Activists told the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday that accepting a federal grant to fight violent extremism could lead to discrimination against Muslims, prompting the council to postpone a decision and seek further guidance.
The Public Safety Committee in January had already added a number of requirements for use of the funds aimed at creating layers of transparency to address activists’ concerns. But after City Councilman Mike Bonin expressed some of the same fears over how the grant was being directed for use by the Trump administration, Council President Herb Wesson said he wanted more work done on the issue.
The Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program awarded $425,000 to Los Angeles, a relatively small amount for a city with a budget of more than $9 billion.
“I don’t believe this is a program that can work or is appropriate for Los Angeles. Usually accepting a grant is a particularly non-controversial item for this body. We like to get money from other agencies and other levels of government to do things,” Bonin said.
“It is a program with a misplaced focus addressing the wrong threat,” he said. “As much as it has been dressed up and modified, this is still about targeting Islamic and communities of color, when the real threat as we all know in this country of terrorism, whether this administration chooses to refer to it as terrorism or not, is white guys with guns. That’s who’s doing the killing in this country. That’s where the real terrorist threat is happening.”
At the Public Safety Committee meeting and during the full council session, representatives of Mayor Eric Garcetti said the funds would not be used by the police department or to collect any data on residents, but rather would go toward funding community groups that work to fight extremism of all kinds, including to fight neo-Nazi groups.
The committee in January moved to accept the funds, with the added stipulation that city staff publish a quarterly report on how the money was used, what information was collected and who has access to it. But Bonin echoed some of the concerns raised by representatives of many local civil rights organizations who said they were concerned the funds could be used to conduct surveillance on Muslims or be used for police action against Muslim organizations.
The statements mirror concerns that have been raised in the past by some national civil rights organizations. A 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that the CVE program aims to identify potential terrorists based on “debunked methodology” and that the funds are targeted almost exclusively at Muslims.
According to a report from the mayor’s office, the city was awarded the grant in July 2017, with the funds to be used by July 31, 2019. The report said the funds would be used to help develop preventive solutions to violence by promoting youth programming, mentorship, education, family support and social services.
Allocations would include $75,000 to the Cross Cultural Expressions Community Counseling Center to administer the Safe Spaces Program, which provides “preventative and intervention services through proactive community-wide efforts to build healthy communities,” and $30,000 for Not In Our Town to “provide tools and an appropriate environment that enables communities to address white supremacists, extremism, hate, bias, and to strengthen narratives of cohesion and promote positive social responses,” the report said.