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Is Redistricting in California a Step Backwards for Blacks?

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When the law was passed mandating that redistricting was to be done by the voters instead of the legislators, it seemed like a great thing, but now ...

By Yussuf J. Simmonds, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –

Not long ago, in an attempt to educate the community about redistricting, there was a column in this the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper describing the process in simple terms. In addition since the redistricting process has been underway, several community groups have been formed to act as watchdogs over the process: to monitor the town hall styled meetings; to keep the community informed; to write letters to the commission; and to engage the commissioners. One such organization is the African American Redistricting Collaborative (AARC).

The commissioners' mandate was to have released a preliminary draft of the maps by June 10, which they did and to have the final maps delivered to the California secretary of state by August 15. Apparently the preliminary maps, if allowed to become final, would irreparably devastate the African American community politically. According to a nine-page letter sent to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) by AARC, "Our main source of concern is the guidance supplied by your counsel, which has apparently led to some very disturbing map visualizations at the June 30th and July 2nd meetings. From what we gather, these visualizations ignore the hard work by AARC, CAPAFR and MALDEF to harmonize their interests into mutually agreeable configurations..."

It is also important to note that the commission may have already received the results of a study on Racially Polarized Voting in Los Angeles County, which seemed to coincide with the 'disturbing map visualizations' as referenced by AARC in its letter relative to the African American community.

(Another disturbing trend is while the process to redraw California's State and Congressional lines has received national attention, the County of Los Angeles' redistricting effort has proceeded without much fanfare (tantamount to magic: keep the focus on one thing while the real trick is being performed elsewhere). It has been reported that during the past year and a half, 19 plans have been submitted by the public to alter representation for the County's 10 million residents and some have recommended adjustments to the Second Supervisorial District [represented by Mark Ridley-Thomas], which has the highest concentration of African Americans. This has been done outside the purview of African Americans and without a spotlight as with the CCRC's mandate).

Historically, African Americans have fought, bled and died in the fight for civil rights FOR ALL AMERICANS. Every group, ethnicity, race and religion have benefited from the burdens that African Americans have borne so that this nation can live up to its creed that "all men (women and children) are created equal." So it appears paradoxical that the rights that African Americans have fought for are now being eroded and shifted to others.

Specifically, two out of the three African American congresswomen in South Los Angeles are being threatened to lose their districts, if the present maps become permanent. However, a careful analysis of the proposed district boundaries, suggest that it has to be a win-lose outcome. But that is not the case. An alternate boundary map does show just the opposite: a win-win situation for all concerned.

A new map shows that African Americans can maintain their political base and Latinos can have their just due also. It has been proposed, and it is incumbent upon the commission and other communities of interest to fairly and objectively review the proposed map that will result in a solution mutually acceptable for all concerned.

There is still time to correct the above stated imperfections in the mapping process. Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of Community Coalition, who has been active in the South Los Angeles community for more than 20 years, recently spoke on redistricting and its economic and political impact on South Los Angeles as part of the Brotherhood Crusade's workshop series, of which Charisse Bremond-Weaver said, "Our latest workshop series, The Economic Impact of Institutional and Structural Racism, is a prime example of how we help the entire community establish positive habits and attitudes about money that ultimately lead to an understanding of its power."

The time is at hand and as AARC's letter also stated, "...We can no longer remain silent in the face of so many instances of mis-statements about important elements of voting rights law. Time is too short and the stakes are far too high for our community..."

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