Beck finally meets with Ford protesters


January 22, 2015

Staff and Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — After 10 days of camping outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, dealing with frigid temperatures, the bust-up of their encampment and arrests, Police Chief Charlie Beck finally met with members of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles last Friday to discuss their demands.

Demonstrators vowed to continuing protesting outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters after Beck refused to meet their demand that he immediately fire two officers involved in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford. But Beck was supported in that action by Police Commissioner Paula Madison, who did not attend the meeting.

“The demand for the termination of the two LAPD officers will not be granted because of due process,” Madison said. “The Police Commission will hear this case and so I’m unable to comment [further] on it.” LAPD spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the chief felt it was a productive meeting in which the demonstrators were “reassured” that officers would “do whatever we can to ensure their rights to peaceful protest” outside police headquarters.

Smith added that Beck wanted to make it “clear to people that the chief is not able to fire officers just like that, and in use-of-force cases like this,” which must be reviewed by the Police Commission, for him to take action now would be “overstepping the bounds.”

Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah acknowledged the group was “thankful” for the meeting and considered it “a win” after being told previously that Beck would not meet with them. Demonstrators were also able to get Beck to agree to have his officers respect their right to protest outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, she said.

“We have been promised we’ll be treated more respectfully and that hopefully we won’t be arrested trying to access public facilities anymore,” Abdullah said.

In addition to calling for the two officers to be fired, the Black Lives Matter group is also demanding that the Police Commission urge District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate and press charges against officers who use excessive force.

The group also requested the release of the autopsy report on 37-year-old Omar Abrego, who died in August about 12 hours after a struggle with a pair of LAPD officers who had pulled him over. The group says it wants the police to work with the community on a plan for how officers should respond to calls. City Council President Herb Wesson helped put the meeting together and was in attendance.

“I believe that this was important and was pleased to facilitate the meeting, which lasted about an hour,” Wesson said in a released statement. “It was an opportunity to get better acquainted and there was a good exchange of views. Hopefully, [it] will improve communications and dialogue in the future,”

Although Commissioner Madison did not attend the meeting, she did speak to a reporter this week about it. “It’s always best to keep lines of communication open,” Madison said. “In this case, the tension level of the demonstrators outside the [police station] is likely to lessen because both sides agreed to work together better. Some barricades have come down, protesters have agreed to keep public walkways accessible and more.

Sharlton Wampler, a 12-year veteran of the LAPD, and eight-year veteran Antonio Villegas have been on administrative duty since shooting Ford in South Los Angeles on Aug. 11.

Members of Black Lives Matter say LAPD officers were aware that Ford had mental health issues and contend the two officers should not have shot Ford, who was unarmed. The two officers contend they acted in self-defense, saying Ford was reaching for one of the officer’s guns.

Following the meeting with the chief, Abdullah said Beck “wasn’t going as far as a courageous chief could go.”

Beck bogged down the meeting with “bureaucratic conversation” about how he could not immediately fire the two officers, the Cal State Los Angeles professor said. “We communicated that we’re very smart people, we’ve already researched that process, but that’s the bulk of what we got from the chief of police.”

Nana Gyamfi, an attorney for Black Lives Matter, said based on her experience with police misconduct cases, Beck has the option of putting the officers on unpaid leave, rather than allowing taxpayers to continue footing their salaries while they perform desk duty.

“A shot in the back with a muzzle imprint, at close range?” Gyamfi said, referring to the markings reported on Ford’s body as part of the autopsy results. “There is no way to say that nothing happened, even if it’s just giving a misleading statement.”

Contributing Writer Shawnte Passmore contributed to this article.

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