All photos by Charles Davis
“From Ferguson to LA, killer cops have got to go,” nearly 1,000 people chanted on Sunday outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) before marching through the city's gentrified downtown to protest a spate of law enforcement shootings that have killed unarmed people of color across the country.
While media attention has focused on the police riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown, police in America's second largest city have also been shooting brown people left and right.
On August 11, for example, LAPD officers shot and killed a 25-year-old black man named Ezell Ford who family members say suffered from mental illness—and who cops claim reached for an officer's gun, the same claim police in Ferguson have used to justify killing 18-year-old Michael Brown. A week earlier, four blocks away, cops from the same division allegedly beat to death 37-year-old Omar Abrego, a father of three, in front of his home.
“The cops are killers,” Abrego's widow told the crowd at Sunday's rally. “They're not supposed to be killing people,” she said, “leaving their kids without the love of their dad. That's not right.”
Over the last 12 months, 39 people have been killed by deputies from either the LAPD or Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over unincorporated parts of the city. That comes out to almost one killing every two weeks, and while not all the victims were unarmed, nearly all were black or Latino, according to a database of homicides compiled by the Los Angeles Times.
It's in the wake of that violence, disproportionately directed toward poor communities of color, that hundreds of people—young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian—took to the streets of downtown LA demanding community control over those tasked with policing their communities.
“This is an issue of white supremacy,” said one speaker, to ravenous applause, with whom it is hard to argue: While police killings are a major issue in communities of color, white America is generally oblivious. Charlie Beck, for instance, was reappointed to another five-year term just days after the killing of Ezell Ford, and the 188 people who have been killed by the police under his watch considered less scandalous to the political and media establishment than the fact that Beck helped push the LAPD to buy a horse from his daughter.
That reappointment may have been on the minds of the crowd when one speaker urged those gathered to take their fight from the streets to the ballot box. “We need to vote blue,” she said, eliciting a few groans but absolutely nothing in the way of applause. The problem for the speaker was that most of those listening to her had probably already tried that: voting Democrat. Like nearly every major city in America, Los Angeles is dominated by the Democratic Party, with a Democratic mayor and a Democratic city council. And there they were on Sunday, because all of those people had failed them.
California also has a Democratic governor who has tried to block the release of non-violent offenders from the state's overcrowded prisons, while over in Missouri, a Democrat has imposed a curfew on those protesting police brutality, all while a Democratic president sits back and calls for calm on both sides—while arming just one—a policy he has stuck to from Peoria to Palestine.
Of the 1,000 or so who gathered outside LAPD headquarters, not one was a politician.
And that's why the people were forced to take to the streets: to send a message not just to the police, but to those in political office who are paying their checks.
“I'm out here to show them that it's not right—that black lives matter,” one woman told me. “Their lives matter,” she said, flanked by her two young children, “and just because the police are authorities does not give them the right to take innocent black lives.”
The woman's daughter held a sign that said “Don't Shoot” while just behind her, LAPD deputies on motorcycles brought up the rear of the march. Young and optimistic, she looked on the bright side of being murdered by the police. “At least when people die,” she said, “they go to heaven.”
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