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Do Black Lives Matter In The Privatized Public Spaces of LA?

A protest last Saturday in Century City brought the question of who gets to live in LA to some of the city’s least accessible public spaces

BLM LA’s Dr. Melina Abdullah addresses the crowd in front of the Westfield Century City Mall (Photo: Caroline Johnson)

This past weekend, people poured into the streets all across Los Angeles to demand a defunding of the police and to assert that Black Lives Matter in our city. One of these protests was unique in that it was thrown by some of the most powerful forces in Los Angeles: the city’s largest talent agencies. The Hollywood Advocates for #BlackLivesMatter protest took place at the ICM Partners building in Century City, and featured speakers including Dr. Melina Abdullah from Black Lives Matter LA and high wattage movie stars like Michael B. Jordan. This extremely LA event took place in a public setting that is all too common in the wealthiest parts of the city: the privatized public space.

Century City is full of these privatized public spaces. Westfield Century City Mall, which was defended by the National Guard during Saturday’s protest, is owned by the Westfield Group, an international retail conglomerate. One of the host agencies, CAA, has a new headquarters at 2000 Avenue of the Stars which sits just down the road from competing agency ICM Partners. Designed by international design firm Gensler, the building functionally pens in the existing open space outside of the Century Park Towers and makes it invisible from the street. This area, even more than before, is now the exclusive domain of office workers at some of the city’s most well-heeled businesses.

CAA Headquarters in Century City (Source: Wikimedia)

At the end of Avenue of the Stars sits one of the largest unbroken stretches of green space in the city: the combined footprint of Hillcrest Country Club and the Rancho Park public golf course. Hillcrest is a private club, ironically founded as a home to the city’s wealthiest Jewish residents who were excluded from nearby Los Angeles Country Club. The initiation fee, according to the Hollywood Reporter, was $185,000 in 2011. The only Black member of the club I could find mention of in the press is actor Sidney Poitier, though a full list of members is not publicly available.

These spaces are not all privately owned public spaces (Rancho Park is publicly owned, and Hillcrest is hardly a public space), yet these open spaces in Century City share some traits. They are all heavily policed and surveilled. They are hostile to the poor; these are spaces of commerce and tightly controlled leisure activities. These spaces are undemocratic with their uses defined by the wealthiest Angelenos.

Which is all to say, the Hollywood Advocates for #BlackLivesMatter protest was held in a space that is built to be hostile to the poor, the unhoused, and the targets of police control. These are spaces that are frankly hostile to Black Angelenos. This irony was not lost on actor and BLM-LA member Kendrick Sampson, who told the crowd to look at the Guardsmen outside of the mall and understand that they are not there to protect us, but protect the stores and interests of business owners. This protection, said Sampson, is what is “causing our deaths.”

Photo: Caroline Johnson

While hosting BLM-LA at an event in this type of space seems like a contradiction, it is part of a broader tactic in the current uprising. Whereas in 1992, the wealthiest parts of Los Angeles could watch the uprising in their own city on television, the message is now being brought to their front doors. The result: over less than two weeks a broad coalition calling on the city to not merely reform the police, but to defund the police in an effort to transform the very nature of policing in Los Angeles. Change is coming, and it is because no one can shy away from the broken status quo.

Much of the discussion of the future of policing in LA has centered on the role of police in predominantly Black and brown communities in Los Angeles. But in order to really change the various public and private forces that police the greater Los Angeles area, the change will also necessarily impact these wealthier areas that functionally exclude people from public space based on race and wealth. A Los Angeles that truly values Black lives does not unleash the National Guard to protect a mall from the Black community.

Additional reporting by Caroline Johnson

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