Eric Garcetti ventured to South L.A. on Monday night, and it didn't go well. A group of about 50 protesters turned their backs on him. They booed. Towards the end of the meeting, they crowded the stage and made it difficult for him to talk. As his aides hustled him out the door, protesters crowded him, grabbed his arm and jumped on his car.
All in all, not a great day for the mayor. But to hear Garcetti talk about it on Tuesday, it was no big deal.
“I wasn't forced to leave,” he told KCRW's Madeleine Brand. “People didn't have to push me through a throng. I walked calmly to my car.”
He may believe that, but he's going to have a hard time convincing anyone else. Here's the video:
Garcetti also denied that town hall ended early, though his own press statement said it was “cut short.” Brand had to bring him back to reality, reminding him that “people shouted you down and interrupted you. That did happen.”
Garcetti brushed it off, and went on to deny that he has a fraught relationship with the African-American community.
“I have very strong support across all communities,” he said.
In fact, Garcetti lost the black vote by 2-to-1 in the 2013 mayor's race. Since then, he suffered through the Promise Zone issue, in which black leaders were angered when anti-poverty grants were targeted at Hollywood and not South L.A. More recently, he has had to deal with the police shooting of Ezell Ford, which divided the police chief and the Police Commission and helped fuel the local Black Lives Matter campaign. Garcetti waited nearly a year before meeting with Ford's family, and still has not taken a position on whether the shooting was justified.
There is also the matter of black representation in the mayor's office. He did hire an African-American executive director for LAX, and recruited another African-American to run the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. But almost all of his close advisers are white.
So there are some issues here. That's not to say that Garcetti doesn't have a case to make for himself in the black community. But his approach has been to make that case while denying that any friction exists, wishing away any conflict as the work of “one or two individuals.”
At Monday's meeting, Garcetti said his goal is not just to listen, but to hear. And he did give voice to a key Black Lives Matter talking point:
“I hate this back-and-forth we hear nationally, where people say black lives matter and politicians say all lives matter. Black lives matter in a unique way, and you and I see eye to eye on this… If you just try to say all lives matter, you write people out of history. You write slavery out of history. You write oppression and violence out of history. You write racism and lynching out of history. So I get why it is important — just hear me out for one second — you're right.”
He neglected to mention that he had made this exact mistake — writing people out of history, in his words — when talking about the Ford case in June. “Black lives matter,” he said then. “All lives matter.”
What was missing on Monday was an acknowledgement that he had learned something from the protesters — that he hadn't just listened, that he had heard.