2015: Black Lives Matter emerges as new voice


December 31, 2015

The year 2015 was a contentious one at times in South Los Angeles, with Black Lives Matter making its mark by disrupting public meetings at police headquarters as well as in a South L.A. church.

But 2015 wasn’t only about Black Lives Matter.

During the year, the black community got a new City Council member in Marqueece Harris-Dawson and a new president of the Police Commission in Matt Johnson.

The Inglewood Unified School District went through turmoil as residents fought to regain control of the district from the state. At the end of the year, a new state trustee took over with promises to engage the community more than his predecessor.

The city of Inglewood itself was in the headlines all year with its efforts to bring a National Football League to a site ear the old Hollywood Park race track. Neighboring Carson also joined the race to build an NFL stadium that will sure be one of the stories of 2016 as well.

Here’s a look at some of the top stories of 2015.

New movement

gains stronghold

In 2013 and 2014, the fatal shootings of unarmed black men, women and boys by law enforcement officers enraged black Americans in cities from coast to coast — energizing the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in a multi-racial challenge to end police brutality and bring about social justice for African Americans.

Created by women activists in 2013, local chapter organizer and Cal State Los Angeles professor Melina Abdullah said, “BLM is designed to affirm and say, ‘Our lives matter.’ It is a rallying cry, a movement to understand our own power and envision a world that we want to live in.”

Activist Jasmine Richards said, “We’re not trying to sit at the table anymore, we’re flipping the table over.”

Connecting to the historic social and civil rights struggles, BLM organizers coordinated across city and state lines to concentrate the public’s attention on police brutality and racism, specifically the August 2014 LAPD officer-involved shooting death of Ezell Ford, a mentally ill South L.A. resident, and on officer-involved shootings in the greater L.A. area, in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and elsewhere in the country.

Recently, activists planned and conducted “freedom rides,” shut down a segment of the San Diego (405) Freeway near Inglewood, and staging boycotts of ‘Black Friday’ post-Thanksgiving sales and the 2015 Christmas holiday season.

Of the “anti-police brutality movement that ignited ‘Black Lives Matter,’” journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan said, “it may seem like a modern phenomenon to some, especially to the young people who’ve been most vocal and who are most vulnerable to the profiling that’s at the movement’s heart. But the issues that have brought cities like Ferguson, Baltimore and New York to unflattering prominence in recent months are the very same issues that fueled a rebellion…[in Watts] 50 years ago.”

Members of Black Lives Matter repeatedly disrupted meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission and drew the wrath of other activists by disrupting a community meeting at Holman United Methodist Church in October with Mayor Eric Garcetti.

 

Local cities compete

for NFL stadium

 

City officials in Inglewood and Carson took major steps to increase their competitiveness in the drive to return a professional football franchise to the Southland after an absence of more than two decades.

Pending the construction of new stadium facilities in the cities of Inglewood and Carson, National Football League owners are expected to decide in January on Inglewood’s bid to relocate the St. Louis Rams and Carson’s bid for the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. Last March, the Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner and operator of Staples Center, dropped plans to build a stadium to lure a team to downtown L.A.

In late August, Carson officials and other supporters rallied in front of the proposed stadium site to demonstrate regional support for the effort. The stadium would open in June 2019 if Carson’s proposal is selected by the NFL.

Inglewood Mayor James Butts announced his city was “prepared to break ground in December,” on a stadium that would be the focal point of a major development to replace Hollywood Park racetrack, “but would wait until the NFL owners make their decision.”

 

Johnson appointed

to Police Commission

 

Prominent entertainment industry attorney Matthew Johnson was appointed to the L.A. Police Commission in September as the city was experiencing a significant increase in crime after several years of reductions. LAPD also was facing “a crisis of confidence with minority communities, particularly African- Americans,” according to Johnson.

In September, Johnson was elected president of the commission and shortly thereafter, identified his vision and goals to reduce crime and minimize officer involved use-of-force. “Officer-involved shootings have nearly doubled, increasing from 23 to 45, in year to date … comparisons to 2014. This is an alarming development,” Johnson said.

Tensions related to the LAPD officer-involved killing of Ezell Ford already were running high when Johnson assumed leadership of the Police Commission. Black Lives Matter activists and other civil rights leaders had expressed outrage over LAPD officer-related deaths, and killings in different areas of the country, delay in releasing Ford’s autopsy report, and the conflicting conclusions of Chief Charlie Beck and the commission investigations into Ford’s death. Ford’s family filed a $75 million lawsuit against LAPD.

BLM activists called for dismissal of Officers Sharlton Wampler, Antonio Villegas and Chief Beck; transparency in the commission’s operations; and payment of reparations to the victims of police violence. The group staged numerous protests, disrupted Police Commission meetings and Town Hall gatherings with Mayor Eric Garcetti.

BLM was both harshly criticized and highly lauded for its tactics. The movement’s lead organizers remained unapologetic about their actions.

MLK Community

Hospital opens

Spearheaded by county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the $210 million Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital opened in July, helping to restore services to 1.35 million residents of South L.A. The new facility, located in Willowbrook south of Watts, is part of a $650 million medical campus including the outpatient and urgent care centers, which operated in place of Martin Luther King Jr.–Drew Medical Center.

The hospital’s predecessor, King-Drew, a 461-bed, general acute care hospital was one of the community facilities and services opened in 1972 in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Riot. It closed in 2007 after years of problems with medical care and service and loss of accreditation, “resulting in the loss of access to medical and surgical care and emergency services to South L.A. residents.”

The old King-Drew Medical Center was run by the county, but the new hospital is managed by a governing authority overseen by health care, business and law professionals focused exclusively on the facility. It contains 93 medical/surgical beds, 20 intensive care beds and 18 obstetrical beds. The medical staff includes six hospital-based physician groups. The hospital will offer emergency and general medical care, along with surgical, labor and delivery services.”

Ridley-Thomas congratulated the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital staff, the board of directors and the L.A. County Department of Health Services for all of the tireless work they have invested.

Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, called the hospital a “new beginning” for health care in the area.

The community hospital has already begun to shine. In August, two of its doctors were recognized as 2015 National Medical Association’s Top 40 Healthcare Professionals Under 40.

In 2015, many residents also expressed hope that the county would reopen a trauma center at the new hospital.

50th anniversary

of riots observed

In August, key community, clergy, government, arts, education and health care figures marked the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots with an variety of activities designed to reflect on the past and future of the Watts community. The community itself held the 49th annual Watts Summer Festival, a block party and provided gifts of school backpacks and school supplies to area children.

L.A. Board of Public Works Commissioner Mike Davis produced the “The Watts Revolt: 50 Years Later” symposium, on the campus of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

Until the 1992 Rodney King Riots, the Watts Riots were the worst civil unrest in U.S. history. Six days of looting and arson followed the Aug. 11 arrest of Marquette Frye by a California Highway Patrol officer for drunken driving. Thirty-four people died and $40 million in property was destroyed or damaged.

The riots helped to draw attention to the high poverty levels, discrimination and unemployment; crime, violence, and poor community-police relations; and low educational attainment and health service levels prevalent in Watts and in other parts of the country.

The symposium provided a broad overview of: the McCone Commission Findings relative to the riot’s causes; social, economic and political conditions in Watts; education, public safety, and human relations; arts and sciences, health care and the future of Watts.

William Hobson Jr., president of the Watts Healthcare Corp. said “regardless of social and demographic changes, Watts is encountering problems similar to those in 1965.”

Many participants argued police brutality and systemic racism still exist. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents Watts on the city council, expressed pride and disbelief that ground was just recently broken for the first sit-down restaurant in Watts in 50 years. He also was shocked and angered at the lack of progress in renovating the Jordan Downs Housing Project.

Recently Jordan Downs received $6.5 million in redevelopment funding, however, from California’s Strategic Growth Council, to create an “urban village” with 250 units of affordable housing, a retail center, parks, shops and restaurants. The first phase of construction is slated to begin late next year.

Aubrey–Kaplan said “while it no longer is the civic nightmare portrayed by the media in 1965 — and beyond — Watts still has a long way to go. As does much of black America.”

Harris-Dawson

joins City Council

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, head of the influential South Los Angeles Community Coalition was elected to the L.A. City Council in 2015, replacing termed-out Councilman Bernard Parks in Council District 8. Harris-Dawson, who won the race in the primary against three competitors with 61 percent of the vote, marked his first 100 days in office with a Clean and Safe Streets Campaign to improve responsiveness of city services and to focus on infrastructure repair and street beautification.

In September, he hosted an emergency town hall to address the uptick of killings in South L.A. and to give residents a chance to air their concerns and suggest ways to end and prevent future incidents of violence.

New Inglewood school

trustee appointed

Vince Matthews, the former superintendent of the San Jose Unified School District, was appointed trustee of the Inglewood Unified School District in October by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Matthews is the fourth state trustee since the state assumed oversight of the school district three years ago. Matthews is faced with declining student enrollment as well as budget issuesas he runs the district on a day-to-day basis and strives to make progress in moving the district toward fulfilling the state requirements for terminating state control of the district. Under the trusteeship, the elected school board serves only in an advisory capacity to the state trustee.

Mayor James Butts expressed his full support for the new trustee.

“Everything we do in Inglewood, we do it as a team. So we are united in our support of … Vincent Matthews.”

Activists call for

D.A.’s resignation

Citing her handling of the of 2014 case involving a CHP officer who beat mentally ill Marlene Pinnock on the shoulder of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway, the local chapter of the National Action Network and a coalition of South L.A. civil rights organizations called for the immediate resignation of District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Lacey had declined to charge the CHP officer.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable said, “We specifically called on the D.A. to prosecute officers in the Marlene Pinnock beating case and the Ezell Ford slaying where there was clear evidence of abuse and/or misconduct by a CHP officer and LAPD officers. We have been extremely disappointed at the inaction of the D.A.’s office in these cases.”

According to Najee Ali, head of Project Islamic Hope, “Lacey continues to fail to protect the African-American community and … has demonstrated she is more concerned with protecting abusive and killer cops.”

Lacey announced in January that she would seek a second term as district attorney in 2016.

Occidental College

students protest

EAGLE ROCK — Occidental College students occupied the school’s administration building in November, armed with a list of 14 demands, including the removal of the college’s president, Jonathan Veitch, the creation of black studies major, and increasing the number of minority faculty members.

Student organizer Diamond Webb said the movement was “long overdue. Students were inspired by similar protests at the University of Missouri and Claremont McKenna College, which resulted in administrators at both schools resigning.”

The student occupiers also called for the college to fund a black student group they claim has been denied funds for five years and the “demilitarization” of campus security.

Community Coalition

opens new center 

Residents, local elected officials, and Hollywood celebrity-businessman Russell Simmons celebrated the opening of the newly renovated $5.0 million state-of-the art Community Coalition’s community center located on 81st Street and Vermont Avenue in South L.A.

Simmons presented theCommunity Coalition with a check for $25,000 on behalf of his company, Rush Card. Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and the coalition’s former executive director; U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, the founder and former head of the coalition; Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; Mayor Eric Garcetti; former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; and other dignitaries were on hand to cut the ribbon on the new facility which includes a computer lab, a kitchen and meeting space.

 

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