In early April of 1968, the US Senate passed the Fair Housing Act, but the bill’s prospects looked bleak in the House. It appeared that enacting federal legislation to ban discrimination in housing was too much for Congress to take on. Housing had been excluded from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and two previous attempts to enact a law on housing discrimination had already failed in the intervening years.
On the evening of April 4th, 1968, after the House had adjourned earlier that afternoon, a white man assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Protests and rioting broke out in over 100 US cities as the country expressed its anger and grief. The police response was unsurprising: officers deployed tear gas indiscriminately on the peaceful assemblies. After six days of these demonstrations, the Fair Housing Act was finally approved by the House and signed by President Johnson as the national guard occupied Washington D.C. While it clearly did not end housing discrimination, enacting a federal ban on housing discrimination was nevertheless a historic achievement that moved the nation’s housing policy towards a more just future.
Here at CaRLA, we work toward a future California that has plentiful safe, affordable housing to provide opportunities for everyone, in all cities. Our housing advocacy is aimed at achieving this goal, but we recognize that for Black families and individuals the question of safety and openness of cities cannot be addressed without dealing with police violence. Even with abundant housing made affordable to all, a Black family cannot feel safe in a white community when their neighbors invite violence by calling the police on them for simply living while Black and those police threaten violence with every encounter. Similarly, new housing developed in Black communities can raise the same prospect of police violence.
Much of our work revolves around enforcing state housing law. The tension between this and the reality that many of our laws are unjust and wielded against communities of color is not lost on us. In deciding whether or not to take on a new lawsuit against a scofflaw city, we give serious weight to that city’s relationship with housing segregation and if the potential outcome of the case would truly further justice or if it would merely replicate the status quo. As advocates for justice, it is unconscionable for us to take action that is contrary to our vision. Even so, we make mistakes, and when we do, we don’t back down from our responsibility to make those impacted whole again. It is on us and no one else to own up to our shortcomings, to educate ourselves, and to stay rooted in justice.
We recognize that policy around housing, urban planning, and safe public spaces cannot be separated from discussions of violent policing towards Black communities. We are conscious of this fact and strive to listen and shape our work so as to always be responsive to the concerns of Black communities where housing and police violence can intersect. We strongly support and contribute to the efforts of organizations and activists around the country that work towards ending police violence towards African Americans. We can only achieve this goal with change that far exceeds the scope of the Fair Housing Act. On this sixth day of continuous activism and demonstration through the country, there is still a long road ahead. We stand in solidarity with those who work towards this momentous change, and those who work to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice.