Stop the Violence

Protesters on the steps of City Hall this past week.

Protesters on the steps of City Hall this past week.

The past several days have been traumatic. Two more black men shot by police. Police shot by gunmen in retaliation. And protesters gathering across the nation to ask for an end to the violence.

While the focus has been on Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas, protesters have staged demonstrations in a number of cities, including Los Angeles. Like every other major American urban center, LA has seen its share of unarmed black men die during encounters with police officers. To remind us of this, a number of peaceful civil actions have been staged at locations including City Hall, LAPD Headquarters and Pershing Square.

Another shot of protesters on City Hall steps.

Another shot of protesters on City Hall steps.

While there’s no question that we need to see changes in the way police do their job, the problem is much larger than that. It’s not just a matter of appointing a task force to do an investigation and come up with recommendations. As a nation, we need to acknowledge that we have a long way to go to achieve equality. And as a nation, we must all commit to working towards that goal. I thought Obama said it well in his speech in Dallas….

In the end, it’s not about finding policies that work. It’s about forging consensus and fighting cynicism and finding the will to make change. Can we do this? Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us?

Obama asks if we can do this. I don’t doubt that it’s possible. The question is whether we will commit to making it happen.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

Chalk drawings on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.

Who Are the Real Criminals?

East Los Angeles Courthouse

East Los Angeles Courthouse

Last week the trial of a group of Black Lives Matter activists ended in a hung jury. The seven defendants had participated in an act of civil disobedience that involved stopping traffic on the Hollywood Freeway. They were charged with two misdemeanors, obstructing a thoroughfare and refusal to comply with a police order. The protest was one of many that occurred nationwide after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in connection with the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The question I’m asking is, Why the hell did the City bother with this? Why did they waste the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money in an attempt to convict non-violent protesters of two misdemeanors? Does City Attorney Mike Feuer have nothing better to do with his time?

Before I go any further, I should mention that I know one of the defendants, so you can certainly question my objectivity.  But did this trial serve any real purpose?    I know that the Black Lives Matter movement is controversial. You may not agree with their statements. You may not approve of their actions. That’s fine. But by engaging in a non-violent act of civil disobedience, these people were continuing a tradition that goes back to this country’s origins. In arguing the case, prosecutor Jennifer Wexler is reported to have said, “Voice your opinion, but do it legally.” That’s interesting. Would she have given the same advice to Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez?

But I suspect the justification for this idiotic waste of time and money has nothing to do with upholding the law. A friend told me that the defendants were offered a plea deal in advance of the trial, and one of the conditions was that they’d refrain from protesting for two years. Sounds to me like the City’s real goal was to quash dissent.

Was this trial really necessary? There are so many other people that deserve to be prosecuted for acts that have done real damage. We could start with Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took thousands of dollars in campaign cash from a lawn replacement company and gave them a plug in his State of the City speech. The company went on to suck up millions in rebates from the MWD, even though it did substandard work which may have actually done mare harm than good. Or maybe we could go after Ex-Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who attempted to destroy pretty much every document contained in his offices before stepping down. Among the thousands of records destroyed were files pertaining to major development projects and the disbursement of discretionary funds.

Instead the City Attorney goes after seven people who engaged in a non-violent protest, trying to convict them of two misdemeanors. I will be keeping this in mind when Mike Feuer is up for re-election.