RIDLEY: Believe it or NOT!

An open letter to LA’s Black elected officials from LA CAN’s Minister of Culture

I happened to be front row center the first time I heard Mark Ridley Thomas speak passionately about the plight of the houseless. He was the keynote speaker at a banquet that I was performing at. I was more than intrigued. After experiencing the frustration and devastation of houselessness firsthand, I was eager to be at the forefront of the solution.

He talked about the need for services and for dignity-based care; he waxed poetically about how the system had failed black Angelenos, and how we must NOT criminalize those who are simply living the best way they know how under the circumstances.

This resonated with me. Far too often, I had witnessed Black politicians ignore the struggles of the houseless; particularly in skid row where 70-plus percent of the houseless population is black. My viewpoint was relegated to lived experiences, of which I had very few that weren’t privileged before my own homelessness. Houselessness was a personal wake-up call, and my subsequent foray into being “othered” and “criminalized” was the primary catalyst for my ultimate activation in this work. 

I rushed to shake his hand. I saw him as an ally. FINALLY, there was a Black politician willing to tell the truth to all those who would listen.

Turns out, my early admiration would prove to be unfounded. The same can be said of my experiences with capitalism tap-dancers Marqueece Harris-“Dawson’s Creek,” Curren “Has a” Price, and countless other so-called Black “leaders” in South LA.

But what is it that causes these allegedly “progressive” black leaders to do an about two-face once they are in office? Some clues can be found in a recent statement by Mark “Didley” Thomas.

In his response to community-based concerns that his support of the enforcement of 41.18d—a city ordinance thats problematic language and nature leave no doubt that its primary function is to make being houseless itself a crime—Thomas responds to city attorney Mike Feurer this way:

“…as it relates to the concern expressed by your office that this position purportedly gives rise to a “discrepancy” in the nature of punishment for …section 41.18, I would kindly request that your office draft, for the consideration of the full Council tomorrow, an amendment to the draft ordinance contained in the Report, establishing that, in the absence of a person’s willful resistance, violations of section 41.18 are punishable by, at most, an infraction—to which imprisonment cannot attach.”

In other words, you are still a criminal, we can fine you and we can remove you and your things with impunity, but I object to you being charged with a misdemeanor or being thrown in jail for existing in view of the public.

Further, he adds insult to injury with the statement “in the absence of a person’s willful resistance,” which essentially guarantees a misdemeanor, felony charge, or yes, jail, for anything other than “yes, massa…I’ll move right away, massa”.

What happened to his compassion and objection to criminalization?

The problem with this “solution” is it simply relegates houseless folks to the status of subhuman. This ordinance, as written and interpreted, gives virtually ANY city employee or contractor complete agency to “address the issue” with absolutely ZERO training.

Park maintenance employees have often harassed and “policed” the houseless. I’ve seen mothers and children booted from park benches by city employees because they were “there too long.” I have witnessed street sweepers disrespectfully sweep up private property and laugh about it when they are confronted and told they’ll be reported.

Their laughter isn’t misplaced either, it truly is a joke as there is no reasonable recourse or place to air a grievance if you are a houseless resident. Your complaints won’t be heard or taken seriously. Where is the accountability? Mark “Didley” Thomas seems to think that city employees will engage in “compassionate outreach” because he said so.

No training? I cannot think of a single better example of the blatant disrespect than the second class citizen status we give those in our community who need us the most, when they need us the most, and while they have the least. This is a shameful ode to Black leadership and antithetical to all I’ve witnessed and gleaned about being a Black leader.

By that gauge, Mark “Didley” Thomas, Curren “Has a” Price and Marqueece Harris-“Dawson’s Creek” fail miserably. Community-based leadership legends like Fred Hampton, Angela Davis and Fannie Lou Hamer would be thoroughly embarrassed at our so-called leaders today. This isn’t just about ideological differences, its about basic moral compunction.

Mark “Didley” Thomas says in his “letter to address homelessness” the following:

“I … understand that the conditions on the streets of Los Angeles have led to significant challenges that can impact the quality of life of Angelenos. We are seeing an unprecedented level of fires involving homeless encampments, and far too many unhoused individuals are killed by vehicle incidents each year. Not every public space is a safe space for those who are forced to sleep outside.”

The intense irony of the above statement isn’t lost on me. It seems Mr. Thomas is awfully concerned about the “quality of life” of those who must encounter the houseless and face the unabashed truth about where and who we are as a city. If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, wouldn’t we prioritize their care and well-being over our obsession with their comportment and what makes us “look good”? 

Currently, five houseless people die per day in Los Angeles, and most don’t die from vehicle accidents, they perish from pure neglect. Many would still be alive if they had access to adequate, permanent supportive housing and healthcare. This is where it gets personal for me. I’ve watched several of my friends—brilliant Black artists struggling with houselessness—die from neglect, indifference and greed.

If you can’t stand up for those in our orbit who have the least ability to stand up for themselves, then you can’t seriously proclaim that “Black Lives Matter”. To be a Black leader, you MUST prioritize ALL Black lives; even when it is politically and socially perilous to do so. 

Thomas ends his letter with the following:  “As I seek to balance these concerns, I recognize that the status quo is insufficient.”

Yes sir. We FINALLY agree: THE STATUS QUO IS INSUFFICIENT…and you are a major part of it.

Mark, I hope this finds you well—and convicts and convinces you and the rest of us to do better and be better.

With utmost urgency and sincerity,

Minister of Culture, LA CAN
Minister of Music, The Row Church LA

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