SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A group of local clergy and community activists has called for an apology from the local chapter of Black Lives Matter for disrupting an Oct. 19 town hall meeting with Mayor Eric Garcetti at Holman United Methodist Church.
Speaking at a press conference Oct. 26, the Rev. Kelvin Sauls, pastor at Holman, said that he forgives Black Lives Matter, but added that, “with forgiveness comes accountability.”
Members of the militant activist group reportedly swore at Sauls and threatened him with violence at the town hall meeting that featured Garcetti addressing a crowd of around 800 people.
About 50 of those at the meeting were aligned with Black Lives Matter and turned their backs on the mayor before storming the altar as the mayor tried to exit the meeting.
“This is not about the black community airing dirty laundry,” said the Rev. Xavier Thompson, a pastor at Southern Missionary Baptist Church, at the Oct. 26 press conference. “We will come together behind closed doors and then re-emerge as a united front. But I was raised by strong, southern grandparents. If I misbehaved in public, I would get the discipline in public.”
Melina Abdullah, an organizer of Black Lives Matter and one of the original members, said the group is angry with the mayor because of a pattern of disregarding the black community and his refusal to deal with the police department’s excessive use of force.
Abdullah, a professor and chair of Pan-African studies at Cal State Los Angeles, said the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people than any other law enforcement agency in the country in 2015.
Abdullah also said the mayor had backed out of an agreement he made with the group in July to meet quarterly with the black community.
Sauls claims that Black Lives Matter was part of shaping the agenda for the Oct. 19 town hall meeting, and that he had discussed the plans with them several times before, including the morning of the meeting. He expressed his surprise then that the group “went rogue,” as the meeting was underway.
“The covenant of trust was broken,” he said.
But Abdullah said that the mayor’s office had already set the agenda and speakers before Black Lives Matter was even informed of the meeting. She said the first time she heard of the meeting was when a Los Angeles Times reporter mentioned it to her during a phone call about another story.
Abdullah claimed that in the summer, Garcetti had agreed to hold quarterly meetings with the black community, with an agenda developed by community members themselves.
“We negotiated that meeting in July,” Abdullah said. “We didn’t want to be part of someone else’s meeting.”
Abdullah said that Black Lives Matter was included in the proceedings once they reached out to Sauls, but that by that time, the town hall was only one week away, too soon to affect any real change.
Abdullah said she does not think Black Lives Matter owes anyone an apology.
“The mayor should apologize for the way he has disregarded the black community and the way he is drawing a wedge between black leaders.”
Garcetti was scheduled to attend a service at Holman Oct. 25, six days after the town hall. but Sauls decided to cancel the appearance based on social media comments from Black Lives Matter, which found out about the appearance.
Jackie Hawthorne, a Holman church elder who was present during the Oct. 19 meeting, said she was “very disappointed,” with the actions of Black Lives Matter.
She reported seeing the group take the stage, and hearing them denounce the mayor through wireless microphones.
Hawthorne said she heard one protestor call Garcetti the “back-door mayor,” a possible reference to his exit from the back door of his home when confronted with Black Lives Matter demonstrators at his Hancock Park residence last summer.
That incident was during a protest of Garcetti’s perceived lack of response to the case of Ezell Ford, a mentally ill black man who was shot to death by police officers in South Los Angeles in August 2014.
Hawthorne said Black Lives Matter “did not win any points from me,” and that she would have been open to hearing their message if they had delivered it a different way.
As Hawthorne described it, when the protestors jumped on the altar at Holman Oct. 19, “I caught the eye of one of the girls and yelled ‘courtesy!’ and she yelled back ‘you have a job!’ I’m retired. Is that what this is all about? Jobs? I heard this same little loudmouth jumped on the mayor’s car as he was leaving.”
Sauls said the incident at the church has made him even more determined to create a safe space, and that Black Lives Matter will not determine who worships at Holman United Methodist.