On Nov. 24, Black Lives Matter supporters and Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, gathered outside LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s mansion. They announced they will be there every day until either President-elect Joe Biden decides not to appoint the mayor to his cabinet or Garcetti himself confirms that he will not play a role in the new administration. For much of Garcetti’s second term, the group has protested his liberal white supremacist practices that protect LAPD and take funds away from Black and brown communities, but these next several weeks are for the entire country to hear.
As talks swirl of Garcetti leaving to become transportation or HUD secretary, LA’s base builders warn that either department would be a detrimental appointment. In Adbullah’s words, LA needs to “take one for the team” and block Garcetti’s appointment.
The organizations and groups present at the protests are all members of the People’s Budget LA coalition—comprised of Black Lives Matter-LA, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Bus Riders Union, Ktown for All, White People 4 Black Lives, DSA-LA, Stop LAPD Spying, People’s City Council, Ground Game LA, and others—which convened in May to respond to Garcetti’s proposed 2020-2021 budget that would have devoted nearly 54% of the city’s general funds to LAPD. The resulting People’s Budget, one that advocated for more investment in public safety, swayed Garcetti to cut $150 million from his LAPD budget to reinvest into Black and brown communities. To date, no records show how these promised funds are being allocated.
LA activists and organizers have long demanded accountability from Garcetti, who has a history of frequently traveling from the city he’s responsible for. In 2016, 30-year-old Redel Jones was shot four times by a LA police officer, a killing that the police commission ruled was in-policy per then-Police Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendations. When Black Lives Matter organizers marched to city hall to demand a meeting with their mayor, they learned Garcetti was thousands of miles away in Rio, watching the Summer Olympics.
“We started tracking his movements and realizing he wasn’t even in the country for the majority of the time, which makes him not only someone who doesn’t stand for justice for Black women, but also someone who’s not even present for the job that he was elected to do,” Abdullah said.
Then in 2017, several members of NOlympics, a coalition of local organizations and groups campaigning to cancel the Olympics (LA is scheduled to host the games in 2028), began posting “Eric Garcetti is Missing” fliers around town, which subsequently found a digital footprint as WheresGarcetti.com in 2018. They discovered that he was disappearing for trips abroad. In 2017, when he was reported to have spent one out of three days abroad, the city of LA saw a 63% increase in homelessness in Latinx populations. While he was touring countries in Asia, he had missed the funeral of 27-year-old Mely Corado, who was fatally shot by LAPD. It became a predictable pattern: For every tragedy that gripped the city, Garcetti was nowhere to be found.
“This is absolutely inappropriate behavior for any mayor,” said Jonny Coleman, an organizer with NOlympics. “Even though some of it was ‘privately’ funded, that’s still our time as residents.”
That Garcetti might be appointed to head the U.S. Department of Transportation raises concerns for groups like #Garcettiville, a movement that takes its name from the Great Depression era “Hoovervilles.” The group points to issues such as the demise of Vision Zero, a project helmed by the mayor in 2015 with the goal of recording zero traffic-related deaths by 2025. In 2017 and 2018, two years after the launch of Vision Zero, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation recorded at least 495 people killed in collisions on the city’s streets, a significant increase from 436 deaths from the two years prior. Furthermore, the number of traffic deaths in LA rose 32% over the last decade, and the number of pedestrians killed by a driver jumped by 52%. However, a few years after launch, Garcetti lost enthusiasm for the initiative.
“Throughout the start and end of outreach and research, never once did the Los Angeles Department of Transportation become more involved—or anyone from the mayor’s office for that matter,” said Jose Garcia, #Garcettiville’s web designer who is now involved in enacting traffic safety measures in Koreatown.
Other transit activists point to slow progress on transportation projects, especially those that would invigorate Black and brown neighborhoods. Since 2006, Crenshaw Subway Coalition Founder and Executive Director Damien Goodmon and organization members have been advocating for community-driven transportation projects that preserve and fortify Black neighborhoods such as the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail, which would connect Crenshaw and Leimert Park to Inglewood and Los Angeles International Airport. Goodmon can recall only one instance of the mayor speaking to him about the urgency of this project when he has taken more meetings with corporate entities and stakeholders in wealthier parts of town.
“Any transit gains that he sought were not for the majority low-income, majority people of color,” said Goodmon. “They were to aid the rapid gentrification and displacement and culture erasure of Los Angeles.”
Grassroots groups are also prepared to counter the alternate scenario where Biden would appoint Garcetti as HUD secretary. In 2020, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority counted a 16% increase in unhoused residents in the city of LA from the previous year and an overall 80% increase in the unhoused population since Garcetti took office. Then in September, Ktown for All made a further grim discovery from records provided by the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner: Over 1,100 unhoused people died in 2020, as many as up to four people a day. #Garcettiville organizers and supporters point to these statistics as evidence of Garcetti’s abject failure to address a public health crisis.
“His answer to homelessness, just like it is to many things, is more police,” said Abdullah. “I couldn’t imagine a worse secretary of housing than Eric Garcetti.”
#Garcettiville organizers seek to support the established campaigns that have criticized Garcetti over the last several years. One of their first calls to action was to submit personal stories on their website about how their mayor failed Angelenos. Just after the first week of launch, it had collected over 80 submissions. One constituent from West Hills writes that “watching friends have to leave the city because of a lack of relief and assistance [and] watching the way this city treats the unhoused population … is incredibly disheartening.”
“The goal [of the website] is to collect people’s understandings and show what this huge, diverse, multilayered city means to different people and how they’ve watched their loved ones lose their jobs, incomes, and lives because of Mayor Garcetti’s inaction,” said Devon Manney, who helped conceptualize #Garcettiville.
To date, neither Garcetti nor his office has responded to recent criticisms or pushback against his name being floated for the appointment. Regardless of how Biden proceeds, LA organizers want the collective movement to show newly activated Angelenos that there is a lot of power to flex on a local level when their elected officials go awry. As it stands, Garcetti is still their mayor. Regardless of what will happen with the remainder of his term, LA’s activists and groups plan to bring national attention to his failures by protesting alongside Black Lives Matter.
“We hope that people stay plugged in because we are not going to let it happen quietly,” said Abdullah. “The more voices that we have, the more participants that we have, the more effective we will be.”