For the past five months we've been at the Hall of Justice.
For the past five months, alongside families who have lost loved ones to police violence, organizers with Black Lives Matter — Los Angeles and their allies have been leading a weekly action outside Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office to demand that Lacey either prosecute police officers who kill residents, or resign. Nearly 400 people have been killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County during Lacey’s tenure as District Attorney, and her office has yet to press charges on an officer in any case. For 7 of the last 8 years, the LAPD has led all US police departments in the killings of its residents, with the LA Sheriff’s department leading in other years. Yet, despite this, the district attorney does nothing to curb police brutality in the county.
Perhaps if the officers knew that they would be held to account for their violence, they would think twice before using force against Black and Brown residents. The culture of impunity in this county is due to a lack of accountability and transparency at every level in the system, all who work within this system are culpable. The families demand, as part of their desire to seek justice, that officers who kill are prosecuted. Law enforcement act as judge, jury, and executioner for hundreds of Black and Brown residents, and their actions are rarely scrutinized, and never lead to — at the very least — an indictment.
As these actions continue to take place every week, so too do the killings.
Twenty people have been killed since the actions outside of DA Lacey’s office began, more than one killing per week. This is more killings than entire countries have in one year. Their lives mattered:
As the killings continue, the families continue the fight.
Traveling from her home in San Bernardino County, Valerie Rivera shows up every week to DA Lacey’s office to demand that she prosecute the two officers that killed her son. On June 6th of last year, 20-year-old Eric Rivera was walking down the street in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles. Supposedly responding to a report of a man with a gun, two officers from LAPD Harbor Division, pulled up behind Eric and jumped out of their car. Having forgotten to put the vehicle in park when they jumped out, the open car door hit the driver’s arm, and claiming he thought he’d been shot, the two officers then unloaded on Eric, according to his family, hitting him 7 times, including three times in the back and one in the head. The police vehicle then rolled over his body, crushing him and breaking bones. Eric died on the scene, and his body remained under the police vehicle for hours, next to his bright green water pistol. Meanwhile, both officers are still employed by LAPD. Eric’s father Philip Malik, who along with his girlfriend Apollonia, attend all of the actions at DA Lacey’s office. Recently Mr. Malik chastised Chief Charlie Beck and the Police Commission about the killing of his only son, saying:
“When you shoot in bursts of 8, you are killing them on purpose. When you teach your officers to shoot the whole clip at somebody, that’s a murder.”
John Horton III was 22 at the time of his death in 2009 inside solitary confinement at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Nine years later, with documented evidence of trauma, and due to the tireless efforts of Horton’s mother, Helen Jones, the coroner’s office now lists the cause of death as “deferred,” despite the LA Sheriff’s Department narrative that he died as a result of a suicide by hanging. Ms. Jones continues to fight not only for her son, but for all families seeking justice for their family members who have been killed by law enforcement and speaks weekly to the crowd gathered at Lacey’s office.
In August of 2016, 14-year-old Jesse Romero was shot and killed by an LAPD officer in Boyle Heights who just 12 days prior had shot and killed someone else. Despite the Los Angeles Police Commission ruling in July 2017 that the officer had acted within policy when shooting and killing his teenage son, Jesse’s father Jesus Romero also shows up to support the other families affected by police violence, and continues to demand DA Jackie Lacey do her job or resign.
Trisha Michael spoke at a recent action in memory of her twin sister Kisha on the second anniversary of her death, who along with her friend Marquintan Sandlin, were shot and killed by five Inglewood police officers, while they apparently slept in their car. With sufficient pressure from Trisha, activists with Black Lives Matter — LA and their solidarity partners successfully forced the city of Inglewood to fire these five officers, but that’s not enough. Leaving 7 children without their parents, riddled with 20 bullets, Trisha and her family continue the fight in Kisha’s name and demand that these five officers be prosecuted for the murder of Kisha and Marquintan.
Gun Violence is Gun Violence, but who gets to be a victim?
“What happens is white people get to be everything ― they get to be victims, they get to be heroes. Black people unfortunately continue to be criminalized for our moments of courage, mourning or grieving. When we go out to the streets to protest for our lives that matter, we’re given heavy police repression. This is a race question.” — Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
Mass shootings are an epidemic in this country. From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Orlando to Las Vegas to Parkland, these horrendous displays of gun violence are uniquely American. Also uniquely American is the epidemic of police murder. Nationally, about 1100 people, disproportionately Black and Brown, die at the hands of police every year. However, unlike the media’s sympathetic coverage of school shootings, where perpetrators and victims are disproportionately white, young Black and Brown people who stand up and protest their systematic killing by police are regularly called violent in the media, labeled extremists by the government, and met with further state violence. It’s beyond troubling how we as a society define who is innocent; who we view as a “victim” of gun violence.
As a community, we need to lift up the names of all people killed by gun violence. We need to continue to stand with the students in Florida, and we have to amplify the voices who are largely ignored, yet are engaged in fighting back against state violence. We need to take action to stand with Black and Brown communities disproportionately targeted by state violence. We must show up for youth in Los Angeles like we do for youth in Florida. Imagine, if with every police killing, there was a student-led walk out, with support of school administration and local government officials. Imagine, if with every police killing, there was a protest of tens of thousands of community members saying “not one more, not in our name.” Imagine, with each police killing there was a CNN town hall on police brutality. Imagine, if this country felt the pain and loss with each police murder the way it claims to with each mass shooting. As has been stated numerous times — thoughts and prayers are useless, it’s time to act. Imagine, if we acted for Black and Brown lives in Los Angeles.
Ways to take action
Dr. Melina Abdullah, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles and an organizer with BLM-LA, said in a rousing speech at the LA Women’s March in January:
“We need you to do more than trust us. We need you to support us. We need you to do the work that it takes for us to get free…We need you to use your voice to say ‘Black Lives Matter!’ We need you to use your body, we need you to show up, not just today, but when we are demonstrating and making demands that our elected officials hold police accountable. When we’re telling the DA of this county to prosecute killer cops, we need you to show up.”
Want to show up to one of these actions but can’t? Please share action alerts with others, and consider donating to some families of police murder at the links as they continue to lead in the pursuit of justice: Kisha Michael Eric Rivera AJ Weber Cesar Rodriguez.
To the families of the nearly 400 people who have been killed while in custody or in the street, you deserve better than this.
Dahlia Ferlito and Adam Smith are organizers with White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL). WP4BL is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org