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latest news  The 4th of July is a fraud.  Only repairs can make it real


July 4 is cancelled.

Well not really. But this year, of all years, it feels like it should be.

I remember the words of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass who asked in 1852: “For the American slave, what is your 4th of July? »

He then answered his own question, of course: “A day that reveals to him, more than any other day of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty of which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham.

Indeed, 170 years later, with half of Congress defending a coup attempt by a former president and his racist mob and the Supreme Court disenfranchising women and threatening to do the same to others, I wonder how an American can celebrate “freedom” without thinking it was a sham.

It was just the words of another black man, George Fatheree, that got me thinking.

A lawyer specializing in real estate transactions, Fatheree is perhaps best known for representing the descendants of Charles and Willa Bruce, the black couple who were driven from Manhattan Beach a century ago, their land seized in a racist act of eminent domain. .

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a deal to return the land, known as Bruce’s Beach, to its patrons. Among the terms, the county will pay $413,000 a year to lease it and retain the right to buy it later for $20 million, plus transaction costs.

Supervisor Holly Mitchell called it an example of what “can be done when the government is engaged.” Supervisor Janice Hahn called the deal “the right thing to do”.

But Fatheree had more, well, patriotic thoughts on the matter.

“This is the first time a black family has reclaimed land where it was wrongfully taken through racially discriminatory means,” he told me. “In fact, I think the moment is poignant because we’ve never been more divided as a country than we are right now.”

Americans are losing faith in trusted democratic institutions because they do not act in the best interest of the public.

A recent AP-NORC survey found that 85% of people are pessimistic about the direction of the country, including a growing number of Democrats. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults who consider themselves “extremely proud” to be American has hit an all-time high, according to Gallup.

This is what Fatheree calls a “crisis of legitimacy”.

“If the government does something wrong and they recognize it and they don’t do anything,” he said, “people lose faith in the government – our elected officials and our institutions.”

Redress, in the most basic definition, is that the government recognizes that it has done something wrong and then does something about it. And that is the truest form of patriotism. A love not only of the country but of the people who live there.

During a signing ceremony, Governor Gavin Newsom, seated, shakes hands with Anthony Bruce, great-great-grandson of Charles and Willa Bruce.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“We desperately need healing,” Fatheree said. “And in my mind, it’s through those kinds of acknowledgments of injustice — and attempts to address it — that we create a foundation for healing.”

Bruce’s Beach is just one example.

Of course, not everyone agrees that we should celebrate this kind of patriotism on the 4th of July – or any other day of the year, for that matter. Even as calls for reparations have intensified, polls show most Americans remain generally opposed, especially when it comes to financial payments to compensate for slavery.

This presents a particular challenge in California.

Since last year, a nine-member task force has met to develop an ambitious reparations plan that the state legislature will be asked to approve as early as next year.

In preparation, members released a 492-page report last month detailing the many ways federal, state and corporate policies, often intentionally and sometimes unintentionally racist, have punished black people for centuries.

Much of the information is based on research provided by dozens of experts who have testified before the task force in recent months. (Not, I should note, about the conspiracy theories concocted by opportunistic crackpots who claim our government erred in “stealing” the 2020 election from former President Trump.)

The report also contains preliminary recommendations for reparations, such as eliminating college tuition and ending work requirements for inmates for descendants of slaves, as well as the repeal of Article 34, which requires voters to accept social housing projects.

Persuading lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom to accept all of this — let alone the more sweeping remedies — will almost certainly depend on the task force’s ability to garner enough public support.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) alluded to it during a recent reparations Zoom call hosted by the California Democratic Party.

“The most powerful message that can reach the Legislative Assembly – and hopefully the Governor to sign – is that we are united and moving forward with reparations,” he said. . “Because I’m going to be honest with you. Not everyone in the Legislative Assembly is 100% behind what we do.

To that end, the task force and its allies held listening sessions, gathering feedback from black Californians on what they would like to see included in a reparations plan.

Suggestions so far have been ambitious but far from consistent in terms of priorities.

“I don’t think we’re going to make a decision that will make everyone happy,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said after a session at Leimert Park on June 16. “But I think it’s a start. And, as you can see, there’s still a lot to flesh out.

Meanwhile, promoting the task force has been a challenge. It’s hard to get public notice when the public doesn’t know you exist or you don’t have a meeting scheduled.

This is where the now famous story of Bruce’s Beach comes in. So many people are so fascinated by what happened there that they’ve become interested in the larger reparations push in California.

Fatheree just hopes people don’t get stuck thinking Bruce’s Beach is the only model of what’s possible.

latest news  The 4th of July is a fraud.  Only repairs can make it real

People watch the sunset from Bruce’s Beach Park on Tuesday, the day the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan to return the beach to Bruce’s descendants.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“Since I’ve been on this case, I get an email or voicemail every day,” he told me. “They say, ‘My grandmother owned land in Texas and they took it through eminent domain.’ Or often it’s not eminent domain They showed up with dogs and shotguns and just took it and forged the papers.

What happened to the Bruce family is therefore not at all unusual in American history. But the specific details made it an ideal case to be a benchmark for repairs, Fatheree said.

It was in 1912 that the Bruces bought two lots in Manhattan Beach and opened a pavilion and a dance hall for black beachgoers. It became so popular that soon more black families moved in, attracting the attention of the Ku Klux Klan.

When the harassment didn’t work, city officials condemned the neighborhood and seized more than two dozen properties, including lots owned by the Bruces, supposedly to build a public park. But the land remained empty for decades.

Over time, the land passed to the state, then to the county, where it now operates a monitoring facility. The land owned by other families is now a park overlooking the Pacific.

“We will never know the opportunities the Bruce family would have had had the city of Manhattan Beach not prematurely uprooted this tree from its roots,” Fatheree said. “And it’s not just the Bruce family. These are the people who would have been employed at Bruce’s Beach, the people who would have gone there as kids and been inspired and met other people. The jobs that would have been created. We cannot measure the opportunity that was lost.

The idea that black Americans will somehow be cured with a check or program after hundreds of years of government damage is far-fetched at best. But that’s not really the purpose of repairs.

What matters is that an honest and humble attempt is made toward a true atonement for everything from decades of housing discrimination to a criminal justice system steeped in systemic racism. And there are many ways to do this, not just to return stolen land.

“There are a lot of great models and ideas out there,” Fatheree said. “What we need is the kind of political leadership and courage, frankly, that we’ve seen with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to step forward and implement them.”

It’s not quite enough to make me proud to be an American this 4th of July or to think it’s less of a sham. But, to echo Fatheree, it’s a start.



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