Latinos find inequality in Lakewood
As city celebrates diversity, it leaves one group behind.
LAKEWOOD, CALIF. — Comments by a longtime Councilman showed that Latinos are subjected to second-class status in the city.
Councilman Todd Rogers told the Lakewood Populist that he did not publicly condemn an anti-Hispanic attack in Lakewood because he did not want Mexicans to violently target a bunch of black guys. Rogers made this comment after a City Council meeting April 27, when the Lakewood Populist during public comments chided Council for its differential treatment against Latinos.
Councilman Rogers regularly meets with residents after Council meetings when they make comments during the public comments period. He and Vice Mayor Steve Croft—who like Councilman Rogers has served on Council for more than 15 years—regularly respond from the Council dais to object to residents critical of Council actions.
Lakewood has recently begun censoring the public comments of Council meetings, neither showing them on the live TV recordings nor the online video archive. This started after July 27, when five residents went to a Council meeting to object to mask mandates.
When asked via email about his comment about Mexicans, Rogers did not unequivocally deny that he said the comment. However, he did unequivocally deny something else.
The Lakewood Populist followed up with another email, asking him if he was NOT denying that he said the comment about Mexicans.
“That is a total misrepresentation designed to provoke,” Rogers responded via email.
It is still unclear whether Rogers is saying he did NOT say the comment about Mexicans, or whether he is saying that the comment is merely being misrepresented another way.
However, Rogers’ comment about Mexicans lines up with what he did say publicly at the April 27 Council meeting.
Fight for EQUALITY in Lakewood
After public protests by the Lakewood Populist, City Council finally treated Latinos with equal respect in regards to the anti-Hispanic attack.
Council had publicly condemned anti-black and anti-Asian bigotry one week after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and the March 2021 anti-Asian shooting in Atlanta. However, Council stayed silent for 10 months on an anti-Hispanic attack in Lakewood that occurred June 26, 2020.
The Lakewood Populist brought the issue up in April 2021 on the city’s Facebook page and during the city’s online “Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” (REDI) meeting on April 24.
At issue was the fact that Council had during its meetings publicly condemned anti-black and anti-Asian bigotry after events outside Lakewood. Yet when an anti-Hispanic attack occurred inside Lakewood, the Council made no mention of it during its meetings.
Lakewood on Facebook confirmed details of the anti-Hispanic attack in April 2021. Yet it was only after the Lakewood Populist reached out to Mayor Jeff Wood that the Council finally decided to treat Latinos with equal respect, resulting in its public condemnation at a Council meeting of anti-Hispanic bigotry.
Lakewood ignored anti-Hispanic bigotry due to fear?
When the Council condemned anti-Hispanic bigotry, Councilman Rogers made a statement that was very telling for those wondering why it took Council 10 months to take this step.
“Our words have meaning and they have an impact and we went through a very difficult time last year,” said Rogers. “Any comments by members of this Council had the potential to divide or inflame.”
Rogers went on to applaud the Council’s actions.
“And the last thing we were going to do then or now is to say anything that would make anybody feel less welcomed in the city of Lakewood,” Rogers said at the April 27 meeting.
One of the reasons Rogers gave for the Council’s silence at its meetings, regarding the anti-Hispanic attack, was that the perpetrators of the anti-Hispanic attack were juveniles. However, recently-uncovered video footage from a meeting of area religious leaders showed that Rogers did publicly address the anti-Hispanic attack at non-Council meetings.
“We had some of the youth attacks [sic] on Hispanic young men and I think one woman who were leaving Petco as they were picking up their dog who had been groomed. I got video of that. I don't have it to show you today, but it was not a pretty sight and it's certainly something we don't want to see here in the city of Lakewood. And, I will say that that had racial implications between the African American and the Latino community.”
Rogers made the above comments at Lakewood’s first online Interfaith Council meeting on July 2, 2020.
What is next?
On Saturday, Lakewood is holding its long-planned diversity festival, “Fest-Of-All”, near where the anti-Hispanic attack occurred. The festival will be held at the Lakewood Mall between the El Torito and Target.
The Lakewood Populist has reached out to local Latino leaders, hoping that they would publicly condemn the city’s slow-walking its public condemnation of anti-Hispanic bigotry.
The office of California Speaker Anthony Rendon was notified in or around April 2021 of the slow-walking. Cerritos Community College District Trustee Marisa Perez, a Lakewood resident and rumored Council candidate, was also notified. She happily told the Lakewood Populist that she had heard that the city finally did say something, not acknowledging the 10-month wait.
The way to fight bigotry is simple: Officials must take a firm stance against it. This is how President Grant broke the KKK in the 1870s and it is how the federal government once against broke the KKK in the twentieth century.
However, when leaders pander violent thugs—whether it be KKK terrorists or rampaging youth targeting “Mexicans”—then the violent thugs feel emboldened. Therefore, Councilman Rogers was wrong: by staying silent he did NOT avoid violence and bigotry, he perpetuated it.
In regards to Councilman Rogers’ comments about Mexicans, that was racist as it implied that Mexicans were more violent than others and could not be trusted with the truth. If Councilman Rogers could trust black and Asian Americans with the truth about bigotry without worrying about “inflaming tensions”, then he could trust Mexicans and Latinos in general as well.
While Councilman Rogers is free to believe whatever he wants about Mexicans, he is not free to enact or push for a silence policy based on such racism. That was a red line.
Therefore, Citizens must DEMAND that their Council and other representatives publicly condemn ALL bigotry. Otherwise, we will witness the rise of another apartheid system, which in this case puts Latinos towards the back of the bus.
NOTE: Article originally published October 8, 2021.