Profiles in Plastic Courage: Garcia and Garcetti in the Face of Righteous Rebellion

While we may be less accustomed to it in the age of Trump, there is still a certain type of politician beloved in bourgeois politics. The higher-end lines of this model are often referred to as “Kennedyesque,” after a certain pampered playboy who routinely gets more credit than he deserves. These versions have enough charisma and intelligence to coast through major scandals that would crush lesser politicians, and often inspire a cultish following who defend them on the most superficial, idealistic grounds. They are some of the most dangerous people capitalist politics produce, skilled operators who can charm their way through the most despicable records, usually helped along by an adequately “liberal” coating. These are the types of people who will bomb the ever loving hell out of the Third World, but support marriage equality, or position themselves as great friends of colonized people-as long as they come from a certain tax bracket. If you ever hear someone described as Kennedyesque, 9 times out of 10, they’ll piss in your eye and tell you it’s raining. The tenth time, they’ll give you syphilis.

Robert Garcia is not even that. Robert Garcia, who has served as mayor of Long Beach since 2014, is a profile in plastic courage, a made-to-order careerist with all of the shine and none of the substance. When this writer met him in the middle of his first mayoral campaign, he was immediately struck by two things: the way everything he said passed inoffensively through one ear and out the other, and his striking resemblance to a second-rate used car salesman, or perhaps the lead in a local furniture store commercial. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but I was standing in the presence of true mediocrity. In the six years since, nothing this man has done has changed that first impression.

Out of respect for your time, this article will not linger on Garcia’s neoliberal nightmare vision of Long Beach as a “Silicon Valley by the sea,” where the forces of gentrification and corporate development flourish on the blood of priced-out working class people. Nor will we dwell on his shameless lust for higher office,[1] which saw him campaign for Rapist Joe Biden even as outrage grew about the LBPD’s on-camera beating of Eugene Martindale III. Instead, we will hone in on the latest demonstration of his deep and abiding uselessness: his reaction to the most recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests. Perhaps no single incident better underscores the superficiality of his progressive image, the cozy relationship he has with local pigs, and the crushing weight of his cowardice. The failures of Garcia the individual, of course, must be understood as the failures of the whole ruling class in Long Beach, which are in turn emblematic of the rotten core of the much of the so-called “Left Coast” of California.

Mayor Robert Garcia: A Pig Puppet Overwhelmed

The first major George Floyd solidarity protest in Long Beach took place on Sunday, May 31. This protest, which was one of the largest mass political actions in the city in recent memory, was one of the most significant as well: not just for its spoken message, in defense of Black lives and in opposition to racist violence, nor for its considerable size, but for the way in which it revealed the fundamental weakness of the LBPD and the local political class-particularly Mayor Garcia. Despite knowing about the demonstration ahead of time, and with nearly half the city’s discretionary budget at their command, the police were completely out of their depth, running themselves ragged trying to repress both the “looters” and the “peaceful protestors,” bickering and backbiting amongst themselves, and generally advertising their brutal incompetence to the entire city. As entertaining and enlightening as that display of incompetence was, the LBPD were also happy to carry out their usual heavy-handed violence, shooting rubber bullets at protestors of all stripes. As in many other parts of the country, not even journalists were safe from police savagery. Celebrated local reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was shot in the throat by a still unnamed LBPD officer.[2] Like their counterparts elsewhere, Long Beach city officials subsequently declared a state of emergency and a set of curfews which lasted most of the week. As LA County Sheriff Villanueva helpfully explained, these unconstitutional curfews are tools of political repression, not public safety.[3] Even more egregiously, the city also temporarily shut down all COVID-19 testing sites across the city, a move that can only be logically understood as a kind of collective punishment, since many of the sites were nowhere near the most militant actions, and none of the protestors ever targeted them.[4]

 So what was Mayor Garcia’s response to all of this? Equal parts cowardice and uselessness, a study in plastic courage. Customary platitudes about peaceful protest aside, his initial comments to the public were focused squarely on condemnations of property damage and fulsome praise for the police. Fearmongering talk of riots and looters, and boundless worship of the boys in blue: this is what Garcia prioritized, not the reasons for the protests and uprisings, not steps his administration will take to combat the historic anti-Black racism and police brutality in Long Beach. It took him the better part of a week, finally culminating in an forced address to protestors outside City Hall, to even dance around the edges of the problem. For those who might have thought the mayor simply needed some extra time to rise to the occasion, I hate to disappoint. He acknowledged that he and the city government hadn’t done all they could to fight racial injustice, and apologized “to every black person here,” but he also offered no concrete policy proposals or changes-resting, as he so often does, on the liberal bastardization of identity politics, and empty-headed chatter.[5] He also implied that local Black leaders were to blame for his week of effective silence. This writer can think of a more influential voice in his ear.

You see, Robert Garcia is an exceptionally well-funded pig puppet, a plastic political shield for one of the deadliest, most unaccountable police departments in a country overflowing with them. This is a matter of public record. Since 2015, Garcia and committees he leads have received at least $500,000 in campaign contributions from the Long Beach Police Officers Association (LBPOA), including over $90,000 in the first few months of 2020 alone.[6] Factor in donations during his many years on the city council and as vice mayor, and that’s hundreds of thousands more. Factor in the thousands they’ve donated to City Council members over that same period, and you have quite a sum spent to buy off local government.

And boy, have our porcine pals got what they paid for! Under Garcia’s watch, the LBPD has been allowed to run rampant over the people of Long Beach. Over one two-year period, Garcia-backed former city manager Pat West overturned dozens of decisions on police misconduct made by the Citizen Police Complaint Commission: nearly all of them in favor of accused cops.[7] The CPCC, for its part, is a meaningless, toothless body that former and current members have deemed a “farce.”[8]  According to a 2019 report in the Long Beach Business Journal, the City has spent at least $30.3 million on police-related litigation, $21.8 million of which was awarded to the victims of LBPD shootings alone.[9] Whether you’re in Minneapolis, Minnesota or Long Beach, California, the pigs are far more likely to use force on Black people than anyone else. This is only a small snapshot of our little police state by the sea, but it may be enough to show the depth and breadth of the LBPD’s sway over the city, and Robert Garcia’s boundless complicity in their corruption and oppression.  

Eric Garcetti Takes a Knee: What’s Different in Los Angeles?

A stone’s throw away, in Los Angeles, things look quite different. Given its much larger size and more robust history of mass rebellion, it is probably not surprising that L.A. saw more sustained action against the police, local capitalists, and bourgeois neighborhoods. The response of Mayor Eric Garcetti and his administration has provided a stark contrast as well. It was only a couple of months ago that Garcetti proposed a 7% increase in the LAPD’s budget while imposing austerity cuts on an array of programs and services that would hurt impoverished Black and Brown Angelenos the most. Now, Garcetti has promised to not only freeze the LAPD’s budget, but slash it by $100 to 150 million (we should remember that their budget is nearly $2 billion in the latest proposal) In total, Garcetti claims the city will reallocate $250 million to social programs for Black communities in particular and “communities of color” in general.[10] Eric Garcetti even jumped on the performative PR train and kneeled before clergy, protestors, and plenty of camera crews. Cop representatives in L.A. have been predictably melodramatic.[11]   

What explains this contrast? Certainly, we cannot believe that Eric Garcetti is somehow a true ally of the people, but Robert Garcia isn’t. Absolutely nothing in the man’s political career suggests that. Is Garcetti a smarter, more competent manager of the local bourgeoise’s affairs? Are the masses of Los Angeles more militant than in Long Beach, and therefore able to score quicker and larger victories? Does Garcetti have confidence in the tenacity of a post-cut LAPD as a repressive institution, given that it’s already larger and better equipped than some national militaries? All of these possibilities are not mutually exclusive. We must analyze all sides of a problem, and look for the contradictions in any development.

Whatever the reasons, the distinction is clear. The uprisings in LA have succeeded in winning more concessions from the city government than in Long Beach, even if it’s in rhetoric only so far. In Los Angeles, they were forced to divest an inadequate but not insubstantial amount of money from one of the most bloated, powerful, and well-funded police departments in the country. The “community programs” that would receive this money instead are ill-defined thus far, but that’s more than we can say about Long Beach, where Garcia and his administration expect to placate us with nothing but platitudes and vague talk. We don’t need any more damn commissions. We don’t need a listening tour filled with more photo-ops. The facts and figures are all there. The masses of Long Beach have spoken time and time again.

All of this has immediate relevance for those struggling locally, whether in Long Beach or Los Angeles, for Black lives and against a brutal, white supremacist, colonial state, but the lessons may be taken beyond county limits. The events of the past several weeks have shown once again that direct action can get us the goods. While vicious, the police and other arms of the ruling class are not nearly as strong as they want us to believe. In many respects, they are paper tigers. With militant, disciplined tactics and strategies, grounded in the leadership of the most oppressed and exploited people in this society, we can beat them. To keep the victories piling up, and to push them above and beyond to revolutionary conclusions, we can never afford to buy the plastic courage of the Robert Garcias and Eric Garcettis. We must have real courage, and keep our eyes on the liberation prize.












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