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NAJEE’S NOTES: Community wins battle for Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

Mission accomplished. A diverse coalition of community organizations united in what can only be described as an epic battle like David vs. Goliath.

Goliath was the CMI Group, which announced publicly last month that it had agreed in principal to buy the historic Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The announcement was met with immediate shock and disbelief from many angry residents and stakeholders in the Crenshaw area.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, whose council district includes the shopping center issued a statement that his office knew nothing of the impending deal. CIM did not even give his office a courtesy call. Harris-Dawson found out like everyone else.

The way that CIM came into the community was handled all wrong. No matter what good intentions the company may have had fell on deaf ears as more than 10,000 community residents signed a petition against the purchase of the mall by CIM.

Our community is interested in a developer that can deliver a project that includes housing, retail businesses, dine-in restaurants and local minority-owned businesses. We also thought it is important that minority ownership be a part of the mall moving forward.

We are not interested in any project that may contribute to gentrification. We want what the initial project the community approved back in 2018 proposed. So, as the community celebrates the hard-earned victory, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge several groups and leaders I worked with in ensuring our local mall would not be sold to CIM.

Project Islamic HOPE, the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles neighborhood council groups and a host of other community groups all played an especially important role in ensuring our community victory. I would advise any group wanting to buy the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to respect our community residents, leadership and elected officials.

So, what are the next steps? The community is interested in working with the current owners or the new owners to help make sure the plan approved by the community in 2018 is realized.

We are interested in developers who are interested in working directly with the community as we move forward. We will continue to reject any plans that contribute to gentrification.

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As the protests continue across the nation for George Floyd, who died on May 25 in Minneapolis police custody with a police officer’s knee on his neck for more than eight minutes, I flew to Minneapolis to join the fight for justice while simultaneously helping organize to save the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall.

I essentially have worked every day non-stop for three weeks. The first day I thought I could get a day of rest was interrupted by frantic calls from Palmdale/Lancaster residents who stated they needed help.

Robert Fuller, a young African-American male, was found hanging from a tree outside of Palmdale City Hall on June 10. His death was immediately ruled a suicide by the L.A. County Coroner’s Office without even a sheriff’s investigation.

The announcement was met with immediate outrage by the Fuller family and community residents who pointed out Palmdale’s long history of racial violence against black people. The Fuller family also stated that their family member had no history of mental illness, was not depressed and had everything to live for.

They believe foul play was involved and so do I. But we just didn’t leave it to the Palmdale officials. We took to the streets of Palmdale June 13 for a protest march from the scene of the hanging to the front door of the Palmdale Sheriff’s Station with more than 2,000 residents.

Needless to say, by the time we were through this case and protest made national news demanding an independent investigation, not just into the death of Fuller but also the death of Malcolm Harsch in Victorville, who was found hanging from a tree in Victorville May 31.

No one was even talking about his death until I pressed the issue publicly in every media interview I did concerning Fuller and ensuring I intertwined both cases together. To his credit, I did receive a phone call from Sherriff Alex Villanueva earlier this week stating his department was launching a renewed investigation. California’s attorney general also has joined the probe into the deaths of Fuller and Harsch.

I am not sure what the final result of the investigations will be in either case. But I do know the only reason the cases are both being investigated properly is because of community pressure. We continue to demonstrate that even in death, black lives matter.

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