Across the street from City Hall, Black Lives Matter is settling in. They've been protesting for a week, sleeping in tents, and they say they're staying until Mayor Eric Garcetti fires LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
“We’re gonna be there until they fire Chief Beck, until he’s gone,” says Black Lives Matter L.A. co-founder Melina Abdullah, a professor at Cal State L.A.
The crowd of protesters swelled to a couple hundred over the weekend, included appearances by Omar Epps, Marlon Wayans and Tina Knowles-Lawson, aka Beyoncé's mother. Abdullah says about 100 activists have been been spending the night; city law forces them to be awake by 6 a.m.
The protest started after the Police Commission ruled last Tuesday that an LAPD officer did not violate the department's deadly-force policy in the shooting of Redel Jones, a 30-year-old black woman killed in August 2015. An LAPD report said Jones was running toward officers while holding a knife, but a witness told the Los Angeles Times that Jones was actually running away from the officers when they shot her.
The commission's ruling came a week after two high-profile shootings — Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana — sparked protests across the country.
According to the Guardian, which has been tracking police shootings since last year, Los Angeles has had more fatal police shootings in 2016 — 10 — than any city in the country. L.A. was No. 1 in police shootings in 2015 as well, with 19.
“Initially, when we came down to meet with the mayor, we were met with severe brutalization,” Abdullah says. “We attempted to go up to the mayor's office. We were stopped by police officers who pulled their billy clubs on us. I was personally wrestled to the ground, slammed on the stairs and handcuffed. We were detained for quite some time.”
Last week, Abdullah and the other protesters were camped out on the west side of Main Street, by the public entrance to City Hall. On Friday, they were told to move across the street, outside City Hall East, which the city has declared a “free speech zone.”
Also on Friday, Garcetti offered to meet with “a delegation” of Black Lives Matter — five of them, they say. According to the mayor's statement:
The protesters who have gathered outside of City Hall this week have serious and valid concerns, and throughout this week I've offered to meet with a delegation from Black Lives Matter — in addition to the other meetings I have convened, and conversations I have had, with civil rights, community, law enforcement and religious leaders. I believe that it is critical to sit across from each other and speak freely about our common goals of peaceful neighborhoods and just communities free from violence of any kind.
But Black Lives Matter says that's not good enough; they want the mayor to come out and meet with all of them.
“We don’t want to go up and have private talks with the mayor,” Abdullah says. “We want a public meeting with him where he says he’s going to fire the police chief.”
A long-term goal of Black Lives Matter L.A. is to get funding and manpower diverted from the police department and toward social services that prevent crime, including gang intervention, mental health and homeless outreach.
“You think you can solve all these problems through criminalization,” Ratcliff says. “Garcetti wanted to hire 500 officers. But the money it takes to hire one officer can be used to hire three gang-intervention workers. We think you have to create alternatives to the system.”