Really? A helicopter?? I sighed as I heard the aircraft swoop in low and fast outside Holman United Methodist Church Monday night as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first ever South L.A. Town Hall came to a rather unceremonious close.
It was a little after 8 p.m., and pleas from an exasperated Reverend Kelvin Sauls that those “interested in having a civil conversation…remain here” while the rest left in peace had fallen on deaf ears. When members of the Black Lives Matter movement — who, throughout the meeting, had turned their backs on Garcetti and his staff when they spoke, interrupted speakers, broken into chants of “Black Lives, they matter here!,” and ascended to the stage to take the mic — began shouting Garcetti down in earnest, dialogue was finally rendered impossible.
The next thing we knew, the mayor was being whisked off the stage and out the door, buffered on all sides by city staffers and police. The meeting was effectively over. Adams Blvd. between 5th and Arlington was quickly shut down as protesters surged outside to surround the mayor’s car and the aforementioned helicopter arrived shortly thereafter.
Exchanging glances with some of the South L.A. friends and community advocates in attendance, it appeared we had some of the same questions on our minds:
What were we supposed to make of what just happened? And, just how hysterical was the coverage of the meeting going to be the next day?
As for the latter: pretty hysterical.
Right wingers from Breitbart.com and The Blaze (neither of which was present at the event), wrote of the mayor being “forced to flee” the event and needing to be “escorted to safety,” giving their following the ammunition needed to declare the protesters to be (in some of the more G-rated comments, at least) jobless “thugs,” “racists,” and “terrorists.”
Local coverage of the event wasn’t a whole lot better, focusing on the “chaos,” the meeting as a “hotbed of civil disobedience,” the “aggression” of speakers, and the actions of activist Jasmine Richards, who jumped on Garcetti’s car, prompting viewers and readers to post many of the same kinds of ugly denouncements found on the right wing websites. Weirdest of all was seeing a Fox11 reporter, who had not been at the meeting the night before and who had absolutely no idea what was behind the protests he claimed had “nearly ambushed” the mayor, stand outside a city administration building the next morning and wonder on air why no protesters had shown up to heckle the mayor as he met with HUD secretary Julian Castro about homelessness.
None of which is surprising, of course, but is disheartening all the same.
As for the former query — what were we supposed to make of what just happened? — the answer was much more complicated.
These were South L.A. residents and advocates. There was nobody I spoke with that did not understand where the anger was coming from. While the core group of protesters may have been small (anywhere between 20 and 50 people), their concerns had the empathy of many in attendance. At least, up to a point.
When Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State L.A. and organizer for Black Lives Matter, had taken the mic toward the end of the meeting and explained why people were turning their backs on the man she called the “back door mayor,” there were nods and murmurs of understanding.
Black Lives Matter had consistently asked the mayor to sit down with them in quarterly town halls to work with them on addressing police brutality, police reform, and community empowerment. Over the summer (just prior to the Police Commission’s ruling on the fatal police shooting of Ezell Ford), they had even staked out Garcetti’s home trying to get him to agree to a meeting, only to have him sneak out his back door on his way back East to do some fundraising. Abdullah told town hall attendees that because all their requests had been ignored — they had not even been formally invited to the event, despite having been the ones that had asked for it — they were resolved not to sit down until they were given seats on the stage (which they eventually did with the help of transportation advocate Damien Goodmon).
“We are appreciative of this space,” she said, “but [Black Lives Matter] created this space.”
It was a claim many of the elders in the community might have disputed. Some I spoke with after the meeting were shaking their heads over the fact that they found themselves confronting so many of the very same issues they had gone up against as activists in their youth, that young men were still dying at the hands of police and there was still no accountability. And Reverend Sauls, an important advocate for the South L.A. community on a wide range of issues since his arrival at Holman in 2012, had been the one to moderate a meeting between the Black Lives Matter advocates and the mayor at Holman this past July.
But her larger point stood: they were being excluded from a process that they felt they had helped set in motion. And hearing the mayor talk about the importance of respectful dialogue and communication was only adding insult to injury. Read more…