“We move as fast as our slowest person.”
That is one of the first lessons in military leadership. Indeed, effective leaders recognize that their words and decisions impact all members of their community. They recognize that collective effort is always stronger than individual. Divisive rhetoric, therefore, is unproductive. In the case of Irvine Mayor Christina Shea, it was unproductive, self-serving, and callous.
In late May, George Floyd’s death sparked a national demand for reform. Advocates took to the streets in record-shattering numbers. Their demands are diverse, but largely center around reducing police involvement in social problems (such as homelessness and drug addiction) and requiring police to first attempt de-escalation before resorting to use of force. Underlying these demands is a recognition that our criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color and the poor.
Instead of opening a dialogue with her residents, Mayor Shea ran to her proverbial bunker and told them to go away – that they had nothing to be upset about and should behave like adults. Instead of paraphrasing, perhaps I should let Mayor Shea’s own words speak for themselves:
“If over history our young men and women can go to war, die for us or come back broken or maimed to defend our country our UCI students and other students across this country can find their path get jobs study hard and become successes in their lives. Struggle like so many have had to do.”
First let me dispense with Mayor Shea’s shameful hypocrisy as it relates to military veterans. When I was on active duty, I had the honor of serving alongside some of the bravest and most selfless men and women our country knows. Local veterans advocated for years to make the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (located in Irvine) the site of a cemetery for veterans. Mayor Shea, however, fought the project every step of the way. Her obstruction is well documented by Build the Great Park Veterans Cemetery, an advocacy group which has fought to put the cemetery issue on November’s ballot. Mayor Shea is no friend to veterans. Her attempt to hide behind them now that she is coming under fire by students is two-faced and cowardly.
I graduated from UCI ten years ago this month. I could gush about my Anteater pride for days, but suffice it to say, UCI is home to tomorrow’s leaders. For Mayor Shea to suggest that Anteater activism is antithetical to hard work is insulting. Just like she ignored the veterans in her community, Mayor Shea is now ignoring her students. There are approximately 36,000 students enrolled at UCI. The population of the city of Irvine is approximately 281,000. Anteaters represent over a tenth of Irvine’s population, and Mayor Shea is casting them aside as a minor annoyance.
Mayor Shea’s most arrogant statement concerns the Black Lives Matter movement. I must again, let her words speak for themselves:
“I received several email messages today from Black Lives Matter[.] By the way, we have one Council candidate maybe more, supporting and promoting this movement…”
“If you are coming into Irvine to promote an agenda, and protest for lesser public safety protection best you turn round and find another city to compromise.”
Reasonable minds can differ about how to reduce police violence, and how to address the undeniably racist legacy that has left our communities of color with staggeringly less wealth and opportunity than their white counterparts.
Mayor Shea, who is white, would prefer to pretend these problems do not exist. By refusing to listen to her constituents who believe that black lives do matter, she is telling them that black lives do not matter. Irvine could be on the front lines of peacefully addressing racism and inequality. Irvine could open its arms to UCI students who are devoted to change. Instead, Mayor Shea is ignoring the concerns of her students and residents of color. This kind of tone-deaf leadership is unbefitting of her office. Mayor Shea’s silence must be met with a deafening roar at the ballot box in November.
Christian is a local attorney, military veteran, and proud UC Irvine alum. He is committed to giving voice to issues impacting veterans, students, people of color, and the LGBT community. Christian resides in Orange County with his Chow-Chow, Ginger.
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