Many residents spoke about their own personal experiences, while some shared the desire to be better citizen.

Another poignant question that was asked of Lakewood citizens was “What is the City of Lakewood not talking about that we should be talking about?”

Additionally, residents were asked their recommendations and ideas that would make Lakewood a more inclusive place to live and work. Expressions of more community gatherings on a smaller scale was among some of the suggestions.

“We know we can’t do everything they want but if we can listen, address their concerns with empathy and compassion, then our community will be the community I know it can be,” Pe said.

One of the main goals of this meeting was to challenge assumptions and perspectives. The moderator also insisted that this forum would be a safe space to share experiences but that everyone should also be open to listening as people share.

“When we talk about peoples experiences with racial inequality and learn that someone was in a restaurant and not served for 45 minutes, I would ask, ‘Are you okay with that?’ Or when a son or daughter gets the cops called on them simply because of the color of their skin, I would ask, ‘Are you okay with that?’ Any incident that would prevent people from enjoying this community, just ask yourself, ‘Are you okay with that?,'” McCormack said.

“We try to do what’s right,” said City Manager Thaddeus McCormack. ‘We can have this difficult conversation because our leadership and City Council work really hard to balance their moral instincts with the democratic process. And quite frankly, we all believe it’s the right thing to do.”

One resident raised the possibility that the City’s motto “Times Change, Values Don’t” was fueling the racial inequality mindset.

“Lakewood was incorporated in 1954 during a time in our history when certain practices were the acceptable norm such as redlining. But we are a vastly different city today. Way more diverse than in past times,” said McCormack.

But as different as we are now some things do remain the same.

The values of 1954, the values that were being embraced were safe and clean neighborhoods for residents, clean parks, recreation programs and volunteerism. Today we embrace those same values.

“We just have to do a better job of letting our community know that is what is meant when we say that. The motto was coined during the 50th anniversary celebration which took place in 2004,” McCormack said.

Lakewood already had programs and events in place to assist in strengthening community relations like “Coffee with a Cop” and the Neighborhood Watch is active throughout the city.

The City Manager said that In the next couple a weeks, a comprehensive report will be generated outlining the issues that have been raised.

“I anticipate that in a month we should begin implementing some changes. A lot of what we want to do involves in person events like a multi-culture day which could be held at [one of] our many parks. Unfortunately, we have to consider COVID-19 as we discuss organizing events but this will not stop us from moving forward, ” said McCormack.

“Maybe its just the way I was raised but I believe that most people are basically good people,” stressed McCormack. “And in the end these good and decent people’s answer to ‘Are you okay with that?’ their answer will be ‘No’,” McCormack said.