What government can do and what it shouldn't
The usual argument from elected and community leaders is that they need more resources or that there is a need for "investment" in South L.A. communities. Of course, it is not the role of government to "invest" tax revenues but to budget tax dollars in ways that are appropriate to governmental mandates. What has stood in the way of dealing with the problems of South L.A. is not a lack of money but the belief that government's role is to act as some sort of nanny that has a tax-funded program for every ailment.
What South L.A. needs is leadership that understands the proper role of government and what ought to be left to the private sector. The pressing problems of economic malaise, joblessness, poverty, violence and failing public schools and the challenges of changing demographics are on my short list of issues needing resolution. Let's examine some of these as space allows.
Joblessness: Other than employing workers in its agencies, government does not "create" jobs. And although it can increase employment through contracts with private agencies, the notion that government can "invest" in jobs is nonsense. What government can do is create a better employment atmosphere by cutting red tape and regulations that make it difficult for businesses (small, medium or large) to expand or initiate operations. The stifling bureaucracy of City Hall works against the interests of South L.A.'s residents, who need a business climate that is open to any legitimate job-creating initiative.
Education: If employment opportunities increased, so would the need for an educated workforce that can understand and carry out the demands of its employers. With an embarrassingly high dropout rate and students who struggle to pass high school exit exams that are based on eighth-grade expectations, the problem is obvious. Los Angeles Unified School District officials clamor for increased funds, yet, as stunning examples across the nation show, more spending per pupil does not translate into higher-performing students. What's needed is increased competition through vouchers and charter schools that would force the district to perform at higher levels -- or shut down.
Public safety: More resources are needed to increase the number of men and women in uniform serving in local law enforcement. As far as large metropolises go, Los Angeles is the most under-policed city in the nation. Budgetary priorities must be shifted to allow for more sworn officers. Crime and violence are concerns in all parts of L.A., but it is an especially pressing problem for South L.A. residents, who are besieged by gangs and random criminal violence. To help pay for more police, city leaders should dissolve outmoded departments and commissions.
Demographic change: There can be no legitimate racial or ethnic claims on any part of Los Angeles. Today's South L.A. has been reshaped by new patterns of immigration, an age-old American story. But local leaders, understanding that immigration is primarily the responsibility of the federal government, should not encourage lawbreaking by way of sanctuary policies that have conspired to push down entry-level wages and overburdened the taxpayers' ability to provide education and healthcare services.
It is reasonable to ask if our leaders who claim to act in the interests of South L.A. have addressed these priorities. I argue that they have not, and have instead focused on items that are counterproductive -- such as a day-laborer ordinance for big-box retailers, a ban on new fast-food restaurants and a symbolic 40-hour moratorium on gang violence.
Joe R. Hicks is vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM (640) talk-show host. He is a former executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Don't dismiss government
Joe, you pretty much get it right that high joblessness (especially among young black males), terribly failing public schools, gang violence and ethnic population shifts have wreaked much havoc on the quality of life in South Los Angeles. But, as always, we part company on how these problems should be solved. You dismiss any active role for government in solving South L.A.'s social and economic problems, and, by extension, you infer that government has done much to exacerbate those problems.
You have it backward. The reason the chronic problems you ticked off plague South L.A. -- and indeed, many other major urban neighborhoods in America -- is precisely because of a tattered legacy of neglect and broken promises in the form of a massive outflow of tax dollars, reduced services and halfhearted initiatives by government and private industry.
Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital is one glaring example. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the federal government did not provide adequate funding, training, staffing and management to the hospital. The result was predictable: The quality of care, level of staffing and competence of personnel sank. I'll list a few other problems.
Joblessness: Despite your erroneous contention, Joe, government can create jobs -- lots of jobs. It does this through providing tax breaks and incentives to create and expand industrial parks; guaranteeing federal Small Business Administration loans; providing subsidies to private employers that are directly earmarked for job-training and hiring programs; creating public-private partnerships with retailers and developers; and directly funding healthcare services, nutrition programs and after-school and recreation programs.
Education: The evidence is sketchy that vouchers and charter schools -- the pet education scheme of Joe and other conservatives -- are a solution to fixing public schools. They aren't. Thousands of needy students have no access to the handful of vouchers and compact, micromanaged charter schools that already exist. Those students remain in overcrowded, ill-equipped and poorly administered public schools. The answer, then, is to spend more to reduce classroom size, hire and train teachers, provide up-to-date textbooks and computers and physically maintain and upgrade facilities. Studies have repeatedly shown that schools will all the resources they need are crucial in bumping up achievement scores and curbing the astronomically high inner-city school dropout rates.
Gang violence: It is undeniably a major problem in South L.A. But studies have repeatedly shown that gang violence and high crime stem not from lousy homes, lousy families or lousy genes, but rather from lousy employment opportunities, lousy educational opportunities and a lousy number of recreational facilities. Joe, it will take large-scale government resources and initiatives to meet those needs.
The chronic problems of South L.A. won't be fixed by engaging in empty political pandering on scapegoat issues such as immigration or by dumping more money into an already bloated police/criminal-justice complex. The problems won't be solved by taking potshots at sound, proactive initiatives such as limiting the number of big-box retailers that provide poor benefits and pay or fast-food joints that serve unhealthy food, or by denigrating heart-felt, proactive actions such as anti-murder violence moratoriums.
I would use any and every resource I had to implement creative, intelligent initiatives to combat the problems of joblessness, faulty education, gang violence and inadequate healthcare. A failure to use resources -- especially public resources -- that way simply promotes the same old delusion that these problems can be solved by your Band-Aid solutions, Joe.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House."