Measure C, Vision Zero, and “shut up, bitch” urban politics

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Being disinterested in police conduct towards communities of color in Los Angeles is a coalition-breaker, and lefties need to start paying attention and act accordingly.

The burdens of democracy have been pretty heavy on Angelenos here late, with November, one protest march after another, the election in March (covering the now infamous Measure S) and now another city election today.

Up for grabs is City Council seat in District 1 (Gil Cedilo, incumbent, versus Joe Bray-Ali) in DTLA and large swaths surrounding, and District 7, (relatively low-density, suburban district in the San Fernando Valley, nestled up against the Tujunga Canyons. We also have some school district elections district 4 (Topanga Canyon, Westchester, Palisades, Marina, Encino, etc) and district 7 (Pacoima, Reseda, Van Nuys, Sylmar, etc).

The only thing on the ballot for me today will be Measure C. Measure C is an ersatz attempt at police reform in Los Angeles. The LA Times Editorial Board, with whom I have my arguments, lays out the problems correctly in this op-ed, and they picked a a great catch line:

There is precious little evidence that there is anything wrong with the current discipline process, other than that officers and their union don’t like it.

That’s a really good piece of writing right there, a lesson on its own in sentence construction and impact.

Taking advantage of greater citizen awareness of police shooting via the Black Lives Matter activism to slip this one in strikes me as pretty nasty, even for LA politics.

The general apathy among white urbanists about police reform is, however, a huge problem for the urban policy agenda, and it came back to bite us recently with debates about adopting Vision Zero. Vision Zero is not like Measure C in its intent: Vision Zero is a well-intended, good-hearted, and potentially very effective way to address traffic deaths that results when cars hit pedestrians. Understandably, LA’s urbanists seem to be generally supportive of Vision Zero because people should be able to walk around LA without getting killed. I think we can all agree on this. If we were to make biking and walking safe in Los Angeles, we would be much, much better off, from the possibility that greater safety might induce more people to engage in active, healthy transport to reducing traffic death and injury.

The question is how do we implement Vision Zero, LA-style?

And friends, the question for progressives is always how. Because if Vision Zero hands more resources to the LAPD or empowers them to stop more motorists, we have a potential problem, and that problem concerns the fact that the LAPD, the LA County’s sheriff’s office, and myriad small police forces throughout the southland have got bad relations with communitiews of color, to say the least.

Vision Zero created some conflict in the District 1 during the campaign for candidate, Joe Bray-Ali, who is strong advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians in Los Angeles. He is, from what I can see, a troubled politician with a very good policy agenda. Some trolling activities in his past, where he wanted to start some online debates with racists and other gross people, came back to haunt him big time. In general, I am sympathetic here; if anybody were to look at my online activities, it would involve lots of pictures of little free libraries, sex offender registry policy sites, pro-gun forums, etc–and it’s all for research. The difference is that I don’t post on them; Bray-Ali’s desire to troll itself suggests a willingness to do something that is not terribly productive politically: pick fights online.

This is relatively small potatoes, for all the pearl clutching around it. I could care less about this. I could also care less about his tax issues. I’m not crazy about the way he talks about his extra-marital affairs (because that is indicative), but the affairs themselves are between him and his wife and his conscience and the other folks involved. I don’t like it, but it’s not my lookout.

Impossible to dismiss was Bray-Ali’s long-time conduct in discussing Vision Zero, on Facebook and elsewhere. Hillel Aron covered the controversy very well for LA Weekly, but gets the takeaway wrong.

Here is Aron’s summary of one part of the conflict:

Years ago, Bray-Ali was known as one of the city’s more outspoken, combative bicycle activists. His blog posts and verbal jousting in comments sections were aggressive, perhaps verging on bullying. He represented one faction of the bike-activist community, the one you might call the “bike-lane fundamentalists,” who never met a bicycle safety or pedestrian safety improvement they didn’t like. In recent years, another side has emerged, one you might call the “yes, but” side, whose adherents believe that you should build bike lanes and other infrastructure that make streets safe, but who also have concerns about side effects — namely, that bike lanes can drive gentrification and that policies that crack down on unsafe driving can lead to racial profiling.

“There are certainly factions,” says Joe Linton, the editor of Streetsblog L.A. “I’d say for the last five, seven years there’s been a tension, for sure. And I think it’s a healthy one.”

One such argument broke out in the comments section of the Figueroa for All Facebook group in October 2015, over the “Vision Zero” initiative, which aims to end all traffic deaths in Los Angeles, in part by cracking down on unsafe driving. Streetsblog L.A. editor Sahra Sulaiman was among those who voiced concerns that this initiative could lead to racial profiling. Bray-Ali called this view “nit-pickingly myopic.” Sulaiman pushed back; Bray-Ali called Sulaiman and L.A. County Bike Coalition executive director Tamika Butler “concern trolls.” That was typical for Bray-Ali; he had little patience for sensitivity or consensus-building, at least when it came to his agenda.

“Concern troll” is a smartest boy urbanist term for “shut up, bitch.” And urban lefties can’t be doing this stuff anymore, not if they want support from communities of color. And they need that support. Asking people of color to support your bike lanes while discounting police violence and mass incarceration is so entitled…it’s like a black hole of entitlement…the entitlement is so dense it sucks everything else into it.

We cannot ask people to ignore their own oppression while we ask for their political support.

I don’t know Mr. Bray-Ali, but I have met Tamika Butler, and I have followed Sahra Sulaiman’s writing for some time. Tamika ran circles around me in a panel we were on once. Do you know how hard that is? I gave up. She had more important stuff to say than I did, so I sat back and enjoyed watching her go. Sulaiman writes beautifully about LA’s urban politics. She is one of a growing number of women writing very well about Los Angeles who (unfortunately) have to deal with smartest boy urbanists like Joe Bray-Ali issuing “Shut up, bitch” edicts because, as we know, ain’t nothing more righteously indignant than a smartest boy urbanist when confronted with the possibility that he doesn’t have all the goddamn answers.

Instead of learning, Bray-Ali went after Sulaiman again on Twitter again recently. Gahhhhhh.

Butler and Sulaiman are two very, very smart people. The last thing any political leader should do is to try to silence them. A good politician…a smart one..tries to get them on his goddamn task force. Moves them from the marginal to the center. They know stuff you don’t.

Mr. Linton may be right in that the tension between the fundamentalists and the “yes, but” folks may be “healthy”, but it is only healthy to the degree that white urbanists learn to think differently. The reason there is a “tension” is because white urbanists have been too lazy and/or too entitled to work on crafting a Vision Zero approach that really works for everybody, one that addresses the effects on socially and politically vulnerable people when we expose them to the police more than we already do. I get it: That shit is some hard work. It’s easier to yell “concern troll” while the boy urbanist peanut gallery congratulates you on your “powerful voice” and “never backs down” cowboy brio.

Vision Zero-type ideas can work in LA, but only if we do the work to build in strategies about police conduct and governance right along with making the city right for bicyclists.

I do take issue with Hillel Aron’s conclusion:

Maybe the lesson is simply: Being an asshole online is just as bad as being an asshole in real life. So don’t be an asshole. Especially if you run for office.

Again, some excellent writing, but if being an asshole were a disqualification for public office, we’d have had 12 presidents by now instead of 45. Assholes, like bitches, can get stuff done.

I don’t want LA urbanists to walk away from the Bray-Ali campaign thinking he struggled just because he had baggage or bad judgment (both true.) The problem he personifies here goes way deeper. The lesson is this (I shall repeat it a few times until it sinks in):

We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.

We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.

We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.

We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.

We have to support people of color if we’d like them to support us.

Not being an asshole also helps, too, tho.