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On Tuesday, June 23, the FBI arrested L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar on charges of racketeering. The arrest allegations and investigation details provide an interesting point from which to look at issues involved in the current public outcry over racial policing and proper responses to social problems.

Jose Huizar

One of the big issues facing California and the nation is the growing lack of affordable housing. Part of the racketeering that Huizar is alleged to have engaged in was helping developers get permits to build properties that evaded the rules on including “affordable housing units” in development projects. Essentially, the charge is that Huizar took bribes from developers to allow them to put their profits above the needs of the city and of the city’s rules meant to help its neediest residents.

He is accused of being part of the “gentrification” process that forces working class families out of long time homes to “evolve” neighborhoods into upscale and upmarket “trendy” hotspots.

Huizar is said to have done this while he was posturing as a champion of expanding affordable housing. He is accused of being part of the “gentrification” process that forces working class families out of long time homes to “evolve” neighborhoods into upscale and upmarket “trendy” hotspots.

Another aspect of the allegations was that Huizar also took bribes to allow developers to evade city requirements for fair wages. He is accused of helping builders to not use union labor, with the decent wages, benefits and work conditions they provide. So the people building the developments would never be able to afford to live in them.

What Tuesday brought us were allegations. It will be July before Huizar enters a plea to the charges, and many more months before the facts are laid out in a trial, at which Huizar can defend his name. In the meantime, while his constituents are deeply involved in both pandemic problems and in police reform issues, the City Council has suspended Huizar, thus depriving those constituents of representation as the City Council wrestles with measures meant to address pandemic and police reform needs.

The indictments are Federal, brought by Billious Barr’s justice department. They reflect Trump administration policies about corruption. So it should surprise no one that an elected city councilman is indicted, but that the developers who paid millions of dollars for favors, for exemptions from labor laws, who paid to avoid providing “affordable” units, are not indicted.

Indeed, the Barr Justice Department has chosen not even to name the crime committing developers. Two Chinese developers are named, both having already been outed, months ago. But the local developers get a complete pass from the Barr justice department. Naming them might have made local residents take notice, and start asking questions about other projects by the same developers. Naming them might have stopped, or at least slowed down, other corruption, other evasions of labor laws and “affordable units” requirements.

During our housing crisis, how many projects have been allowed to evade the rules for “affordable units” in their new buildings? When you drive down any city street and see lanes blocked off so that cement trucks can access the site of a massive new complex, feel free to wonder if the developer who is allowed to block lanes of public streets is also allowed to thumb his nose at the requirements for “affordable units” or for adequate parking at new shopping sites.

The corporate controlled “liberal media” isn’t likely to tell us how many “affordable units” would have been built in the current building boom if not for corruption. But the reality of racism includes the reality that poor and non-white families are crowded into overcrowded neighborhoods, underserved by necessary stores, and forced to commute longer distances to work.

On the other hand, Huizar represents an identifiable constituency. Regardless of whether or not the charges against him are true, many Hispanic voters will stand behind him simply because he is Hispanic, just as many black voters stick with Jacky Lacey, despite her atrocious, ongoing support for race-based police brutality. And just as so many white people reflexively accept the police version of any brutal interaction between police and non-white people.

For some people, Huizar’s indictment will be evidence that things never change—there will always be corruption. Jesus said there will always be poor people. But Jesus also said that we had duties to the poor. And we could equally say that in a democracy, we have duties to ourselves to make systems work.

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Yes, developers will always try to bribe their way into cutting costs and making higher profits. But that doesn’t make their conduct acceptable. Huizar is the second L.A. city councilman to fall this spring. Back in March, Mitch Englander, the only Republican on the city council, agreed to plead guilty to taking bribes and witness tampering. His formal guilty plea is to be entered in July.

Paranoid, conspiracy theorists, familiar with Billious Barr’s work for the Trump re-election campaign, might think that the Huizar indictment is simply to balance the news stories, to be able to say, “See the Democrat is as bad as the Republican.” But in reality, the Huizar investigation has been going on for a long, long time.

And that long investigation undermines another popular “revolutionary” argument—the claim that nothing really changes without revolutionary action. The Huizar investigation was spearheaded by an FBI criminal investigation team here in L.A. Nothing surprising about that. But this investigation is headed up by FBI Special Agent Voiviette Morgan. A woman. A black woman, bossing a team of traditional, mostly white, mostly male agents.

For decades, women could work at the FBI only in clerical positions. The Women’s Movement changed that. The Civil Rights Movement opened the door to black FBI agents. The FBI could have followed the pattern of so many corporations and government agencies, hiring a few women and keeping them away from important responsibilities. But it didn’t.

A black woman is in charge of the criminal investigation team that has now brought down two of LA.’s city council members. A city council whose membership is one-third Hispanic, and whose President is a Hispanic woman.

This is not revolution. This is progress. Political progress. Social progress. This is the progress that moved the L.A. Police Department towards majority Hispanic membership, from a time (not long ago) when police “leadership” wanted no black or Hispanic membership. And like all progress, this progress has been slow and inequitable. L.A. still has a district attorney who supports police brutality unconditionally. We have a city council that takes money from developers to allow them to continue traditional housing discrimination.

We have rent control laws that are not enforced. Slumlords are allowed to continue ignoring health and safety risks, “justified” because L.A.’s housing shortage is so severe.

We need more progress. Denying the existence of a problem makes it harder to fix it. And as we have seen with the explosive acceptance of truth and cell phone videos by the majority, denying the existence of problems undermines the credibility of the deniers. Denying the progress we have made equally undermines that progress and impedes further progress. Encouraging people to understand what they can see every day, in their own lives, and on TV news, empowers them to believe that further progress is possible - is within their power.

One benefit of the Trump administration is that it has pulled the genteel cover of denial off of so much of our racial and economic division. The Donald made it acceptable to display racist feelings, and to engage in open corruption, in ways we have not seen since before WW-II. As horrible as it has been to watch, the revelations have been motivators that brought the “non-oppressed” population out into the streets in April and May and June, joining those who are most directly impacted by racism and corruption.

Now is the time to build on that awareness, by recognizing and confirming that we have made progress, that those who demonstrated and voted before us caused change, and that we can make further change, further progress, further exercise of our own power.

Tom Hall

Tom Hall

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