The recent decision by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) Board to reject a motion that would have put the Crenshaw-LAX Line underground through Park Mesa Heights was met with universal disgust within the Black community. However, it was the powerful public body’s treatment of the proposed Leimert Park station that elicited the strongest response. In a manner that confused almost everyone in attendance, the MTA Board agreed to consider a station at the cultural and social epicenter of our community only if cost for the rail line stayed significantly below budget. Considering that light rail development is supposed to spur economic growth in areas surrounding specific projects, not approving a stop at Leimert Park would appear to re-affirm a preference on behalf of the power structure to leave Black people desperate and destitute.
However, as we recover from another disappointing vote from another governmental agency maintained by our tax dollars, there must be a moment of reflection on the broader implications. As members and leadership in our community we must ask why it is so easy for decision makers to reject our demands. We must allow ourselves to understand why the Black community is being dismantled in very public ways and very little is being done about it. The answer to these inquiries – like the late great Malcolm X taught – lies in the events of the past. An examination of Black history in Los Angeles and abroad reveals the unsettling truth that we are now suffering from the dependence of a political theory based upon integration. While there have always been those in our community that believed in building an independent economic and social power base, the vast majority of our people always felt more comfortable with fighting for access to traditionally white institutions. Exacerbated by the dismantling of the Jim Crow legal system in the 1960s, the most talented Black minds and skilled laborers sought and many times received, positions with white employers or jobs in government. The result of this scenario was a three decade long “brain drain” from our community. Those who would have been successful Black entrepreneurs were working as employees at Fortune 500 companies. Black financial institutions, which could have served as the primary investors in Black-owned firms, barely or never truly existed.
The deep pain and betrayal felt by each of the 500 Black people who attended the MTA Board meeting two weeks ago is born, in part, out of frustration with ourselves. Long set on a path of integration, we chose to make the public sector the main equalizer and purveyor of economic prosperity in our community. In the absence of a strong Black business and capital class, we depended upon government to provide us with jobs, contracts and projects to benefit our community. Unfortunately, we continue to learn, as we did two weeks ago, that public sector is simply the tax-payer supported aspect of the same racist system that has disrespected Black people in every imaginable way for over 500 years. If there is a silver lining to the total denial of our community’s demands around the Crenshaw-LAX Line, it is that we are reminded of the teachings of Marcus Garvey who said, “Power is the only protection from injustice.” If we love Crenshaw and want to make the area serve our interests, we must really own it. Who in our community has the investment expertise to lead an effort to buy large parcels of property in Leimert Park and the Crenshaw Corridor? Who in our community has the planning expertise to lead a community visioning process on how we want the Crenshaw we own to look like?
Even if MTA voted to approve and fund a Leimert Park station and underground passage through the Crenshaw Corridor, Black people would not have been able to ignore the preverbal elephant in the room. Our businesses owners in the area are largely renters and suffer from low sales. Some of them are barely in operation, have unattractive facade, or quality product lines. These are facts that aren’t just known by us, but by our opponents who sit on the MTA Board, City Council and any other public body. The MTA is very aware of the impact their decision not to fund a Leimert Park station or approve a subway for Crenshaw. They clearly understood that their actions, if not reverse, could serve as the death nail in the last concentrated Black community left in Los Angeles. While we should continue to mobilize our community to Board meetings in large number, we must commit ourselves to a process that will produce long term solutions. We must get serious about owning our community by becoming real owners of the land and key businesses in the area. If we do so, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, or any other politician would not dare express a racist disregard towards our people when it comes to the Crenshaw-LAX Line, a station at Leimert Park or other issues of importance. For in a capitalist system, we must either become owners or eliminate the system through prolonged revolution. We must choose one or the other.