By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Secession, it hardly needs to be said, is not an idea that resonates positively with black folks. The current secession movements are entirely local, the issues many generations removed from slavery and states‘ rights, but that doesn’t change a general black uneasiness about race being the controlling subtext of separation campaigns of any kind, anywhere. The school busing wars of the late ‘70s and the renaming of Compton Boulevard in image-conscious, largely white Redondo Beach in the ’80s are a couple of cases in point -- people can invoke neighborhood identity and local control all they want; blacks know better. Secession campaigns that have been gathering strength in the last year therefore elicited little interest from blacks, either from the movements‘ informal leadership or from the population at large; the general feeling was that secession simply didn’t involve them, and therefore wasn‘t worth fighting or getting behind.
But things have changed mightily since last year. Redistricting on state and local levels is hammering home the fact that black numbers and political influence are dwindling rapidly. Jim Hahn publicly reneged on a promise made to a handful of prominent black locals to retain Bernie Parks, until recently the biggest black presence at City Hall. The feverish campaign to reappoint ex--Police Chief Bernard Parks was a conspicuous failure, and has left many blacks doubtful of conventional political wisdom and old-school leadership tactics. The net result of all this is some blacks are seriously weighing the pros and cons of secession for the first time; one minister in Central L.A. has taken the lead and is working with members of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment (VOTE), the premier secessionist outfit, to explain secession in detail to residents far south of the Sepulveda Pass. While secession is hardly a populist movement, and while no one black has come out in support of it yet, the mere consideration of it is sea-changing, in ways both good and bad. Good because blacks are too often indifferent on issues they assume don’t affect their communities, but do; bad because those pushing for black consideration of secession are also likely seeking to fulfill political agendas of their own, and it‘s virtually impossible to distinguish one agenda from the other.
Take Frederick Murph, the Central L.A. minister agitating for secession education. Murph is senior pastor at Brookins AME Church and one of the now-famous handful of black locals that Hahn betrayed. Murph was a leading voice of protest against Hahn and the Police Commission during the pro-Parks campaign; it was he who spearheaded -- and later quashed -- a march at the new Grove shopping center to possibly sway the vote of police commissioner and mega-developer Rick Caruso. Murph co-chairs the fledgling Secession Exploration and Education Committee, which is staging a series of community forums in central L.A. in conjunction with Valley VOTE. It is also planning a voter-registration drive. While Murph says the forums are strictly about education, he admits they’re the direct result of many black people‘s colossal disaffection with the mayor. ”That experience caused us to wake up and recognize the fact that we can no longer blindly follow anybody,“ says Murph. ”We have to gather facts and make informed, intelligent decisions for ourselves.“ Of the notion that blacks oppose secession on cultural or historical principle, Murph says, ”Too many black people decide things in a knee-jerk-reaction kind of way. Hahn has actually done us a favor in giving us this wake-up call. We’ve got to change the way we do business. We can no longer afford to vote the way we‘ve been voting.“
Clearly that’s meant in more ways than one. Other black political observers who oppose secession don‘t actually disagree with Murph, but they do say there’s more purpose here than meets the eye: With elections for local AME bishop approaching, Murph, they say, is angling to make a name for himself in the church, and the community, with a hot-button issue like secession. ”He‘s the lone ranger on this,“ scoffs one such longtime observer who asked not to be named. ”He’s the only one talking about it. The Valley‘s selling [secession], but blacks aren’t buying. The real issue for us now is re-engaging with City Hall after the Bernie Parks fight. That‘s what’s important.“
Other veteran observers agree, adding that the traditional wariness blacks have of secession is in fact warranted this time. They warn of blacks perpetuating a wrong-headed and ultimately self-destructive relationship with Valley separatists for the sake of spiting Hahn. They say the South L.A.--Valley voting alliance that materialized during the mayoral race was a freak occurrence that should remain so, at least for now. They also note that Valley VOTE chairman Richard Close is already laying claim to South-Central in public speeches about the battle ahead. ”The Valley likes to say that it‘s a lot more diverse than it was 20 years ago, and therefore secession can’t possibly be a race thing,“ remarks another observer, a former political operative. ”But the people behind the secession are largely white. The power structure there is the same. Whites know that L.A. is becoming a minority city, and they know they stand to lose more if L.A. stays whole. It‘s all about following the money.“