LOS ANGELES — As Black Lives Matter activists entered an the eighth day of a sit-in outside City Hall, Police Chief Charlie Beck lamented July 19 that local activists have not been interested in engaging in productive dialogue with him on policing issues.
Members of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter have long been calling for Beck to be fired. They contend he has done too little to protect residents of color, and has instead allowed questionable killings by police officers to go unpunished.
A group of Black Lives Matter members and their supporters began staging a sit-in at City Hall last week after the Police Commission ruled that the shooting of 30-year-old Redel Jones by an LAPD officer was within department policy.
Jones, who was black, allegedly lunged at officers with a knife as police hunted for a suspect who robbed a pharmacy near Baldwin Hills.
Protesters have pointed to a differing account by a witness who said police shot Jones while she was running away.
Beck told the Police Commission that in contrast to the heated exchanges with Black Lives Matter activists that tend to dominate discussions about policing in Los Angeles, he was able to engage in a more respectful conversation with activists and political leaders during a Washington, D.C., forum hosted July 13 by President Barack Obama.
During the four-hour-long meeting, which was also attended by Mayor Eric Garcetti and political leaders from around the country, “everybody was respectful, everybody listened to everybody’s point of view, everybody took something away from it.”
He said that meeting serves as “an excellent example of the fact that people can talk about this topic, that people don’t have to be disrespectful in the way that they deal with the other stakeholders involved, that people can listen to other folks’ ideas and take away something from it.
“I wish Los Angeles would learn that lesson,” he said.
Beck said after the commission meeting he is more willing to take part in a dialogue with Black Lives Matter members as long as they are willing to listen to differing viewpoints.
“If I can get some folks in this movement to want to talk, instead of just scream, if they want to listen instead of just make demands and pontificate, then I’m glad to do it,” he said.
Beck told reporters later that the conversation in Washington, D.C., was “a good start for dialogue, although I would prefer to have that dialogue at home, rather than go 2,000 miles for it.”
Beck also defined the bigger issued faced by Los Angeles as that of gang violence, rather than police conduct. He said members of the police department and city leaders attended a rally July 17 to support activists in calling for peace among gang members. Well-known musicians such as The Game, Snoop Dogg and Big Boi were also in attendance.
The rally’s “message,” Beck said, was that “our communities, particularly some of our communities, are far too violent, and that if we cannot show that we value our own lives, then how do we expect others to value our lives.”
Beck pointed to last year’s crime statistics showing a high incidence of shootings being perpetrated by black or Hispanic suspects against people of the same racial or ethnic group, and that the majority of homicides were due to gang violence.
“The true tragedy of Los Angeles is that we lose far too many young people, unfortunately primarily of color, to gang violence,” he said.
He told reporters after the meeting that police officers can become affected by the level of violence they encounter in a community.
“The police are a reflection of the community that they serve,” he said. “If the community is violent, then often times police have to respond to violence, and during that response you can become immune to it.”
Beck said he experienced this as a “young police officer working in the gang unit” during the “height of the crime wave in Los Angeles.”
“I literally dealt with hundreds and hundreds of homicides,” he said.
“Pretty soon you felt, well, you begin to lose your humanity, you become immune to it and that’s a very real issue in Los Angeles. We are raising kids in communities where they are exposed to violence far too often and far too early, and so we need to address that as a city and as a nation.”
Beck’s comments were met with criticism from Black Lives Matter activists and their supporters.
Melina Abdullah, one of the leaders of the local Black Lives Matter group, accused Beck of dismissing the Los Angeles chapter’s activities by holding up the national Black Live Matter as a superior organization.
“I was in the back, texting Patrice Cullors [a founder of Black Lives Matter], who you tried to throw in our faces … as if Black Lives Matter national is somehow separate from Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. I hope your investigatory work is better than this as a police officer, because if you investigated anything, you would know that Black Lives Matter began right here in Los Angeles. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles is Black Lives Matter. We are the first chapter. Patrice Cullors is a member of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, so she wants to vigorously oppose what it is you said.”
Several activists also took issue with Beck’s statement that black and Hispanic residents’ should do more to reduce violence within their own communities, and to value their own lives more.
Jody Armour, a USC professor, said that unlike gang members, a police officer is expected to protect the public.
“When you say, chief — and this is in a spirit of continuing sharper dialogue, clearer dialogue — ‘How can we expect others to value our lives when we don’t value our own lives,’ that’s really a canard, a red herring and an attempt to change the subject,” Armour said.
“What we’re talking about when it comes to police brutality is someone who has taken an oath of office, given a badge and a gun, a monopoly of legitimate violence, they are under color of law in the name of all of us,” he said. “You can’t say that about a gang-banger.”
Armour added that he has “been a big supporter of LAPD.”
“I’ve been one of those who has gotten on there and said we’ve come so far from 2000 and ’99, the consent decree … we’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels,” Armour said. “We have so far to go and that’s what folks are saying, we still have so far to go.”