Article President’s Message by John F. Dunbar

Building Just and Equitable Communities

While cities continued to manage the public health crisis and economic recovery from COVID-19, our collective attention suddenly shifted, when a widely viewed cellphone video exposed the painful realities of systemic racism in our institutions and our communities.

The impacts of the killing of George Floyd while handcuffed in police custody and the injustices his death exemplifies are being felt on our streets, in our businesses, and in every city and town in California, across the country, and throughout the world.

Not long after the nation shared a moment of silence to remember the more than 100,000 people who died from COVID-19, we witnessed powerful moments of silence in Mr. Floyd’s memory. We should not, however, expect or tolerate silence going forward. We must stand up against the brutal treatment of Mr. Floyd and of far too many others at the hands of police.

People of every race, ethnicity, gender, and age expressed the pain, frustration, and anger resulting from the broken trust between law enforcement and the diverse communities they swore an oath to protect and serve. Protests erupted around the globe demanding justice and equity in the treatment of all people, regardless of color.

During many of the demonstrations, we witnessed signs of hope and solidarity, as community leaders, law enforcement, demonstrators, and others stood together — and sometimes knelt together — united for racial equity and justice.

We have an urgent call and a duty to end the injustice and unfairness that exist in any of our city departments and the extension of this inequity that manifests in the patrolling of our streets. Working with law enforcement leadership, we must evaluate and reimagine how we police our cities and make appropriate reforms to our law enforcement system.

This should involve a thorough and thoughtful analysis of hiring, training, operations, oversight, and disciplinary procedures to ensure the civil rights of every person are protected. We need to act swiftly to protect members of our communities who have disproportionately suffered from racism and injustice for generations.

As many have said, it is time to listen. City leaders must listen to the voices of those in our communities, many of whom share personal stories about the bias and unfair treatment they have endured. We must hear their words and turn them into positive action to protect everyone’s civil rights.

Prior to and since Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, many cities in California have taken concrete action to build just and equitable communities — drafting resolutions against racism and discrimination, creating community task forces, reevaluating police policies and procedures, and investing in youth employment and health initiatives in disadvantaged communities.

We can and should prioritize our municipal resources on the broader challenges associated with access to jobs, housing affordability, and the availability of public health and social services.

Resources already are available to begin the healing and to dismantle the barriers to equity, inclusivity, and fairness. As a start, everyone can explore the National League of Cities’ program, entitled Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL).

The League of California Cities is committed to supporting city leaders to secure the resources necessary to create an environment where all residents are protected and treated equitably by the institutions created to serve them.

It is a tremendous privilege and responsibility to be a community leader, as residents look to their local leadership for answers, for guidance, and for justice.

We are proud of California city leaders who every day display dedication to the health, safety, and success of our communities, especially during these most challenging times.

Working together, we can and will overcome the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, and we can and will direct societal change that will ensure respect, equity, and justice for every member of our communities.

Related Resources

Cultivating an Inclusive and Diverse Future Workforce

How Diversity Makes the League Stronger

Why We Need Diversity in City Management

Cultivating Diversity in Municipal Management