SOUTH LOS ANGELES — It was a question that hung heavy in the air at Concord Church July 11.
“What can we do … to make the police think twice before they shoot another [person] … in the streets of America?”
Civil rights and community activists and residents discussed it as the families of two more black men — one in Minnesota, one in Louisiana — went about the business of preparing for funerals for untimely deaths at the hands of the police.
Thirty-seven year-old Alton Sterling and 32 year-old Philando Castile, both fathers, were slain by the police in confrontations captured on videotape — and in Castile’s case, video streamed live on Facebook.
Sterling was shot four times at close range in the back and the chest July 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Castile was shot multiple times July 6 near St. Paul, Minnesota, while his fiancée and 4-year old daughter sat in the car with him.
Federal investigators are investigating Sterling’s death, state officials Castile’s.
On July 11, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network focused attention on these and other allegedly racially discriminatory killings at a gathering convened at the agency’s headquarters in Concord Church, the goal: to devise strategies to end police brutality in minority communities.
Activists from several cities, races and walks of life voiced concerns about the police’s “continuing use of deadly force,” and their doubts about “obtaining justice under the current system.”
Rasheda Kilpatrick, NAN-LA attorney, echoed the anxiety: “Different things [police] have … based on court, court law, the unions …. make it very hard to bring them to justice even if we get them into court.”
Nevertheless, participants generated dozens of strategies, including petitioning Gov. Jerry Brown to “issue an executive order naming the state attorney general as special prosecutor for police-related civilian deaths.”
“Local D.A.s work hand-in-hand with officers,” Kilpatrick said. “So it is very hard to say justice will be served, that there is no conflict of interest for them to prosecute officers they have worked with before and will again.”
“One way to … assure the public that justice is actually occurring is to have a special prosecutor.”
Kilpatrick distributed a petition letter urging those in attendance to sign and circulate copies to other residents, civil rights groups, sororities, fraternities and organizations.
Several participants also called for recalling Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
“Lacey has turned a blind eye to police abuse and the unjust murders of African-American residents in the city by law enforcement. … She must go,” Najee Ali, NAN-LA’s political director, said.
The Rev. K.W. Tulloss, western regional director and NAN-L.A. president, added: “There have been more police killings in California than in any state across America. We are ground zero for officer-involved shootings. Before they pull the gun, I want them to think twice before they shoot another person. We want that to be the last resort.”
Sterling’s and Castile’s deaths triggered a retaliatory rampage in Dallas, Texas July 8 by sniper and Army veteran Micah X. Johnson. At the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter march protesting those slayings, Johnson killed five police officers and wounded several officers and civilians before being killed himself. He targeted whites, particularly white police officers.
“Dallas was tragic and wrong,” Rev. Tulloss said. “There should never be ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Not all police are bad. Our hearts go out to the families and the officers that lost their lives. We just can’t lose sight of the ultimate problem America faces with police reform and accountability.”
The Dallas killings prompted police departments to operate under heightened alert, deploy additional resources and alter some policing practices. On July 10, Inglewood police shifted their tactics to keep a lower profile during a Black Lives Matter protest there that tied up traffic near and on the San Diego (405) Freeway.
Sterling’s and Castile’s death also stirred protests in downtown, Leimert Park, Pasadena and in Atlanta and other parts of the country. Black Lives Matter demonstrators occupied sidewalks near City Hall July 12 and 13 in response to the Police Commission’s July 12 ruling that the 2015 shooting of 30-year old Redel Jones was within policy. Protesters are calling for Chief Charlie Beck’s resignation and Commission President Matt Johnson’s removal.
Activists also pushed for additional training, “to make sure officers get training regarding how to deescalate — to tell a man that his taillight is out without killing him in front of a 4-year old girl,” Kilpatrick said.
“We are going to call our elected officials to make sure training procedures are brought up to par to the year 2016. We want to make sure our elected officials act before we have another hashtag,” she added.
A report by the Police Executive Research Forum stated, “the typical recruit spends 58 hours learning how to use his gun — and just eight hours learning his department’s use of force policy.”
LAPD Officer Stinson Brown said, “I’m all for conflict resolution” as a means to deescalate incidents — and “if you want some traction, the police receive more than 920 hours of post-mandated training. All police officers in the state receive it. … You can begin to provide information and requests to Sacramento on that police officer training.”
“LAPD upped the ante when it comes to tactical training — we have about 1,020 hours,” he added.
Tulloss said NAN’s focus also was on body cameras, “which it supports and … legislation across the country that includes the right to videotape police activity.”
According to Kilpatrick, in 2015, Gov. Brown signed Senate Bill 411, the Right to Record Act, permitting civilians to record public safety officers in California.
“So keep the cameras rolling — that is the part of accountability that we can stand on and … can work on in other states,” Kilpatrick added.