I know we’re tired of the same headlines, the same unjust shootings, the same discriminatory practices within our criminal justice system, and the same war fought in our Black and Brown communities regarding the choices we make as adults. Even when enough is enough, we must never grow tired of speaking out and letting our voices ring louder than the time before. The race is never over, especially when new issues, bad policies, police harassment, and shootings make headlines daily.
The Baptist Ministers Conference, Neighborhood Forward, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are leading voices on social justice issues that disproportionately affect the African American community. Lean on us when your voice grows weary.
Today, I am called to ask our Los Angeles legislators, many fair and just men and women, a simple question. In a city plagued by investigative stops and an increase in shootings, is a ban on menthol cigarettes and the resulting increases in cigarette smuggling and police interactions the reform measure – the choice – you want to stand by?
We must all take responsibility for our adult choices – smokers and non-smokers, lawmakers and police, clergy and patrons – we must all answer for our choices.
And a choice to support a ban on menthol cigarette ban tells us that you understand and stand by the resulting enforcement mandates of removing all flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes. You understand that the African American community will bear the brunt of this ban and the accompanying unintended consequences because Black smokers choice to utilize menthol products more than our White brothers and sisters.
We saw Eric Garner die at police’s hands for the alleged selling of single cigarettes – a fatal, unintended consequence of enforcement. We saw a 14-year-old young man in Rancho Cordova attacked in 2020 by a police officer for alleged possession of a tobacco product – a brutal, unintended consequence of enforcement.
Using extreme force due to tobacco possession is outrageous. Yet, these are just a few of the unintended consequences that continue a vicious cycle of police violence against African-Americans, all for the sake of “enforcement.” The sensible solution of education is lessened in the name of putting more minorities in handcuffs.
Must I remind you of the statistics, the deaths, the unfair and even fatal treatment of Blacks by police right here in our city, not to mention what we’re watching, again, happen in Minneapolis!
According to the Los Angeles crime data, shootings increased substantially in 2020, despite the stay-at-home order. Almost all of the rise in homicides took place in Los Angeles’ Black or Hispanic neighborhoods. This is on top of the loss of jobs and income that impacted communities of color at higher rates. We’re losing more businesses, more jobs, and we’re losing more innocent life. Yet, our legislators are deliberating yet another losing strategy: to get rid of the menthol cigarettes that Blacks and Hispanic adults prefer to smoke but leaving the non-mentholated cigarettes that Whites prefer to smoke.
To make matters worse, what happens if our elected officials choose to ban menthol cigarettes in a city where investigative stops are still legal? More, not less, police interaction will be the result, and this, my people of Los Angeles, is a game-changer. Data proves that investigative stops to curtail crime are ineffective, discriminatory, and even weakens police reform measures. Yet, the LAPD continues to rely on them. They are a legal form of harassment that gives police officers the freedom to harass, abuse, and murder more Black and Brown people in communities like Los Angeles.
To our Los Angeles legislators, see beyond your desire to control a vice held by a particular community and instead choose the most comprehensive, long-term solution to any public health crisis: education, treatment, and counseling. I urge you to remove the consideration of a menthol cigarette ban from any further discussion about regulating tobacco products in our city. Statewide, California voters will decide on this issue when the referendum appears on the November ballot in 2022. Allow the voters in your community to let their voices be heard during the referendum.
Make the right choice to restore our community resources, jobs, minority-owned businesses, and community policing models. These are the real issues that need more care and attention, not choosing to control Black people’s adult choices and thus opening the door to more crime in our communities.