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In LA, Black activists debate the value of dialogue with police in reform efforts

Leila Miller, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- "How are you going to take the fear away from us?"

Candace Jordan's voice broke as she addressed Chief Michel Moore of the Los Angeles Police Department at an intimate gathering inside an Exposition Park church.

With her 16-year-old son sitting beside her, the bus driver for L.A. Unified School District described her mistrust of the city's police. Whenever she is driving and sees young Black men pulled over by law enforcement, Jordan said she feels the urge to stop.

"I need to see if someone else is looking, if someone else is watching the scene, are those boys going to get home?" she said. "How are you going to take this fear away from us? Because it's running real, real deep. I don't fear just for me. I fear for those I don't even know."

At a quietly publicized roundtable in mid-June at the Abundant Life Christian Church, about two dozen pastors, gang interventionists and other community members met with Moore in an effort to increase mutual understanding in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests.

The 90-minute forum reflects significantly different approaches within the Black community toward how to create lasting change from the unrest. While some leaders have said that meetings with law enforcement are critical to rebuilding relationships and battling misconceptions, others have firmly rejected the idea of dialogue.

 

Those activists say that conversations with police and the widely circulated images of officers taking a knee with protesters will not lead to sweeping change in public safety, and that rather than attempt to reform the system from within, talks should occur with City Hall officials.

"We absolutely do not need to be sitting down and meeting with police," said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in L.A. "It's not a reformable system -- developing dialogue is the last thing we should be doing. We're looking to reimagine public safety, not to buy into the existing system."

On June 15, a coalition of activists led by Black Lives Matter participated in a nearly two-hour special meeting at City Hall devoted to the People's Budget, an alternative spending plan for the city budget that pushes for widespread defunding of the LAPD, with money moving instead to housing, mental health and other services.

Abdullah said that while Black Lives Matter will continue to issue its demands at the public meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission, "we're not going to pretend like there's any trust to be built." Its members have maintained a presence at the commission for years, forcefully decrying shootings and at times disrupting meetings that have ended with arrests.

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