Packed in the pews at Macedonia Baptist Church in Watts, a mixed and vigorous crowd of about 400 Blacks and Hispanics had come to hear how mayoral candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti would respond to both their questions and their needs. The forum was sponsored by L.A. Voice.

To begin, various religious and community leaders came forward to highlight issues in the community.

Their presentations were immediately followed by real-life testimonies from individuals whose lives have been negatively impacted by those issues, giving both Greuel and Garcetti an upfront and personal hearing of their hardships. Each candidate was given three minutes to provide their response to the question and/or their solution to the problem.

One young man, in a vivid depiction of the gritty life in the community, told how as a 6-year-old he was befriended by a teen who was teaching him how to survive in the area and stay away from gangs. One day as they were walking together they were accosted by gang members, and the older boy was immediately shot dead. The young man described how he as a child sat there on the ground with “blood and brains” splattered on him trying to comfort his older friend.

Then the candidates were asked whether they supported a task force to deal with violence hot spots to make sure that children, among other things, could get home from schools safely. Of course, both candidates said yes.

This was an engaged group of neighborhood people who clapped excitedly every time the candidates said yes, and they seem to hang on every word of every speaker.

Joe Paul of the City of Refuge, a ministry in Gardena, asked that the next mayor work with forum sponsor L.A. Voice to “ban the box,” which is an effort nationally to remove the criminal history–the box–on employee applications. The request was followed by strenuous applause. And that was followed by a testimony on the subject by a man who described after being in prison had gotten a degree to become a substance abuse counselor. But because of his felony conviction no one would hire him.

Both Greuel and Garcetti agreed that they supported AB 218, “ban the box” legislation that, as presently worded, would prohibit “state and local agencies from requiring an applicant to disclose information regarding criminal conviction, except as specified, until after the agency has determined that the applicant meets the minimum employment qualification for the position.”

“We need to provide them with opportunities,” said Greuel, who said she stood with them on AB 218.
As mayor, Garcetti said he would put a re-entry person in his office.

An undocumented immigrant woman, who could not always be heard clearly, told how a family member had witnessed a crime that should have been reported to the police, but drug dealers who lived next door threatened the family with harm if they said anything. The woman expressed her sorrow at the fear she felt, knowing that she could be physically harmed and also deported.

At one point in the forum, the Rev. Shane Scott, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church, took the floor with an interesting comment in light of the general camaraderie at the forum.

“It has been said that this conversation is one-sided, that it feels as if this is a Latino agenda,” he said.

“First of all, how many of you had to look for a job in the last two years? How many of you have lost your home in the last couple of years to foreclosure? How many have had to deal with cutbacks in terms of services to help an elderly or disabled love one? How many are being integrated back into the community [from prison]? Let me say this: regardless of whatever side of the table you are on, the real issue is that we all are struggling.

“The economy has hit us all in one way or another,” said Scott. “Immigration is not just about our Latino brothers and sisters, but about Jimbo and John-John coming from Washlow. All of us in one way or an another are being affected by this downturn in the economy.

From the frequent outbursts of applause for both candidates, it sounded as if everyone had got it right.

By Stanley O. Williford, OW Editor, and Kianna Shann, OW Contributor