Black Lives Matter...Too Much for Polite Town Hall Meetings

A message reading "Black Lives Matter" is written across the cheek of Samaria Muhammad as she chants with fellow protesters i
A message reading "Black Lives Matter" is written across the cheek of Samaria Muhammad as she chants with fellow protesters in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014 during a demonstration against the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers in New York City and Ferguson, Mo. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The scene in the pulpit at Holman Methodist Church was likely very distressing to Rev. Kelvin Sauls. The sanctuary, site of countless staid services where he personally spoke to church faithful every Sunday at 8 and 11 am, had been, in his view, disgraced by the incivility of 'Black Lives Matter' protestors. Efforts to establish order after a group of at least 50 protestors repeatedly stood and turned their backs when Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, spoke from the pulpit had been an utter failure, but he nevertheless forced a photogenic smile as he faced the stern-faced young activists with their raised voices and fists in the air. As he announced to the audience that the town-hall would conclude prematurely, the mayor's sharp-faced assistants looked worried. Undoubtedly they had endorsed the beautiful 'church of the bells' as the last place strident and angry protests would take place. They had probably advised Mayor Garcetti that African American pastors command great respect and authority in the Black community, and would have the effect of tempering any discord. Having spent 25 years researching African American communities, I would have generally agreed with this perspective. We were all wrong. Increasingly ministers and other traditional black community-leaders whom accrue influence based upon their presumed ability to deliver black community acquiescence, are finding themselves less capable of delivering. In this case, it appears that the manipulative decision to hold the town-hall in the sanctuary backfired.

At the October 19th town-hall, protestors demonstrated their contempt for the mayor, his representatives, and all treating deaths of unarmed citizens at the hands of the LAPD as an "agenda item" ensconced between discussions of the metro line and the 2025 Summer Olympics bid. 'Black Lives Matter' has quickly become much more than a slogan. The burgeoning grassroots movement has rapidly reclaimed ideological territory lost in the wilderness of 'respectability politics' and color-blind rhetoric. The movement proclaims the humanity of Black people without apology or exception. Pairing a proclamation of inherent humanity with demands for community responsive policing has proved a galvanizing combination. This movement has shown that it will not be easy for the mayor, police chief, or any of their paid staff representatives, to contain. The usual tactics of ordering reports, delaying pronouncements, and manipulating media attention have not met with success of the atypical activists of 'Black Lives Matter'. The 'official processes' have all simply resulted in lack of police accountability, and are intolerable to this new generation of activists. In fact, even the response of traditional 'community leaders' whom, endorse following the script of the official protocol in the dream of obtaining concessions seem laughable, not laudable to this group. The apparent support such leaders give to the illusion of progress, as opposed to its substance, seems to deny the inherent dignity of Black lives.

In many ways, Ezell Ford's death on the streets of Los Angeles, coming two days after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, is emblematic of key conflicts between police and community everywhere. As well, it seems representative of the chasm between the approaches used by traditional community 'leaders' in Los Angeles with the less hierarchical, less male-dominant 'Black Lives Matter'. Interrupted while walking in his neighborhood, and shot by police, Ezell Ford was killed. Why? Lots of reasons were given like, 'he moved his hands as though he may have drugs' (no drugs were found on his body or in the area). Another explanation was that it was a "gang area" and the police "believed he might have been armed". This particular justification should give all those who dream of a just society serious pause.

Protestors at the October 19 town-hall meeting in Los Angeles wanted a forthright appraisal regarding our communities being labeled as "gang areas," giving all those who live within it only limited rights as citizens. 'Black Lives Matter' activists in Los Angeles and around the country have drawn attention to the inherent injustice of policing practices and official justifications of police shootings with seemingly no accountability to the public.

Using tactics criticized by government officials, political elites, and the media, 'Black Lives Matter' has snatched away the façade of colorblindness, and in doing so laid bare for the world to see, that our central institutions operate as those Black Lives DON'T matter. Martin Luther King Jr., promoted the understanding that "none of us are free until all of us are free", and Black Lives Matter now carries that mantle. If in fact living in a neighborhood labeled as "having a gang presence" is all it takes to justify the suspension of Ezell Ford's civil liberties, and death, then no Black person in Los Angeles is free. If some Los Angeles African American leaders are willing to exalt and share the pulpit with those that enact processes and proffer rationalizations justifying Ezell Ford's death (and the death of many other unarmed men and women before and after him), then those 'leaders' do not speak for our freedom.

The litany of names of unarmed African American men and women killed on the streets of Los Angeles under the color of law has simply become too much for polite town-hall meetings, even if they are held in a church. The reasons given to justify the deaths of unarmed citizen have begun to sound like a fairly open declaration that our communities are under siege, and that militarized Police Departments across the country have all but declared African Americans non-citizens. In fact, at times it seems they view these communities as enemy combatants. 'Black Lives Matter' activists demand an end to over-policing and under-accountability. Authorizing the continuation of police intervention into civilian lives based on their 'suspicion' of wrongdoing does not keep us safe. In fact, if we do not demand that officers at bare minimum establish an objective justification for any police stop, we are all fundamentally at risk of denial of the inherent rights of liberty to which we are entitled. The demands of 'Black Lives Matter' are concrete, important, and NON-NEGOTIABLE. The stakes are simply too high for it to be otherwise and activists have made sure that the Mayor of Los Angeles be held accountable for his inaction in this regard. UNAPOLOGETICALLY.

So, although it's regretful that Reverend Sauls felt disrespected, and that some of those in attendance were upset at the unseemly behavior in the sanctuary, like President Obama, I argue there is a "problem happening in African American communities that needs to be addressed". It is therefore, far more regretful to me that controlling the microphone and acting civil towards public servants whom have done our community grave disservice, is SO grievous to 'our' leaders that they call press conferences and post on Facebook to denounce it. They should be ashamed. Their servile behavior towards Mayor Eric Garcetti, coupled with their attempt to push and grab the microphone from Black Lives Matter women activists, was disgraceful

If this is the best that they have to offer, then the traditional black leadership in Los Angeles has failed us. Malcolm X observations in 1963 remain true. Young people are increasingly dissatisfied with those posing and leaders and spokesmen, who are "actually making the problem worse, instead of making the problem better." My message to Los Angeles clergy and 'leaders' in their condemnation of 'Black Lives Matter,' is that they are on the wrong side of history and are virtually proclaiming their own irrelevance to the cause of social justice.

It is all of our duty to struggle for righteousness and against injustice.