WASHINGTON — Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck were among city and law enforcement leaders from across the nation at a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., July 13 to discuss efforts to build bridges between communities and law enforcement agencies following a recent rash of violence.
“Not only are there very real problems but there are still deep divisions about how to solve these problems,” Obama said after the meeting.
“There is no doubt that police departments still feel embattled and unjustly accused. And there is no doubt that minority communities, communities of color, still feel like it just takes too long to do what’s right.”
Garcetti called the meeting “urgent, detailed, and constructive.”
“I think everyone came away with valuable insight into how we can broaden the conversation around race and policing, continue to support officers who work to protect us, and deepen the work to improve community safety and our criminal justice system,” Garcetti said.
“These are difficult times for our country, but L.A. has a deep past of living through the difficult moments that the rest of America is dealing with right now. President Obama asked us to learn from each other and to share what is working in Los Angeles.”
Garcetti said the meeting “underscored one of the most important lessons we have learned — whether you’re talking about the last 50 years, or just the past few days, moving forward requires us all to go to places we don’t normally go, talk to people we don’t always see, and take personal responsibility for being part of an ongoing solution.”
“The tragedies of the last week have brought momentum and focus to those relationships, and I’m grateful to the president for bringing new energy to the work of saving lives and building peaceful, just, and healing communities,” Garcetti said.
Among those attending the meeting were mayors from various cities, including Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, and police chiefs from cities including St. Paul, Minnesota; New Haven, Connecticut; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch also attended, along with five other administration and Department of Justice officials.
A Black Lives Matter activist from Minnesota also attended, along with NAACP President Cornell Brooks and Dawn Collins, a community organizer from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“There’s still a diversity of views around this table, and that’s by design,” Obama said. “Not everybody agrees on everything.”
For Garcetti and Beck, the meeting came one day after the Los Angeles Police Commission upheld the actions of an officer who fatally shot a black female robbery suspect in August 2015. The commission agreed with Beck’s assessment that Officer Brett Ramirez acted within department policy when he shot Redel Jones, 30, who was wielding a knife and allegedly lunged toward officers.
The commission’s decision sparked angry chants from activists who packed the meeting room, and from hundreds of people gathered outside police headquarters. Many called for Beck to be fired.
Several dozen activists staged an hours-long sit-in on the Main Street steps of City Hall, the main public entrance to the building, and a handful of people camped there overnight and vowed to remain until they are able to meet with Garcetti and Beck.
No arrests or violence were reported.
Beck told reporters earlier he believes Los Angeles has made progress in improving relationships between police and the community.
“I think that we have successes to share in Los Angeles,” he said.
“We have been through a tremendous amount as a city, a city torn apart not that many decades ago by racial unrest and mistrust of the police. I think we’ve made a lot of progress on that regardless of what you see from a handful of people.”
Tensions between police and the black community have been running high following two fatal shootings by police in the past week — of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
The tensions escalated into last week’s sniper shootings during a protest in Dallas, in which five police officers were killed.
“The roots of the problems we saw this week date back not just decades — they date back centuries,” Obama said. “There are cultural issues and there are issues of race in this country. And poverty. And a whole range of problems that will not be solved overnight.”