Tuesday marked an important anniversary for the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter.
It's been exactly 50 days since the L.A. chapter first began its occupation of City Hall. The group is calling for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to fire Police Chief Charlie Beck. In early August, the group delivered more than 8,000 petitions to the mayor's office from citizens seeking Beck's ouster.
Jasmine Richards, an out Black Lives Matter organizer who was arrested in June on a "felony lynching" charge, reflected on the group's 50-day effort to "decolonize City Hall." "The Panthers have been around for 50 years, so that's why its a significant number to me," Richards told The Advocate Tuesday.
"It's been really hard; I'm not going to lie to you," said the Black Lives Matter leader, who was joined by four other members of the group in protesting and holding signs up on the crosswalks at the intersection of Main and First streets in downtown Los Angeles, where the L.A. Police Department is headquartered.
While speaking to The Advocate, Richards became distracted because one of the members of the group began arguing with a police officer on a motorcycle. Richards ran over to where her fellow protester was standing and yelled at the officer, "Shut up!"
"Get a real job," said the officer. "I got a job! I'm doing this. I'm trying to get free. Fuck a job," yelled Richards, as the motorcycle sped away.
Black Lives Matter Los Angeles has occupied the City Hall grounds since the day in July when the city's police commission ruled that an officer who shot and killed a woman, Redel Jones, last year in south Los Angeles "did not violate the department's policy for using deadly force," as the Los Angeles Times reported. Police said Jones was armed with a knife and matched the description of a suspect, but witnesses said she was moving away from the police, not toward them. Her death sparked the occupation, but the movement's larger mission has often been on display.
The Black Lives Matter encampment is located one block south of the LAPD headquarters. That is where, only hours after the argument with a motorcyle officer, a contingent of around 50 evangelical church members arrived and joined the group for a prayer. They had walked from Tijuana to Los Angeles for 11 days and 150 miles to call for justice for undocumented immigrants. The church members and the BLM protesters came together to chant, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and "Hands up! Fight back!" The march for immigrant rights kept going further into downtown, and many of the members of Black Lives Matter followed.
The LAPD announced a program Wednesday that will connect the families of those killed by police officers with the resources to communicate with the proper channels at the department. Malina Abdullah, a California State University, Los Angeles, professor and Black Lives Matter organizer, contends that this program would not exist were it not for the relentless attendance by the group at police commission meetings every week. It's one of "the wins" Abdullah celebrates, though she is critical of the program.
But the biggest win? "Us. Us standing up and us knowing our own power," Abdullah told The Advocate.
"The family liaison that they're appointing through LAPD is really too little too late," said the Cal State professor. "It really is sick in a sense that they kill so many people that they have to have a family liaison to deal with the families of the people that they kill."
Chief Beck is hopeful about the family liaison program. “As I believe to my core, even though the acts of an individual involved directly with the police may have been criminal, that doesn't mean the family isn’t grieving,” Beck told the Los Angeles Times. “That doesn’t mean they don’t need information. That doesn’t mean that the process shouldn’t be explained to them.”
"The LAPD kills more of its people than any other law enforcement unit in the country, but their second thing that they do is they cover it up," said Abdullah, who wasn't hopeful that the LAPD is doing enough for the people slain by police. An internal report from the LAPD shows that the department's officers killed 21 people in 2015. Of those, 12 were Hispanic, another four were black, four were white, and one was Asian/Pacific Islander. According to a database maintained by the Guardian, the U.K. newspaper, the LAPD has killed 15 people thus far in 2016. A study shows that the Bakersfield Police Department in California killed the most people per million residents in 2015 of any police department in the U.S.
Lisa Simpson, the mother of Richard Risher, an 18-year-old who was gunned down by police in Los Angeles's Watts neighborhood in July, was one of the mothers present at the encampment Tuesday. When the crowd from Tijuana first joined the Black Lives Matter group to pray with them, Simpson went off to the side and joined Richards in an embrace.
Risher's mother told The Advocate that she felt "sad and happy" to see the Tijuana group joining in solidarity with Black Lives Matter because it made her feel that "someone felt my pain."
The group sees no end to the efforts to "decolonize City Hall" until its most urgent demand is met. At least not until "they fire Chief Beck," said Simpson, or "as long as it takes for us to get justice."