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Tensions Mount at LAPD Public Meeting—Charlene Muhammad

LA CAN's Pete White and Black Lives Matter's Melina Abdullah

Activists accused the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners with criminalizing dissent and challenged its new rules of decorum during a meeting last month.

Members of Black Lives Matter, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA-CAN), and the Youth Justice Coalition charged the board with violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies at the September 15 meeting.

On September 1, the board planned to adopt new rules requiring members of the public to be civil and orderly when participating in public comment periods, or after being warned, asked to leave or even arrested.

Richard Tefank, the commission’s executive director, said the board reconsidered after the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concerns in an August 28 letter it was trying to inhibit free speech.

The change comes as the board’s response to previous meetings in which activists protested the killings of unarmed Black and Brown men and women, like Ezell Ford, by LAPD officers.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed entertainment Attorney Matthew Johnson to fill the seat vacated by former vice president Paula Madison. Immediately after being seated, the board elected him as new president.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed entertainment Attorney Matthew Johnson to fill the seat vacated by former vice president Paula Madison. Immediately after being seated, the board elected him as new president.

The city’s trying to censor the voices of Black Lives Matter activists and are using a Black face to do it, activists said.

Johnson began his first statement stating he was eager to learn more about the LAPD officers who put their lives on the line for the city, and hear citizens’ concerns about the police.

He got an earful when he said in deadly use of force incidents involving officers, people should ask important questions and not rush to judge the actions of those involved.

“We do not live in a bubble. We can’t pretend that what happens in other cities does not have an impact on how our citizens feel or fail to recognize that we have suffered our own,” he continued, but was cut off by activists who challenged his statement.

“It happens right here! They kill more people in L.A. than anywhere else! What are you talking about,” Melina Abdullah, a member of Black Lives Matter shouted from her seat in the audience. “We don’t care about other cities,” added LA-CAN organizer General Dogon.

“That shows you know nothing. How can you be president and not know this is the most murderous department in the country. Read a book. Read a report,” Abdullah told Johnson, who began to issue discipline warnings.

“You’re being disruptive,” he said. Someone in the audience yelled out, “Don’t tell her to shut up!” “You don’t know what you’re talking about. … Go read up on L.A.,” said Dogon.

Johnson warned again, “You’re being disruptive. You’re going to be asked to leave.”

“Yes! I sure am, because we need to disrupt your b—-s—-,” Abdullah fired back.

Male activists came to her defense, “You’re being used! … Let her speak!” Then Johnson continued, reminding the audience they could speak during public comments, but activists didn’t let up.

“We’re speaking right now! This is our commission. You work for us,” said Abdullah.

When Johnson called a recess, some activists began booing. “We’re dying in L.A. every day sir! How are you going to talk about other cities sir,” someone yelled as the commissioners left the room. Police formed a barrier between their dais and the audience.

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While waiting for the board to return, Hamid Khan, a campaign coordinator with Stop LAPD Spying, stood up. In a riveting, impromptu teach-in, he explained the system the LAPD uses to spy on citizens.

When commissioners returned the meeting appeared calmer and public comments continued.

“Now that is the fastest ascent to presidency I’ve ever seen, and in terms of a game of optics, if I were you, Johnson, I would have said no. I haven’t been here in this space long enough. No. You can’t put me out front to silence Black voices around Black Lives Matter,” said Pete White, LA-CAN’s founder and co-director.

Activists from various communities advocated for long-time gang intervention activist and Watts organizer Aqeela Sherrils to fill the commission seat.

“The pressure will be on you to ensure that our voices are lifted. … You’ve sat in the chair, but you should not be the one sitting in the chair today that decides the fate of those that are simply attempting to hold their department accountable,” Mr. White continued.

Tensions reignited when a public speaker, who called herself a ‘proud Mexican’, began to make derogatory statements about Blacks and Mexicans, calling them illegal wetbacks, gang bangers, criminals and other names.

The audience erupted immediately. Peoples’ outrage and protest grew and Atty. Johnson ordered another recess and had police clear the room.

Only a handful of people in the seating area moved and a uniform officer repeated the order. But the activists didn’t budge and questioned why LAPD staff in uniform and plain clothes were not told to leave too.

This reporter observed at least 10 people had spoken out in protest outside of public comment periods, everyone was allowed back in, except Abdullah and Williams.

When asked outside what her issue is with Johnson as president, Abdullah said he doesn’t represent the collective interest of Black people.

“He’s a huge donor to the Garcetti campaign. We had nearly unanimous community support for someone who really understands policing and public safety issues, Aqeela Sherrils … our community nomination was completely ignored, and they thought they could anoint someone who has Black skin, but is divorced and isolated from the Black community,” Abdullah said.

Khan said the board’s actions proved its intentions were to clearly police peoples’ manners, emotions and expressions, and do exactly what it claimed not to, inhibit free speech.

“You can kick out Melina Abdullah, but her voice is still here with us,” Khan told commissioners back inside the meeting.

Atty. Johnson said he actually rejected the position over the past six or nine months because of other commitments but accepted after persuasion and support, especially from his wife and children. He voiced his position on tensions during his first meeting.

“First of all, they didn’t give me an opportunity to finish my statement. So they were commenting on a part of my statement without actually having the context of the full statement,” he said.

“People are welcome to disagree with it. That’s fine. We’re not all going to agree. … What I would encourage people to do is read the statement and come to their own conclusions,” he said.

“Today is a very important and historic day for South L.A., that’s why I wanted to come personally and congratulate Commissioner Matt Johnson,” stated Najee Ali, political director of Reverend Al Sharpton’s L.A. Chapter of the National Action.

Ali attended a prior meeting at City Hall, inclusive of “every major civil rights, community and religious leader” who endorse and support Johnson.

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“We believe Mayor Garcetti made the right choice,” Ali said who also thanked Chief Charlie Beck. “We go back years and years, so we commend you and support you as well,” Ali added.

Charlene Muhammad
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