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Protesters Disrupt LA Mayoral Debate with Demands for LAPD Accountability

Mayoral candidates largely share identical views on sweeps and police funding, earning the ire of local activists.

Six activists from Stop LAPD Spying and People's City Council hold a banner reading "POLICE STATE CANDIDATES" in front of a sign for Loyola Marymount University.
Activists from Stop LAPD Spying and People’s City Council gather outside Loyola Marymount University (People’s City Council).

Five candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles — CD 15 Councilmember Joe Busciano, Congressmember Karen Bass, CD 14 Councilmember Kevin de León, former Metro Board member Mel Wison, and City Attorney Mike Feuer — took the stage at Loyola Marymount University Tuesday night in the first televised, live debate of the 2022 election year. The event was interrupted six times by activists from different groups expressing frustration with the disconnect between the five candidates and the social-economic problems faced by Angelenos. 

The debate was moderated by Fernando Guerra —  an LMU professor of Chicano Studies and registered lobbyist who has worked on the behalf of property developers, and 2028 Olympics Games booster. Guerra began the mayoral debate by asking each of the candidates if homelessness was the most important issue for the race —  all but mayoral candidate Wilson — who owns real estate firm Mel Wilson & Associates — agreed. 

The turning point in the debate began when Guerra asked the candidates if they would increase or maintain the staffing of Los Angeles Police Department officers. As Buscaino answered that he would increase them, activist Ricci Sergienko of People’s City Council shouted, “Joe, you’re a cop yourself, no one wants cops.” The many audience members booed and screamed at Sergienko to sit down and others suggested they leave the event. Moderator Guerra joked, “just to be clear – those are not LMU students,” eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd. 

All candidates but one pledged to increase the number of police officers in the city. Feuer claimed that he was the first candidate to “reject defund the police.” De León said that he would maintain current levels, stating that the city had other priorities to attend to first. 

The demonstrators staggered their action throughout the event. When Bass stated, “As long as African-Americans and Latinos continue to die because of officer-involved shootings there is going to be distrust of the police department,” activist Jason Reedy of Stop LAPD Spying yelled, “Karen stop being a Karen!” The phrase “officer-involved shootings” is a public relations euphemism for murder institutionalized by the LAPD. 

In a phone interview with Knock LA, Reedy said that Bass is “acting as an agent of white supremacy by wanting to increase the LAPD budget. She talks about how she wants to put [200] more cops onto [sic] patrol. She’ll talk about pretextual stops all she wants and then the next moment she’s out here saying we need [200] more people, and who are they going to target? They are going to target Black men like me.”

Mayoral candidates showed disdain for the activists and their peaceful protest. Bass equated the protesters, mostly people of color, with violent white insurrectionists:

“I’m not sure what organization they might be affiliated with, but I do think that this is indicative of the discourse in our country right now. Coming from Washington, D.C., being in Washington, D.C. on January 6, where there was an attempt to overthrow our government…This is one of the reasons why I decided actually not to run again and to come home, because I’ve been so concerned about the level of discourse here right in Los Angeles.”  

Wilson reacted in a less incendiary manner about the protests, saying that he understood that people are frustrated and angry, but that he doesn’t agree with the “outburst.” Having served on the Metro board for eight years, he wasn’t shocked by the demonstrators, and added that California has the Brown Act and needs to let people speak. He couched that by saying he does not support “hate speech,” though it was unclear to what hate speech he was referring. 

Manar Jarban of People’s City Council told Knock LA that she was troubled by the candidates’ responses, as well as by those of the audience. “I went to say something and I was hit by a white lady who was sitting in front of me… That kind of shows that the violence doesn’t come from Black and Brown people voicing their concerns like we were, it comes from people that are supporters of candidates like that.” 

In an attempt to red-bait the audience, Buscaino confidently and falsely stated that he knew where the protesters were from, and, without evidence, ascribed the wrong organization to the demonstrators. When a protester approached the stage with a sign calling De León a liar, Buscaino shifted bizarrely to the front of the stage, making it appear as though he was going to take some sort of physical action against the protester, though his actual plan was unclear. The protester was escorted away from the stage, and Buscaino joked to the moderator that the security guards deserve a raise for keeping everyone safe. 

Ostensibly neutral moderator Guerra lauded Buscaino, saying that he was “very impressed with [his] quick action to be able to move that way” noting that Buscaino is “clearly still a reserve officer,” and then asked that Buscaino — whose director of communications, Branimir Kvartuc, has allegedly assaulted a protester — to comment on how to properly engage in civil discourse. 

Sergienko shared with Knock LA that the protest was not for the people in the room, but for the general public and social media to “let them know that these candidates are all the same. Each candidate supports increasing LAPD funding, each candidate supports criminalizing homelessness… So the point of tonight was to get it out there that the people on the stage do not accurately reflect the voices and the opinions of the people of Los Angeles.”