Associate Professor of Urban Planning Veronica Terriquez co-authored an article in the Conversation explaining what white privilege is and why understanding the concept is important. White privilege is both the obvious and hidden advantages afforded to white people by systemic forms of racial injustice, the authors wrote. The police killing of George Floyd in 2021 ignited a wave of protests across the globe and intense discussions of anti-Black racism, including the concept of white privilege. The authors noted that “unpacking how whiteness operates to bestow privilege may allow us to understand how ‘others’ are systematically denied those same rights.” Critics have argued that “white privilege” is a term that “reinforces stereotypes, reifies conceptualisations of race, antagonises potential allies and creates even greater resistance to change.” However, Terriquez and her co-authors described the term as an important tool for advocacy to critique systemic racism and global anti-Blackness.
Jim Newton, editor of UCLA’s Blueprint magazine, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s decline in favorability since his shift to the political right. In 2018, Villanueva campaigned for sheriff as a relatively unknown Democratic candidate and promised police reform and transparency. However, since being elected, Villanueva has resisted calls for greater transparency, pursued controversial hires and resisted multiple subpoenas. The sheriff responded to the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread demands for police reform by publicly rebuking local elected Democrats and working to increase the number of people permitted to carry concealed guns in Los Angeles County. The story cited UCLA’s 2021 Quality of Life Index, which found that Villanueva’s favorability has decreased since he was elected; he will be on the ballot for reelection in 2022. “Whether Villanueva is vulnerable depends in huge measure on who runs against him,” Newton said. “Without a credible opponent, none of this really matters.”
By Zoe Day
Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, delivered a prerecorded address as part of the 2021 virtual commencement ceremony at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
In 2013, the UCLA alumna created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, which grew into an international movement for racial justice and reform. Last year, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in 2020.
“Patrisse Cullors is at the heart — and the foundation — of a movement for human rights, social change and genuine equality under the law,” UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura said in March when Cullors was announced as a speaker. “Her work and the work of those who follow is way past due.
“The time has long since come for our society to come to a reckoning regarding the violence and abuse we visit on Black Americans,” Segura said.
As a teenager, Cullors became interested in activism and joined the Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group that fought for increased funding for bus systems in Los Angeles. She later started Dignity and Power Now, a coalition formed to shed light on brutality by sheriff’s deputies in county jails.
She has also led the JusticeLA and Reform L.A. Jails coalitions, helping them to win progressive ballot measures, fight against a $3.5 billion jail expansion plan in Los Angeles County, and implement the first Civilian Oversight Commission of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Her activism has been informed by her studies of revolutionaries, critical theory and social movements around the world. She earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from UCLA in 2012 and received her master’s in fine arts from USC.
In 2013, Cullors co-founded the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in response to an acquittal in the killing of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Today, the organization supports Black-led movements in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada and has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2018, Cullors and co-author Asha Bandele published “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” which became a New York Times best-seller.
In 2020, Cullors co-produced the 12-part YouTube series “Resist,” which chronicles the fight against Los Angeles County’s jail expansion plan. She also signed a multi-year production deal with Warner Bros. and has said she intends to use the contract to continue to uplift Black stories, talent and creators.
Cullors serves as the faculty director of Arizona’s Prescott College, where she designed the curriculum for a new master’s of fine arts program focusing on the intersection of art, social justice and community organizing.
Thirty years after the video of the brutal police beating of Rodney King went viral, Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to USA Today about the killing of George Floyd and the jarring similarities between the two events. A group of white police officers who beat King in March 1991 were acquitted the following year by a mostly white jury in Los Angeles, prompting massive unrest and calls for social reforms. At the time, Yaroslavsky was a Los Angeles city councilman. Last year, Floyd’s death in Minneapolis prompted protests led by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement, and the police officer involved is now on trial for murder. “What happened that instant, on that sidewalk, at that moment, that was not a one-off. It’s a story that has replayed itself for decades, over and over again,” Yaroslavsky said of Floyd’s death. “When I look at what’s happening in Minneapolis, I see L.A. in 1992, so it’s like reliving history again.”
In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Associate Professor of Public Policy Randall Akee explored how Indigenous people fit into the national discussion of racial justice in the United States. Akee noted the similarities between Black and Indigenous people when it comes to overly harsh policing and intrusion into communities of color. However, he explained that the inherent sovereignty of tribal nations is an additional layer of complexity that differentiates Indigenous people from other communities of color. There is allyship and alignment of some issues between Black Lives Matter and Indigenous communities, but Akee argued that Native American issues and those of other communities of color are “distinctly different legally, politically, socially and culturally.” Through his research, Akee has found that local conditions improve in Indigenous communities under self-governance. Equity for Indigenous peoples starts with sovereignty and reclaiming land, he said.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a Time article on ways to end racial segregation in neighborhoods. Even though the formal practice of redlining has ended, the national homeownership rate for Black Americans is the same as it was in 1968. National zoning reform is needed to bring affordable housing into mostly white neighborhoods, the article argued. Noting opposition at the local level, it called on the federal government to drive the change by tying federal grants for cities and suburbs to zoning for multi-family housing. “There are very few single-family neighborhoods that have suddenly allowed apartment buildings. We don’t really have a model for that kind of zoning change,” Monkkonen said. “People sometimes get upset when we talk about that because they don’t want to feel like they are part of a racist system, but they definitely are part of the legacy of a racist system,” he said.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán spoke to AP News about the long-term impact of protests. Studies estimate that over 15 million Americans have taken part in demonstrations decrying racial injustice following the death of George Floyd. While it’s too early to gauge the impact of current protests, a look at the history of U.S. activist movements — including calls for women’s suffrage and civil rights — highlights the victories that have been achieved through protesting. Zepeda-Millán weighed in on a 2006 bill seeking to classify undocumented immigrants as felons and penalizing anyone who assisted them. The bill was shut down in the Senate after millions turned out to protest against it. Zepeda-Millán credits the protests for both stopping the bill and encouraging voter registration among Latinos. However, he said the protests also intensified congressional polarization, dimming prospects for any immigration overhaul and citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Black and Latino advocates and elected officials explored ways that communities of color can build coalitions to transform the nation’s social and political landscape during a webinar hosted by UCLA’s Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI). Rep. Karen Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Julián Castro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, spoke of the importance of finding common ground in an era when communities of color are bearing the brunt of COVID-19, police violence, joblessness, housing insecurity and disenfranchisement. “We have to never allow ourselves to be divided,” said Bass, who noted that Congress members of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American descent work in sync to craft a common agenda. Castro argued that real change requires lifting up the next generation of leaders. “What we need to do is be intentional about passing that baton on,” he said. Bass and Castro were joined by Genny Castillo of the Southern Economic Advancement Project and Jonathan Jayes-Green of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, who weighed in on barriers facing candidates of color. Politico reporter Laura Barrón-López moderated the July 22 dialogue. “What we’ve learned today is that Latinos have an important role to play in the Movement for Black Lives and really in protecting Black life,” LPPI Director Sonja Diaz said. “One thing is clear to me from this conversation. We can’t return to the old normal. And when we chart a path forward, especially in the streets and in chambers of power, we’ll only get stronger if we work together.”
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán was featured in a New York Times article about the role that Latinos have taken on in the Black Lives Matter movement. Both Black and Latino communities have been affected by police violence and systemic racism, even though the national focus of ongoing protests has chiefly been about the impact on Black Americans and the ways white Americans are responding to it. A recent poll by the New York Times and Siena College found that 21% of Hispanic voters said they had participated in Black Lives Matter protests, nearly identical to the 22% of Black voters who said they had done so. “Many Latino youth, they are making the connection, they are pressing their families to have difficult conversations,” Zepeda-Millán explained. For many liberal Latino activists, the Black Lives Matter movement and current wave of protests serve as a model and an inspiration.
Since the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, voices from across the UCLA Luskin community have joined the conversation about systemic racism in the United States, shedding light on its roots and leading calls to move toward true justice. The insights have been shared near and far. Here is a sample: Social Welfare Chair Laura Abrams told Asian news channel CNA that the wave of protest sweeping the nation has been “massive and powerful … and I don’t see it dying down any time soon.” Ananya Roy, director of the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, has led faculty from across UCLA to stand in solidarity with communities of color and “continue the unfinished work of liberation.” To explain Los Angeles’ role in the current unrest, the New York Times cited the Quality of Life Index produced by the Los Angeles Initiative, which found deep bitterness over the region’s immense income inequality. Public policy lecturer Brad Rowe told local reporters he was encouraging his students to express their support for criminal justice reform. And social justice activist Alex Norman, professor emeritus of social welfare, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram: “For most African Americans, the American dream is a nightmare. … What will it take to change the narrative? What we don’t have, leadership, at the national and local level.”