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LA County Construction Vote

Community activists Patrisse Cullors, left, and Eunisses Hernandez raise their hands in agreement as they listen to a debate at the L.A. County Board of Supervisors over how to care for people with mental illness inside the county jails. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

LA County Construction Vote Means Our Work Is Far from Done—But Also That the Moral Landscape Has Shifted

It may sound stupid and naive to ay this, but regardless of today's vote to go ahead and build a mammoth new mental health facility, the balance of moral force has finally shifted in LA County.

Everyone in the auditorium today could smell the bad faith in the comments of supervisors Barger, Hahn, and Ridley Thomas.

Yes, a majority of the five county supervisors (Barger, Hahn, and Ridley Thomas) voted for their last-minute and ill-thought motion to build a monstrous new 3800-bed mental heath "treatment facility" in downtown Los Angeles--a facility to be built on the same footprint as the original proposed "mental health jail" (or CCTF).

But the shamelessness and sheer moral bankruptcy of this Hail Mary move was open for all to see - and this shamelessness was duly noted by at least 150 members of the public who spoke against the "build now" move in the open BOS comment period.

In brief, the Board's majority was left standing naked on Tuesday. Saying that "we're all against building a jail" and "we're all for care first," but then proceeding with a shockingly expensive "central hospital" plan that will inevitably produce the same malign results as a jail, must go down in in history as among the biggest of Big Lies ever propounded.

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But I will still insist that the moral ground has shifted. You can tell when people are lying. And everyone in the auditorium on today could smell the bad faith in the comments of supervisors Barger, Hahn, and Ridley Thomas. Even many of the construction workers in the audience (probably on the clock) were clearly swayed by the superior reasoning of the passionate and mostly young witnesses who argued for distributing any necessary mental health construction projects throughout this vast county rather than building The Mother Of All Mental Health Institutions within the existing jail complex.

You could say that we lost this vote. But we are still clearly winning on rational and ethical grounds. All of us should send our thanks to Supervisors Kuehl and Solis for insisting that no new construction is appropriate without a much more careful assessment of our actual service needs (considering that accelerated diversion and money bail reform are still gathering force) and without reference to the new and better paradigm for healing and justice.

And while we are thanking Kuehl and Solis, we should not hesitate to tell Barger, Hahn, and Ridley Thomas something along the lines of this: "Shame on you for engaging in bad old school politics (pursuing discredited policies and prostrating yourselves to building trades and jail deputy money) rather than caring about the needs of those who suffer most."

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Their lying about their true motivation only adds to their shame.

Peter Laarman