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L.A. County Agency Agrees That 'Black Lives Matter'

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Protesters in Palo Alto following the decisions not to indict the police who shot and killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Protesters in Palo Alto following the decisions not to indict the police who shot and killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  | Photo: Paul George/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Demonstrators in Los Angeles have joined those in the Bay Area and others across the country in voicing outrage that the police who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted. L.A. protesters added to their list of grievances the fatal Dec. 5 police shooting of a man armed with a pocketknife.

As with protests across the nation, "Black lives matter," was a rallying cry heard at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, where police shot the unidentified white male suspect.

"Black lives matter" has likewise become a sort of unofficial slogan for one L.A. County agency, the Human Relations Commission. On Monday, the commission issued a statement with a headline reading, in part, that it was "Affirming that Black Lives Matter."

The commission has not been involved in any of the recent protests, said Elena Halpert-Schilt, the assistant executive director. But she added that it is developing "a series of actions that will address this." Teaching law enforcement how to keep protests peaceful is among actions it is considering, she said.

In its statement, the commission referenced several instances in which it said civil rights demonstrations in American history lead to social change for blacks, including helping secure black workers' rights, doing away with lynchings, and even ending slavery. The commission stressed nonviolence as a principal, and said that, "While disruptions may cause temporary inconveniences, such efforts have long provided the foundation for historic change, especially as it relates to race."

"The continuing violence that results in a Black person being killed at a rate of one every 28 hours by persons acting in an official police or private capacity for alleged community, public or personal safety, is simply unacceptable," the commission said.

Best known for its annual Hate Crime Report, the commission "promotes positive race and human relations," according to spokesman Rafael Carbajal, and develop programs that address racism, homophobia, anti-immigration sentiment, gang intervention, and more. It employs about 15 staff, a small number, Halpert-Schilt said, given the enormous population of L.A. County.

The commission was formed in 1943 following the Zoot Suit riots, in which white U.S. Servicemen beat up Latinos in L.A. wearing zoot suits. According to the commission's website, it is one of the oldest organizations of its kind in the country.

"There are a tremendous number of lessons to be learned here," Halpert-Schilt said. Despite all the social change that people of color have enjoyed over the last several decades, she said, "we still find people of color are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and negative outcomes in the social system at large."

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