This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.
As protests broke out in cities across America last weekend in response to rampant systemic police violence, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti temporarily shut down some COVID-19 testing sites. “We need to make sure, especially in communities that have less power, that we are able to make sure people don’t disproportionately die because of the color of their skin,” he said. “We can’t do that when the city breaks down.”
An outcry erupted, as Garcetti appeared to be punitively denying urgent health services to the population because of a perceived threat to property. But that’s not all. In less than a week, he has dropped the veil entirely, showing his disdain for public safety and community well-being and exposing how truly vile and ruthless his politics have been all along.
On Saturday, Garcetti swiftly called in the National Guard, flip-flopping after, mere hours earlier, he claimed federal intervention wasn’t necessary because “this is not 1992.” He has implemented last-minute, rapidly shifting curfews, causing waves of confusion—not to mention their impact on the region’s stadium-sized unhoused population. He has hastily canceled public transit service, leaving workers confused and stranded, which even forced Metro to issue a rare apology.
On Wednesday night, Garcetti reversed his plans to increase the LAPD’s budget—his previous budget proposal included harsh cutbacks to needed civic line items, but a $120 million increase in LAPD funding for the next year. Now $250 million from the city budget will be redirected toward health and education in communities of color. But that’s a relatively small share of the overall budget; the LAPD’s budget will still increase by a net of 4 percent, which is a slap in the face to anyone organizing around these issues . The billions doled out to the LAPD annually could go toward fixing the city’s housing affordability, transit and climate crises. He also announced a moratorium on adding new names to the gang database. While that’s a step in the right direction, it temporarily shuts down part of a deeply flawed system while keeping that system largely intact.
And these changes came only after intense backlash. Thousands attended a Black Lives Matter protest at his mansion on Tuesday, the largest demonstration in his political career.
Garcetti has been able to, as his chief strategist puts it, “fly under the radar” for so long in part because democratic engagement has been attacked and eroded over decades. He has also historically gotten away with it because of his ability to do what former White House advisor Steve Bannon calls “flooding the zone with shit,” where he bombards the public with so much media and information—often contradicting himself multiple times in a single breath—that there’s no way any person can keep up, even those whose job it is to do so.
On Sunday, Garcetti stood idly next to LAPD Chief Michel Moore, whom he had hired two years ago and who himself killed a civilian with no recourse. “We didn’t have people mourning the death of this man, George Floyd—we had people capitalizing,” Moore said. “His death is on their hands as much as it is those officers’.” A few days later, Garcetti knelt performatively while co-opting a Black protest; he later claimed he would “minimize” the use of rubber bullets on protestors. How heroic.
Just recently, Garcetti was attempting, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, to leverage the first wave of the COVID-19 tragedy to boost his public profile and cosplay some sort of telegenic hero. But despite his vaguely progressive veneer, Garcetti has spent the better part of two decades harming LA’s most marginalized communities. It’s not just that he hasn’t been a good ally—his tenure represents a direct assault on Black communities, people of color at large, immigrants, and the poor as the city becomes uninhabitable for all but the wealthy.
To understand Eric Garcetti, you must first understand his father, Gil Garcetti, former district attorney of LA and a figure who once eyed the mayorship himself. Gil is best known for his role in the gross mishandling of the OJ Simpson trial. He took over the chief prosecutor role of LA right after the ‘92 Uprising and, by decade’s end, came to represent the failure of LA to do anything but replicate its deep problems pre-’92. Gil would spend the rest of the ‘90s embroiled in more police corruption cases than he was ever able to get in front of, because he was never willing to challenge the Los Angeles Police Department, one of the most murderous, ruthless police departments on the planet, which continues to kill people—disproportionately Black and Latinx people—at an astonishing rate. There have been at least 462 police killings in LA County in the past eight years. Current DA Jackie Lacey has not held any officer accountable.
Like his father, Eric Garcetti has ascended politically because he poses no threat to police or real estate power and embodies the prototypical law-and-order Democrat that American cities are full of. Garcetti takes money from anyone regardless of reputation—including Ed Buck, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, the State of Qatar—and his record is ardently pro-police. He backed anti-LAPD reform Measure C in 2017. He has overseen a rampant criminalization of poverty, expressed most clearly in the ongoing barrage of encampment sweeps. He has casually promoted Blue Lives Matter.
On top of that, homelessness has skyrocketed an astounding 60 percent since Garcetti took office in 2013. Homelessness disproportionately affects Black Angelenos, of course, so his failure on this one issue alone is disqualifying—even before you factor in the gutting of Black and Latinx communities by gentrification projects he has backed, and all the other issues he’s wiffed on that disproportionately affect these communities. He’s been afraid to call LA a “sanctuary city” after Trump’s election. He’s positioned himself as “the Climate Mayor” and co-opted Green New Deal language while being scoffed at by climate activists. He’s signed on to Vision Zero, which has abjectly failed in LA. All in all, Eric Garcetti has indicated that he would be LA’s great agent of change for nearly two decades, yet he’s been able to improve nothing.
This week, in cities all over the country, civilians were brutalized, shot, and detained. Civil liberties were thrown out the window. Cops drove recklessly into crowds of peaceful protestors. Journalists were shot and protestors battered. Police were shooting people standing on their porches. Pro-police Democrat mayors from New York to Philadelphia to Minnesota and beyond are the norm around America. They represent the neoliberal, “urban renewal,” pro-police landscape which has come to define our cities this century, but they have never confronted the harm inflicted by their policies. Now, they finally are, as the country responds to deep economic anxiety and wanton state violence.
On Monday, Garcetti, moonlighting as co-chair of the Joe Biden campaign, joined the incoherent presumptive Democratic nominee to talk about the uprising. Biden contributed that the solution to police violence is for police to “shoot ‘em in the leg.” It’s no accident that Garcetti is co-chair of the Biden campaign: Garcetti supports all the same pro-police and pro-incarceration initiatives that define Joe Biden’s lengthy anti-Black career.
Eric Garcetti can no longer escape the consequences of the power he so violently wields. The people of LA won’t accept him and his status quo any longer.
He is termed out in 2022, which means we have possibly two more years of him to contend with. The future is dangerous, and the Mayor Garcettis of the world are a big part of that menace. We can do better. We have to.
Jonny Coleman is a writer and organizer with NOlympics LA.