USC Price event focuses on Black Lives Matter’s efforts to shape policies, improve systems
By Matthew Kredell
Moderator LaMikia Castillo stands up to introduce the panelists (from left) Pete White, Melina Abdullah, Nyallah Noah and Lisa Hines (Photo by Nick Weinmeister) More photos available on Flickr »
The USC Price School of Public Policy convened a discussion on Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles to raise awareness at the school and on the community level of the organization’s efforts to change public policies and institutions at all levels of government.
“To say that this event tonight is timely really is an understatement, not only because of the election but also because we all watch the television and video reports of the shootings of African-Americans – both men and women – followed by confusion and questions and protests,” Price Dean Jack H. Knott said in his welcome address. “We have all seen the distrust, the falsehoods and the cynicism that has combined to weaken our civic fabric in the country.”
Taking place on Nov. 10, two days after the elections, the event inspired impassioned conversation among speakers and those in attendance.
Moderator LaMikia Castillo, who received dual master of public policy and master of planning degrees from USC Price in 2012 and now serves as an adjunct faculty member for the school, opened the discussion noting that she was trying not to burst into tears thinking about the results of the presidential election, given the racist and xenophobic comments made during the campaign, along with the increased instances of hate and white supremacy that followed.
The panel featured four people who have been active with Black Lives Matter: Dr. Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at California State University Los Angeles and an original member of Black Lives Matter; Pete White, executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network; USC student Nyallah Noah, a sophomore at the Thornton School of Music; and Lisa Hines, mother of Wakiesha Wilson, a woman who died in police custody.
“Unfortunately, I feel like it’s always a timely conversation given what’s happening in our country on a regular basis,” Castillo said. “I … hope this conversation can help us think about how we as policy folks, as planners, as other folks not at Price but interested in making a change, can play a role in this movement.”
Addressing systemic injustice
Abdullah explained that Black Lives Matter formed on July 13, 2013, the day George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin. She presented three parts to BLM’s vision — to raise consciousness, to mobilize people and to envision a better system for which to transform the current one.
“We’re not trying to tinker around with the system; we believe the entire system is intentionally and deliberately created to produce these outcomes,” Abdullah said.
White outlined BLM LA’s immediate goals as driving LAPD leadership changes, taking steps for improving public engagement at police commission meetings, and reexamining the LAPD’s discipline process and policy for officers. Ultimately, BLM hopes to abolish police and prisons all together to avoid instances of institutional social injustice such as the one they believe happened with Hines’ daughter, Wakiesha Wilson, who was found dead in her jail cell earlier this year after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge.
“We want to think about public safety holistically,” Abdullah said. “We can abolish crime by providing the resources to communities that are necessary. We also know that communities have the ability to keep themselves safe, so we want to develop those sorts of things and get rid of the police completely. We don’t think we need them, and – especially in black, brown and poor communities – they are much more dangerous to us than they are a protective force.”
Students take part in a conversation during the event. (Photo by Nick Weinmeister) More photos available on Flickr »
Noah explained that she started in BLM last June because she was upset with the public incidents of police brutality over the summer.
“I feel like a lot of the times, millennials especially, we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing with all of this,” Noah said. “… I got involved with Black Lives Matter because I thought this is standing for something and making progress.”
White encouraged students at the Price School to get into government jobs in policy and planning, and to be lifetime allies from those positions.
“We definitely need support from planners,” White said. “I think we need an organizer in the planning school because when we think about gentrification, that’s driven by planners. We need folks within these institutions organizing a caucus of planners for good.”