OP-ED | What Will It Take for a Former Sundown Town to Be Anti-Racist?

In early 2021, the City introduced a resolution apologizing for its past as a Sundown Town. But, in the six months since the resolution was introduced, there has been no public action on the matter

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | Protestors gather by City Hall

By Care First South Pasadena 

Despite the swell in community demands for racial justice in South Pasadena starting in the summer of 2020, City Councilmembers and City Hall officials have met these demands with silence or skepticism. This indifference to community concerns must end.

The City’s unwillingness to further racial justice in our town predates the 2020 uprising. As far back as the 1940s, South Pasadena had established itself as a racially exclusionary town, in which non-whites were forbidden to own property and prohibited from being in town after sundown. Today, instead of overtly racist policies, the City continues racially exclusionary practices by quietly de-prioritizing or discarding community proposals aimed at increasing racial justice.

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In 2019, a local group of activists campaigned for an acceleration beyond the statewide minimum wage increase, in keeping with neighboring cities. Petitions were signed in all five Council districts and reams of research about the impact of improving wages on racial minorities were hand-delivered to City Hall. Unmoved, the City sided with the corporate behemoths who would have been required to pay better wages.

In early 2021, the City introduced a resolution apologizing for its past as a Sundown Town. But, in the six months since the resolution was introduced, there has been no public action on the matter.

A coalition of racial justice groups recently requested that the City conduct an audit of the police department to examine its operations and the presence of racial bias in its policing.  Our demand for an audit came on the heels of the City’s secretive process to investigate 53 complaints about SPPD’s response to assaults on peaceful demonstrators in 2020. The City is attempting to cut off this demand by agreeing to undertake an “assessment” of only SPPD’s organizational structure, workload, efficiencies, and use of information technology.

Care First South Pasadena proposed unarmed traffic enforcement to the Public Safety Commission as a model to reduce bad outcomes for Black and Latinx motorists due to well-documented racial and ethnic disparities in traffic stops and arrests. The Commission determined that changes to state law must precede the City’s unarmed traffic enforcement implementation. The Commission concluded that anti-bias training for police officers is the only way to address the underlying problem of racially disproportionate traffic enforcement.    

The City has also lost its appetite for cultural gestures toward racial justice. In summer 2020, the City Council agreed to work with local high school students to put up a racial justice mural on city property. On October 7, 2020, former Councilmember Schneider informed the Council that police officers did not want the mural installed on the side of City Hall. The officers complained that Black Lives Matter is an anti-police organization.  Since then, the project has stalled. The City Attorney is concerned that the mural could cause traffic accidents if installed at Mission and Fremont. The City has not offered an alternative location.

The City is falling far short of making good on its initial statements in solidarity with racial justice and the movement for Black lives.  But it is not too late for our electeds to take concrete action. 

  • In lieu of unarmed traffic enforcement, the City can take other steps to measure and rectify disproportionate traffic enforcement against Black and Latinx motorists.  For example, the City can write to the State legislature to request more local flexibility in traffic enforcement. It can accelerate SPPD’s tracking and reporting of racial and ethnic data related to stops under the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA).
  • The City Council can instruct the City Manager to include a racial bias audit in the assessment of SPPD she is planning.
  • The City can prioritize prompt enactment of a sundown town resolution promising meaningful action steps to reverse the City’s legacy of racism.  The resolution should commit the City to analyzing whether legislation (for example, minimum wage, hazard pay, and housing ordinances) enhances racial justice.

It is time for our City leaders to take meaningful action on racial injustice.







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