In a frank discussion with Los Angeles elected and public safety officials, black community leaders Thursday demanded that more be done to improve policing in the city and that civic leaders do a better job of recognizing social inequities.
The Rev. “J” Edgar Boyd led the “Justice Matters” discussion at the First African Episcopal Methodist Church in South Los Angeles — attended by Mayor Eric Garcetti, Police Chief Michel Moore and Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“Let me take just a moment to remind us of what it was that brought us to this point. It didn’t just happen at the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Boyd said. “The economic, the housing, the academic, the job, the health disparities that we saw unveiled and uncovered by the coronavirus … showed that the African-American community is disproportionately and equitably disadvantaged in almost every phase of life in the American structure and paradigm.”
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day after he was pinned on the ground by white police Officer Derek Chauvin, who pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly called out “I can’t breathe.” Chauvin, who has since been fired, faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Three other officers who failed to intervene have been charged with aiding and abetting murder. They have also been fired.
Floyd’s death, which was captured on video by a bystander, has spurred nationwide protests against police brutality. The Los Angeles area has been the site of some of the largest, including a gathering downtown on Wednesday that attracted about 10,000 people.
“All of these corporations in the city of Los Angeles, what are they doing to make Los Angeles better for all of the people?” asked Danny Bakewell Sr., chairman and executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, a publication that focuses on the local black community.
Bakewell said people need to be outraged when unarmed black people are killed by law enforcement officers.
“We have a good start now. We have a lot of momentum and we’ve got to keep it going,” he said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson said conversations like the gathering held at First AME must continue to help achieve equality in the justice system.
“I am so excited because the opportunity exists, that when we move past this and we put in place the reforms that we need to fix broken structures … my two grandsons will not have to grow up with the crap that their grandfather had to grow up in,” Wesson said.
Wesson said this could be one of the country’s most pivotal moments since Martin Luther King fought for social justice.
“Keep in mind, as we now have the attention of the world on us, that we not only look at criminal justice reform, we look at the public health care system being reformed, we look at unemployment …,” Wesson said. “We have an opportunity to come together and hit a grand slam, if we can come together and properly work with our partners.”
Minister Tony Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said if Los Angeles leaders want to efficiently respond to the concerns of the black community and other disadvantaged communities, they need to invite to the table leaders who will tell them things they may “not want to hear.”
“Don’t keep calling us the wolf. We’re the sheep, and we keep telling you,” Muhammad said. “The mindset of white supremacy is not just a white officer’s. Black officers carry it out. Asian officers carry it out when it comes to our community. So do we want to have a real conversation? And I don’t want to be a part of a meeting where we gather some black people, and now we’re going to be apologists for white supremacy.”
Villanueva said he would like to have more deputies who are members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Nation of Islam in order to broaden the perspectives of his department.
On Wednesday, Garcetti announced that he would rescind a planned a budget increase for the LAPD in the next fiscal year. The mayor said he said he plans to reduce the proposed police budget by about $150 million, as part of a $250 million overall diversion of funds to programs benefiting black communities.
Some organizations, such as Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, have said the mayor’s cuts don’t go far enough and have advocated a dramatic slashing of the LAPD budget.
Garcetti said Thursday the issues go beyond just police funding.
“While policing is what this moment is about, if we think this is mostly about policing, we’re missing this moment,” he said.
Moore said it’s important for police officers to continue to reach out to members of the communities they patrol and listen to their grievances. He said officers need to have more humility and treat each person with whom they interact with dignity and respect.
“The hurt, the pain, the frustration, what we’ve seen with people who are tired of calling for change, I share (that with) members of the LAPD,” Moore said. “We need to reach across, if you will, the line and see people who are going through so much more and identify and make an effort to humanize not just them, but ourselves.”
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