The death of two men involved in confrontations with LAPD officers this summer have brought a palpable sense of unity to a previously divided South Los Angeles neighborhood.
The Florence neighborhood has had a long history of tension between blacks and Latinos, but the two sides have come together because, as one resident put it, they’re “tired of police killing folks in our community.”
Omar Abrego, 37-year-old father of three, died about 12 hours after witnesses say he was beaten by police. Nine days later and roughly four blocks away, Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police.
“There’s very few protests that you can go to in Los Angeles where if someone says the death of Ezell Ford where they would not mention Omar Obrego,” Jasmyne Cannick told Fusion. Cannick, who writes about race and politics, has been the source of news for thousands of people who read and retweet the tweets she’s been publishing since Ford and Abrego died in August.
The two cases have given neighbors that sometimes don’t speak the same language a common sense of frustration they can all understand. Both men were unarmed, and steps away from their homes. There are conflicting reports between witnesses and police.
Neighbors question why Ford and Abrego were stopped in the first place.
Ezell Ford’s fatal shooting took place on August 11th. The LAPD released his autopsy on December 29th. The coroner noted the release of Ford’s delayed autopsy report was unusual, but the LAPD argued it was necessary because they were waiting for new witnesses to come forward, according to the L.A. Times.
Abrego’s autopsy report still hasn’t been released. The five month delay has left many residents with another feeling neighbors can connect with: suspicions of the LAPD possibly hiding something. An LAPD spokesperson would not comment on the case for this story.
Ford and Abrego both lived in a neighborhood known as the Florence district, a district that’s seen a massive demographic shift since the 1970s, when Latinos began arriving in the nearly all-black neighborhood.
South Central L.A. was about 80 percent black in 1970. By the 1992 L.A. riots, the area was only 57 percent black. Today, Latinos make up almost 57 percent of the community according to Census data; blacks now make up about 38 percent of South L.A.
“In the initial years of Latinos arriving in to South L.A. it was marked by tension and conflict between the groups because of jobs, housing and schools,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, a sociologist who teaches American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC.)
Dr. Pastor noted most of the protests calling attention to police accountability are being organized by young activists—of all races.
“This is an issue that young people get, young people understand that there is over-policing of African American and Latino youth and they are upset about it and want it to change,” Dr. Pastor said.
Members of a group calling itself “#BlackLivesMatter-Los Angeles” have been camping out in front of the LAPD headquarters since Ford’s autopsy report was made public December 29th, 2014. The group’s name takes cues from the hashtag and slogan popularized after a jury found George Zimmerman was not guilty for shooting and killing unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
“We’re here at Occupy LAPD because we’re tired of police killing folks in our community,” Mark-Anthony Johnson, an organizer with #BlackLivesMatter-Los Angeles told Fusion.
The Los Angeles Times has recorded 590 homicides involving law enforcement officers in all of L.A. County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 31, 2014.
Countywide, 77% of people killed by law enforcement were black or Latino. When looking specifically at LAPD officers; 81% of people of those killed were black or Latino, according to an L.A. Times analysis.
“We’re here to say you can’t sweep this under the rug anymore,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his group is demanding LAPD Chief Charlie Beck fire the two officers who shot Ezell Ford last August. They’re also calling on District Attorney Jackie Lacey to file murder charges on the two officers.
The protesters meeting in front of the LAPD headquarters have produced an even more diverse group than the demonstrators meeting in the Florence District, where Ford and Abrego were initially stopped by police.
On a recent Saturday, the 40 demonstrators outside the LAPD headquarters were young and diverse in multiple ways: Young black, white, Latino, Asian. Straight, gay and gender nonconforming individuals came from all corners of the county.
And they were nodding their heads to beats created by a group calling themselves Las Cafeteras, from East L.A. They were performing Son Jarocho songs, a mexican folk music style with Spanish, indigenous and African musical elements.
On Thursday, the LAPD announced Chief Beck is scheduled to meet with #BlackLivesMatter-Los Angeles members Friday morning. But the group may still remain outside the LAPD headquarters because “the chief cannot just fire these officers,” a spokesperson told The L.A. Times.
Jorge Rivas is the national affairs correspondent at Fusion. He follows the national conversation through the lens of racial, sexual, and political identity.