Black Lives Matter

Alex Stapleton: The Black Lives Matter is a movement that has erupted in cities across America. It started as a hashtag after George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin killing. A year later, unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by police officers… and the hashtag became a movement. In Los Angeles, two cops shot and killed a 25-year old man.  His name was Ezell Ford.  Activists were outraged because Ford was mentally ill and unarmed.  Ezell Ford became a pivotal case for Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles. We wanted to find out who is behind Black Lives Matter here in Southern California. What are they fighting for? Are their tactics really working?

Melina Abdullah: As long as our community is under siege you will not have peace in your community.

Alex Stapleton: Melina Abdullah is a professor of Pan African Studies. She’s a single mother of three and is one of the original members of BLMLA.   For the past two years, Melina and over 400 fellow members across Southern California have been determined to fight against what they call state sanctioned violence.

Michael Williams: I think people need to understand that these shootings are not just isolated incidents--these things affect the whole entire community.

Alex Stapleton: Their tactic, disruption.

Nia Minor: Disruption, you know, seems radical. If disruption seems you know, an annoyance, then that's a problem to begin with you know. We are only disrupting because someone was murdered. Where are you? What are you doing?

Alex Stapleton: They take over town hall meetings; demonstrate in the middle of crowded malls... they even managed to shut down the 405.

Melina Abdullah: We're not thrill seekers, we're not engaging in these actions in order to kind of get people to take a pause from their everyday lives and understand that some people's lives have been totally shattered as a result of state sanctioned violence and so that's our goal: to  demand a system that works for black people and all people.

Alex Stapleton: One place they make their demands is down at police headquarters at the Police Commission meetings.

Nia Minor:  We're trying to change the pattern of thought. We are trying to change the pattern of abuse

Alex Stapleton: Their protest methods have been criticized by many city officials including the President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Matt Johnson.  

Matt Johnson: Tactically we just totally disagree.  I recently read a quote from one of their leaders saying, "We don't want a seat at the table we want to flip the table over." That’s not my approach I think that collaboration is the right approach. I think collaboration is the right approach. These are complex problems without simple solutions.

Alex Stapleton: Johnson has been president for less than a year. He’s also the only African-American on the commission.  

Matt Johnson: Frankly being on the commission not only puts me at the table, it really puts me at the head of the table.

Alex Stapleton: We wanted to see first-hand how B-L-M engages with the commission so we followed them to a meeting.

Melina Abdullah: So we come to police commission meeting every Tuesday. Um this is where a lot of the policies for LAPD are decided. This is where the reports are given and it is also where they have the capacity to hold the police accountable.

Alex Stapleton: Here in L.A., civilians, not cops sit on the commission and oversee the police department. They’re supposed to watch over the interests of residents.  It’s the only place the public can speak directly to an official body. The meetings are held Tuesday morning at 9:30.  

Alex Stapleton: Anthony Radcliff is also a professor. He is only here today because it’s finals week and he is free.

Anthony Radcliff: The problem with this is that they do that  at such a time that most people can't come every other major city has these meetings at night time.

Alex Stapleton: As we were checking in an officer came out and informed everyone that they were at capacity inside and they weren’t letting in any more civilians in.

Melina Abdullah: I'm sure if you go in you'll see there is lots of seats being filled by cops so that the people who the police commission is supposed to represent. He's getting pissed now you should get his face. They are supposed to represent the people not them. Right?

Alex Stapleton: Once inside, we saw empty seats and BLM members wasting no time letting the commission know what they thought.

Matt Johnson: I don’t see how they’re productive or helpful. They take away from a lot of the positive debate we could be having in our commission meetings.

Alex Stapleton: But BLM says it’s because of their consistent pressure that the commission ordered an investigation into the Ezell Ford case. In the summer of 2015, the commission found at least one officer, Sharlton Wampler, acted “out of policy”  by using deadly force.   

Alex Stapleton: Despite the findings, District Attorney, Jackie Lacey has not filed any charges against Officer Wampler.   Police Chief Charlie Beck publicly disagreed with the commission's findings.  He didn’t fire the officer, instead he re-assigned him to desk duty. This is why BLM would like to see Chief Beck fired.  Do you even have the power to remove the Police Chief from the..?

Matt Johnson: He was recently appointed to a new 5-year term, so no we don’t.

Alex Stapleton: But they’re saying you actually do have the power to get rid of him.

Matt Johnson: We don’t and even if we did, I wouldn’t be in support of that anyway.

Alex Stapleton: Actually the Commission does have the power to fire the police chief but the decision can be overruled by the mayor or city council.

Matt Johnson: I’ve worked very well with Chief Beck and I think he really cares about these issues and I find him to be a good partner along with the rest of the command staff.

Alex Stapleton: Back at commission meeting, Melina directed some sharp words towards Matt Johnson.

Melina Abdullah: Stop being a house... When we go to police commission meetings, we challenge him. We say right now you are behaving like what Malcolm X would call a house…You are behaving in such a way that you are advancing the interests of white supremacy. You always have an opportunity to come on home and be an authentic representative for black people.

Matt Johnson: Getting the BLM people to like me and “oh you’re not a house negro,” that is not going to get us results, that is not my goal. That is not where my focus or attention is.  

Alex Stapleton: Matt Johnson agrees: the system needs to be reformed.  Johnson has his own plan to decrease the number of police shootings.

Matt Johnson: My agenda is really focused on two things: it's reducing crime and the second part of my agenda is reducing the number of use of deadly force by police officers. You can train people to understand biases that they may have that they may not be aware of.

Alex Stapleton: A report by the inspector general found there were more than 1,300 complaints of biased policing. But the LAPD upheld none of them.

Matt Johnson: The alternative is to give up… I don’t think anyone is willing to give up.  I think absolutely you can train people to understand biases that they have and may not be aware of.

Alex Stapleton: But to Melina and Black Lives Matter, neither Matt Johnson nor any city official is the key to achieving their goals.

Melina Abdullah: It has never been about people who have been in office, it has never been about people who had power in the traditional sense. It has been about black people accessing the real power that we have to create change.  

Alex Stapleton: I’m Alex Stapleton for SoCal Connected.

Shootings of unarmed black males nationwide have ignited discussions about the lack of concern for African-Americans. Following the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Ezell Ford in L.A, the Black Lives Matter movement was formed. Its goal is to demand greater accountability from police and change society's attitudes toward police shootings in the black community. In recent months, organizers protested in Downtown Los Angeles outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, on the 405 freeway, and at The Grove Los Angeles  where they disrupted holiday shopping.

Who are the leaders of the Black Lives Matter local chapter? Is "disruption" an effective tactic? What does Black Lives Matter hope to accomplish? How is the Los Angeles Police Commission responding to their demands and methods?

Alex Stapleton speaks with members of Black Lives Matter and the president of the Los Angeles Police Commission in this episode of "SoCal Connected."

What started as a social media hashtag has become a social movement. But how did it get that way? We’ve created this timeline of events that helped shape Black Lives Matter. It includes police shootings and demonstrations that helped catalyze the movement – with an emphasis on Los Angeles. This is by no means a complete account, but rather a selection that provides context to those who wish to better understand how Black Lives Matter came to be.


Featuring Interviews With:

  • Melina Abdullah, Black Lives Matter LA
  • Matthew Johnson, president of L.A. Police Commission
  • Anthony Ratcliff, Black Lives Matter LA

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