LOS ANGELES — The chanting was steady.
“Jesse Romero was 16!” Jesse Romero was 16!” “Say her name! Wakiesha Wilson!” Say my baby’s name! Wakiesha Wilson!”
A crowd of about 200 Black Lives Matter activists gathered outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters Aug. 23. They had new reasons to be angry with the police after a judge’s release of a video to the Los Angeles Times, which showed LAPD Officer Richard Garcia kicking, punching and beating a black man, Clinton Alford Jr., in 2014.
The protesters disrupted the weekly meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission, causing the commissioners to declare a recess and police officers to force the protesters outside. That’s when the tensions really began to rise.
One of the BLM leaders directed the crowd, which pressed in elbow to elbow near the door, aiming profanities at the officers who blocked the doorway to the police department.
“Back up a little bit. Because these [expletives] are ready for war now,” the protester told her followers.
The officers held their line, ordering the protesters to back up. Some of the protesters stared them down, others shouted right in their faces.
“You better stop, [expletive], push me again, and I’m gonna … push me again.”
Another protester shouted “don’t touch me!” to an officer, who responded, “then move back.” “Then don’t touch me.” “Then move back.”
The protesters saw the line of police as an escalation and decided to circle up and hold hands.
Inside LAPD headquarters, the police commissioners stopped to regroup.
They decided to enter closed session, sending everyone, including members of the media, outside. Commission Vice President Steve Soboroff said he could understand the anger behind the protests.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “I see that loss of life hurts. Irrespective of what the circumstances are, whose fault it is, whether things are in policy or out of policy. All the commissioners see that anguish and we feel for anyone who’s had any loss, of course.”
Still, Soboroff remained tough on the protesters.
“The board of police commissioners has a charter and federal requirements to do it’s business, and we will continue and have to do that, and when people keep us from doing that business, we have to ask them to leave the meeting so we can continue on for the millions and millions and millions of people in Los Angeles, who depend on what we do. Not just those who are disrupting because there are cameras or for whatever reasons they’re disrupting.”
Soboroff said it was not the commission’s policy to release the Alford beating video early, citing use of force review boards and other procedural processes, but that the judge had the ability to do so.
He said no one had asked the commission about the plea bargain that ultimately led prosecutors to knock down Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation to charge officer Garcia with a felony and jail time for the beating to a misdemeanor and probation.
“We were not privy to the plea bargain negotiations. … No one asked our opinion on the results,” he said.
Alford was arrested in South Los Angeles in October 2014 after a brief foot pursuit. The video showed him laying on the street with three LAPD officers standing around him when a fourth officer — Garcia — arrived in a patrol car.
The fourth officer left the patrol car and ran up to the prone Alford and kicked him in the head, then kneed and elbowed him before placing his knee in the middle of Alford’s back.
Galvan was accused of felony assault, which could have brought a three-year jail sentence.
Instead, prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain that allowed Garcia to avoid jail if he completes community service, donates $500 to a charity by next year and stays away from Alford.
Despite the commission’s stance on the Alford case, the Black Lives Matter protesters had a message and a chant for the civilian oversight board of the LAPD.
They want Beck fired.
Earlier at the meeting, the commission asked Beck to appoint a liaison with the power to access and provide relevant information to family members of people killed or seriously hurt in confrontations with LAPD or those who died in police custody.
Commission President Matthew Johnson said the appointed official would “ensure that accurate information relative to the process is provided as expediently as possible.”
Beck said the idea is a good one.
“There isn’t a good avenue by which to address grieving family members,” he said. “As I believe — to my core — even though the acts of the individual involved directly with the police may have been criminal, that doesn’t mean the family isn’t grieving. That doesn’t mean they don’t need information, that doesn’t mean the process shouldn’t be explained to them, so we will work to identify somebody.”