Black History Month: The Perfect Time to Revisit Civil Rights (and Responsibilities)  

ALPERN AT LARGE--One year after the nation's first black President, and one year into the term of a president where racial issues remain as loud as ever, we're still divided as a nation except on one issue:  the need to come together as one nation is as desired as ever (at least by the most ardent supporters of both the past and current presidents). 

As stated in my last CityWatch article, the issue of civil rights came up when a young Latina woman was thrown off a train and arrested when resisting and disrespecting the Metro Code of Conduct and the enforcing police officer's authority.

It should be emphasized that had she put her foot off the seat (the original offense, and against Metro's Code of Conduct because the cars are public property and she was preventing other people from sitting as well, including elderly riders), nothing would have happened. 

It should also be emphasized that had she not verbally attacked the officer, and/or left the train when she refused to comply with the officer's request, nothing would have happened. 

This was caught on video, and Metro CEO Phil Washington (who is a pretty good leader, and who happens to be black) originally opposed the officer's actions because he felt it was excessive force. However, all parties are remaining mum until the incident is fully investigated.  

As stated in my last piece, of note are two critical realities that are very easy to overlook:  

1) The person doing the video is a male who is appalled by the arrest, who pleaded with the officer to not make the arrest, but who was never touched or reproached by the officer, because the person making the video was within his rights to legally complain but not verbally assault an officer.  NOTHING happened to the man making the video because he behaved civilly.  

2) At the very end of the video, a black woman (her accents suggests Africa or Jamaica as her place of origin) calmly explained that respecting authority, and learning from her parents that rules apply to us all, would have prevented this event from careening out of control.  

When you thrash the reputation of real civil rights leaders by invoking racial issues, you cheapen the past and present fights for true civil rights for all of us.  Neither of these women (another woman who DID intervene and both physically and verbally assaulted the police officer was also arrested) were any sort of modern-day Rosa Parks--they were a couple of narcissistic fools who got what they deserve.  

We all want better train service, and we all want civil rights ... but the answer to both lies in the need to behave civilly so that we can all enjoy the fruits of our shared efforts and public investments (like our trains!). 

But ... back to Black History Month.  There's a glory in the struggle for civil rights for black Americans (LINK: ) that's as essential as the glory we celebrate for the birth of freedom and rights in the founding of the United States.  

In fact, there's a big reason for the MLK holiday in January: without civil rights for all, we live in a society that has no true rights for anyone.  That was the take-away message that resounds to this very day, and it's why the recent train incident leaves so many upset. 

The reaction of the overwhelming majority of Latinos who have weighed in (transit advocates and otherwise) appear to very much against the two women, and aligned with the aforementioned black woman at the end of the video who questioned why that attitude against police authority would ever have been encouraged by their parents and by their friends. 

Ditto for most Latinos overwhelmingly opposing a Latino Pico Rivera teacher that described (and defends that description) of those who serve in our military as stupid and "the lowest of the low". His statements have landed him in hot water and virtually everyone, especially Latinos, are furious with him. 

Other than answering the question of what sort of mindset encouraged past generations of Americans to spit on and attack those soldiers who served in Vietnam, these terrible individuals (who clearly don't represent Hispanic-Americans, or ANY Americans), their actions raise a real cause for us to wake up to: 

1) Dialogue and diatribe, about race or any other issue, are not the same thing.  Do we want to ventilate, and shout, and point fingers, or do we also want to listen as well? 

2) Isn't freedom a combination of BOTH rights and responsibilities (freedom isn't free)? 

3) Would those who fought and died for freedom in the 1800's up to the 1960's be happy with those who proclaim themselves "civil rights leaders" of today? 

4) Both President Obama and President Trump claim themselves to want the best for Americans of all colors--which of their efforts and strategies will work, and which are likely to fail? 

5) Whether it's Latinos, Asians, or any other person in this country, which lives and which dreams merit the highest priority...or do they all merit the same priority? 

It's Black History Month.  Let's see if we can use this time to bring the nation together, and not tear us apart.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)