A Bridgebuilder Who Will Be Missed

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

Juxtaposed against the chaos and cruelty that defined last week’s national political scene was an event in Los Angeles that highlighted what real civic engagement and civil collaboration can look like.  The memorial service for long-time civil rights advocate and community leader John Mack brought together a cross section of California’s and Los Angeles’ political and governmental leaders, community activists, educators and average citizens, to recognize the life of a man who combined principle with civility and pragmatism.

A few days later, in our nation’s capital, the worst in American politics was on display; a Congressional hearing investigating the Russian election-meddling investigation turned into a mash-up of Senator Joe McCarthy’s hectoring of alleged communist sympathizers and the Salem witch trials. It was just another day in Washington, when bipartisanship and civility went out the window and it was difficult to detect any  recognition of “the common good”—by many of the guys Americans elected to preserve it.

At the same time, President Donald Trump’s unique brand of blunderbuss diplomacy was on display in Europe. , proving he’s the rightful heir to Winston Churchill’s description of President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles: “a bull who carries his own china shop around with him.”

All this craziness gives added importance to the kind of life John Mack lived and the kind of politics and leadership he practiced.  John came to Southern California in the 1960s and turned the Los Angeles Urban League into the leading voice of the black community in the state and a national model of constructive engagement.

He helped Los Angeles move toward healing after the 1965 Watts riots and worked with Mayor Tom Bradley to foster economic progress and equity for the entire L. A. community.  Mack was also a long-time force for education and educational opportunity.

In many ways, John Mack’s most notable role may have been as a guiding hand in reforming the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King riots in 1992 and in the ongoing effort to foster better communication with and relations between law enforcement and communities of color.

As a member and long-time President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Mack provided the adult supervision that helped erode the “us versus them” mentality that permeated police-community relations for decades.  There remain many challenges ahead in improving interactions between police and minority citizens, but progress has been made.  At the memorial, Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Police Chiefs Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck, new Chief Michel Moore underscored Mack’s contributions.

John Mack was an assertive civil rights leader.  He was also a dedicated community leader whose contributions will continue to impact everyone in Southern California and beyond.  Mack was tough and fair, and he was an accomplished practitioner of the art of collaboration.  Above all, he was a bridgebuilder, who will be missed in an era where too much of the public discourse is about building walls and tearing institutions down.

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