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How Black Lives Matter L.A. Undermined and Co-Opted the Movement for Ezell Ford

  • By Hands Up Dont Shoot

How Black Lives Matter L.A. Undermined and Co-Opted the Movement for Ezell Ford by Keyanna Celina

In order to understand how Black Lives Matter co-opted Ferguson, changed the course of the movement and how we got to where we are (lack of results, transparency & accountability), you have to understand how they move… They tried unsuccessfully to hijack the movement behind Trayvon Martin. When Ferguson became world news they set their eyes on the movement here while completely ignoring the movement that was growing in their own backyard. Ezell Ford wasn’t world news. His life didn’t matter until it could be exploited…

Dr. Melina Abdullah, one of the leading members of Black Lives Matters Los Angeles undermined the movement for justice for Ezell Ford, dissed the Ford family, and gave District Attorney Jackie Lacey a trophy, amidst demands from the community that DA Lacey file charges for his murder. This was weeks before BLMLA staged a publicity stunt (Occupy LAPD) which undermined the movement they hadn’t put any work into, diverted the momentum into a dead-end, and made it about themselves.

The ‪#‎Justice4Fords‬ movement was started by loved ones, family members, friends and neighbors of Ezell Ford after he was brutally murdered by LAPD on August 11th, 2014; the organizations that supported were following suit and this is what made the #Justice4Fords movement strong, organic, and raw-it was lead by the hood. The demand was clear: We want charges filed, and DA Lacey became a target less than a week after his murder. Nine days prior to Ezell Ford being shot in the back, unarmed Omar Abrego was beaten to death by the same LAPD Newton Division, just 5 blocks away from where Ezell would be murdered. The Ford family swiftly connected with the Abregos and the struggle was joined in unity. The beginning marches were led by the families and loved ones of both Ezell Ford and Omar Abrego, together, demanding justice and charges! Ceebo Tha Rapper, a childhood friend of Ezell Ford, dropped a song/video called “Fuck Tha Police,” four days after his murder, and LAPD used Ceebo’s music to conceal the names of the officers, claiming they felt “threatened.”

The autopsy report likewise was withheld from the Ford family, as was the autopsy report and officers’ names who killed Omar Abrego. City officials realized the significance of the community’s response to these murders, and Ezell Ford and Omar Abrego’s cases were treated with the same disregard. The families were advised to cease public statements and appearances. It fell to the community to push for justice as though Ezell Ford or Omar Abrego were our own family members. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles remained conspicuously silent throughout these actions.
There were daily protests, including the LAPD HQ march/protest that drew several hundred people. We demonstrated in front of the District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office (alongside the family of Carlos Oliva, murdered by East LA Sheriffs), where myself and a Ford family neighbor were escorted inside. We provided her staff with a list of names of recent police murder victims and their corresponding family members’ phone numbers, which they signed, dated to confirm receipt, and said they would pass onto DA Lacey.

Lacey’s office promised to give KTLA a statement regarding the demonstration, but they never did. Our follow-up request for an appointment via email with her was not granted. Youth Justice Coalition hosted an unhelpful captive-audience community meeting entitled “Get Answers” with LAPD Chief Beck and officials from the Police Commission and District Attorney’s office. Members of the Ford family and community sat together as Chief Beck and his cronies chewed up the clock, patronized the inquiries of community members, and provided no answers. While the community, a coalition of many organizations, the Anonymous formations, and a network of families who’d lost loved ones to police murder turned up for Ezell Ford, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles took a trip to Ferguson, Missouri, ignored Ezell Ford, and provided zero assistance to the groundwork being done right here in L.A.; the autopsy report and names of the officers were still being concealed by LAPD and DA Jackie Lacey continued to ignored the demands of the community that she file charges and make his murderers face due process. I fully expected the organization whose slogan was being echoed across the country (Black Lives Matter) to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in this uphill battle.

Although amazed that BLMLA chose to take a trip across the country after Ezell Ford was killed only two days after Mike Brown, I was excited upon their return expecting the movement in here L.A. to receive a fresh burst of “ground-zero” energy, full of militancy and Black fists in the air, with tactics they learned in Ferguson and would apply here. I expected Black Lives Matter would make the movement stronger. Instead, they hosted a “Ferguson Reports Back” meeting where everyone sat at their feet and listened about their trip, a follow-up meeting where they spent 3 hours breaking into groups and writing vague “demands” on butcher paper, none of them regarding Ezell Ford, and executed a detached die-in in Compton regarding the Compton School Board approving AR-15s for campus police. I found it even more of a betrayal that they not only went to Ferguson while ignoring our own Mike Brown here in Los Angeles, but they went to Compton to do a die-in for guns that may kill someone, yet could not make it to 65th and Broadway to offer any support for Ezell Ford, who had already been shot dead by police.

The organization I am a part of organized a march to the USC football game against Notre Dame, continuing to mobilize community pressure at DA Lacey to file charges. Although BLMLA continued to ignore Ezell Ford, Professor Melina Abdullah, one of the BLMLA leaders, and the Chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at CSULA, invited me to announce our action in one of her activism classes, and even gave her students extra credit for attending. I appreciated any show of unity and maintained solidarity throughout my criticisms of BLMLA’s silence on Ezell Ford.
Then DA Lacey, who had dodged and ignored the community up to that point, made her first statement since Ezell Ford had been murdered: “It is not the fault of law enforcement that we have not provided them with the training and the tools to deal with the amount of mentally ill people that they have to deal with in Los Angeles County.”
We found out DA Lacey was being honored with an award by a prestigious Black Women’s organization, the Los Angeles African-American Women’s Public Policy Institute, as we organized, mobilized, and executed action upon action, targeting Lacey, as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Councilman Curren Price..

Less than a week after DA Lacey, a Black woman, exonerated Ezell Ford’s murderers in her statement, she was being given the “Women In Action” award by this organization. We decided immediately to picket this event, and possibly disrupt Lacey’s acceptance speech. After exploring the organization’s website, we found a huge conflict of interest. Professor Melina Abdullah, part of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles leadership, was the vice-chair of LAAAWPPI, the organization honoring DA Lacey.

When our organization brought this to her attention, she said that she would boycott the event and not attend. We suggested, instead, that she bring Tritobia Ford, Ezell Ford’s mother, as her guest. Melina obliged and after the candlelit vigil at the memorial site on Ezell Ford’s birthday, two days before the award ceremony, I handed Mrs. Ford the phone and introduced her to Melina. Being that Melina was the vice-chair of the organization honoring DA Lacey at a ritzy downtown hotel, I asked Melina if they would provide her with tickets for her guests. She obliged. She also asked me that night where Ezell Ford’s memorial was. In disbelief, I told her 65th and Broadway, where he was killed. How is it that a professor who taught activism classes on a university level and was part of the leadership of BLMLA did not know where Ezell Ford’s memorial site was in the city she lived in? It was too glaring of a contradiction, especially since she had taken the time to navigate through Ferguson, Missouri. The lack of interest was obvious.

The next day, the day before the award ceremony, Melina called me and asked, “You’re not planning to disrupt, are you?” When I answered yes, that I was, she told me she respected the organization honoring DA Lacey and that she was going to tell them because she didn’t want them to be surprised. She no longer wanted any part of it. When I asked would she still provide the tickets, she told me that I should get my own. And with that, she withdrew her support, uninvited Mrs. Ford, and threatened to squelch our action by telling the organization. For all of the talk about Black lives mattering, Melina invited Mrs. Ford, a Black woman on her murdered son’s birthday, to be her guest, and then dissed everyone to honor the DA who just exonerated the murderers less than a week before, and refused to charge them.

For my own protection, I asked a woman I met through a protester at our LAPD HQ action, to accompany me, and record the disruption, so that no false allegations would be made against me. She obliged, and we arrived at the ritzy Biltmore Hotel an hour before the ceremony was to begin. Folks from the community had already arrived and were picketing DA Lacey outside. Melina attended and gave me the icy shoulder, as if she never knew me.
The ceremony emanated prestige; this was Los Angeles’ prosperous, successful, and wealthy Black elite. I was too focused on the matter at hand to fully fathom that a couple of tables away from me sat the leadership of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, who was also the vice-chair of the organization honoring DA Lacey, an elected official complicit with murder after the fact. A public servant, who had ignored the community’s demands, exonerated killer cops, cancelled appearances and refused to face the community, but was now stepping out in her high heels to collect a trinket.

The ceremony went on as usual, and when DA Lacey took the podium, I waited till she was about 10 seconds into her acceptance speech. “JUSTICE FOR EZELL FORD! JUSTICE FOR OMAR ABREGO! DO YOUR JOB JACKIE LACEY, WE WANT CHARGES! IT’S YOUR JOB TO FILE CHARGES! EZELL FORD, OMAR ABREGO, MURDERED BY LAPD! DO YOUR JOB, JACKIE LACEY, WE WANT CHARGES..” I pushed the demand of the community that Lacey ignored until the elite Black audience applauded the security physically escorting me out of the building. While Melina, the vice-chair of the organization and the leadership of Black Lives Matter, gave DA Lacey a trophy.

The community had been demanding charges of DA Lacey since August and BLMLA had played no part; it was clear that the only Black lives that mattered were the ones that had national headlines or the ones holding prestigious positions. Melina told me at an event I saw her at weeks later that she approached DA Lacey the night of her award ceremony and that Lacey told her that she “wants to file charges but she can’t until the investigation is over.” That they would remove her from the case, if she did. This is a lie; within eight days after Oscar Grant’s murder by BART transit officer Johannes Mehserle, he was dragged from his hiding place in Lake Tahoe and charged with murder by the Alameda County District Attorney due to direct pressure from the Oakland community. Lacey can file charges yesterday and today.

The South Central Neighborhood Council in October unanimously passed a resolution, calling on Councilman Curren Price to introduce a resolution to the Los Angeles City Council to direct the Los Angeles Police Department to release the autopsy results for Ezell Ford and Omar Abrego (killed just nine days prior and five blocks away by the same Newton Division cops). I physically handed Councilman Price a copy of the resolution at his “Days of Dialogue” event on Ezell Ford in late October. At the time, the Mike Brown decision had not been announced and the protests in Los Angeles had died down. After the resolution was passed, Mayor Garcetti came out and announced that Ezell Ford’s autopsy results would be released before the end of the year.

After the Mike Brown decision, protests against police brutality were larger than they had ever been before they began to subside. While we maintained the maximum level of unity, we continued to voice our criticisms of BLMLA’s silence on Ezell Ford to Melina. Melina informed us that Patrice Cullors, one of the founding members of BLM, would be returning. Once Patrice returned, she said they would join the movement for Ezell Ford. “You know it’s going to become ‘Black Lives Matter’, right?” she asked. “Cuz that’s what we’re about, the hashtags, social media..” We let her know that they had ignored Ezell Ford for over four months and that they needed to maintain unity and work with all the organizations and folks that had pushed this movement, rather than make it “theirs.” Jasmyne Cannick, a freelance writer, had leaked the names of the officers before Ezell Ford’s funeral, forcing the LAPD to release the names. South Central Neighborhood Council passed a resolution forcing city officials to respond with promises of the autopsy results for Ezell Ford. Ceebo Tha Rapper had led the #Justice4Fords movement, providing the soul of it, and you could literally follow the movement through his music videos, which documented our marches and uphill battle for justice as it unfolded. The protests at Newton Division and LAPD HQ, as well as video from the Chief Beck meeting, are included in music video “Mr. Officer”, where he lyrically responds to Chief Beck’s using him as a scapegoat to conceal the names of Ezell Ford’s murderers.

Ceebo Tha Rapper had emphasized Black and Brown unity, gave love to the family of Omar Abrego in his videos, called for rival gangs to peace it up and fight for justice. Embraced poor whites and everyone who maintained a presence in the #Justice4Fords movement. The streets were listening and the unity was there. His songs were soulful, uncompromising, empowering, and the fuel to the movement, such as his music video “I Get Out” which included video our protest at the USC football game.

The #Justice4Fords movement had ALWAYS stressed that this was a human rights issue, and had been a diverse group fighting on the same side against police brutality. The movement was organic, with a soundtrack and lyrical/video documentation, bringing unity to Ezell Ford’s neighborhood. For this, they gave Ceebo Tha Rapper, a father of three, 17 years in prison on a bogus theft charge, in which he was “identified” by the color of his skin. The neighborhood where Ezell Ford lived had the audacity to stand up for themselves; for this they continued to endure harassment and terrorism from LAPD. BLMLA had played no role and offered no assistance to any of part of this to make claims that the #Justice4Fords movement would “become” ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ when they finally decided to join it. I found it pompous and arrogant.

The autopsy report for Ezell Ford was finally released December 29th. Melina told me she passed my number onto another BLM organizer Sha Dixon. When Sha called me, she told me about their plans to Occupy LAPD until Chief Beck met with them. I informed her that Chief Beck had no power to fire or arrest the officers; only the Board of Rights could discipline the officers, and only District Attorney Jackie Lacey (or Attorney General Eric Holder) could file murder charges against the cops who murdered Ezell Ford. I also stressed the importance of not removing Omar Abrego from the conversation, as city officials have attempted to, and how the movement has always been one of unity. DA Lacey is trying to blame Ezell Ford’s murder on his mental illness rather than the Newton Division cops who beat Omar Abrego to death in front of his home, nine days before the same Newton Division shot Ezell Ford in the back. It actually hurts the #Justice4Fords movement to remove Omar Abrego. They are still concealing Omar Abrego’s autopsy results presently. BLMLA made no mention of him (Melina had told me during one of our meetings weeks before that the membership most likely wouldn’t uphold Omar Abrego because it was BLACK Lives Matter; but BLMLA only existed in the four walls of their meetings while the movement in the streets embraced EVERYONE). Only after the attention on Mike Brown died down and the attention on Ezell Ford was pushed to the maximum, did BLMLA finally concern themselves. I filled Sha Dixon in on some of the development of the movement that had unfolded and put forth the one demand of the community for charges from DA Lacey.

In Ceebo’s last music video, before his sentencing, Ceebo and the Ford family upheld the #Justice4Fords demand of charges from District Attorney Jackie Lacey

BLMLA put forth their own demand anyway: That Chief Beck fire the officers. Melina maintained that cops were still on desk duty and must be fired. Their secondary demand was that DA Lacey file charges; but this had been the one and only demand of the actual movement since the beginning, nothing less. The #Justice4Fords movement had never demanded the officers be fired, as though the officers were only guilty of writing bad tickets, or as if this was simply an employment or personnel issue. They murdered someone’s firstborn son, a brother, a Grandson, a man loved by his community. They killed a human being and took away someone’s family member, then continued harassing their mourning family afterwards. Nothing less than murder charges should be demanded, and DA Lacey is the only one who can implement that. DA Lacey had been the target of the actions since the first week. During BLMLA’s publicity stunt, they said they would Occupy LAPD until they “won” a meeting with Chief Beck. The autopsy results weren’t released out of the kindness of city officials’ hearts.

It had been a long-fought battle that BLMLA played no part in. But at a time when the momentum was at an all-time high, right after the autopsy release, BLMLA co-opted the movement and diverted all the community pressure to dissipate at Chief Beck and LAPD HQ based on their own personal demand that Beck “fire” the officers. (Something Beck could not do anyway) They capitalized on a movement they had no involvement in and drew attention away from DA Lacey to Chief Beck and to THEMSELVES. (and whether or not they could chalk the sidewalk) The encampment became, not about Ezell Ford, but about whether Black Lives Matter would “win” a meeting with Beck. And when they got it, they championed this with a press conference, with Melina making the public statement “If nothing else, this demonstrates our power.” The “power” to hijack the community pressure built up after the autopsy release, the climax of months of work, and divert it to a dead end in a publicity stunt.

Indeed, the #Justice4Fords movement “became” #BlackLivesMatter as Melina had said it would. Melina did Lacey yet another favor, drawing the attention away from her. To add insult to injury, Melina kept asking me to bring Mrs. Ford to their meeting at LAPD HQ, as if she hadn’t dissed her without even a backward glance ten weeks before. Now she was claiming to be acting on behalf of the Ford family, as if she knew nothing of them when she awarded DA Lacey. BLMLA jumped in front of the #Justice4Fords movement and hit the reset button, dragging the whole movement back to point A, undermining all the grueling work that went into it for months, when the community had already progressed from that. Several hundred of us gathered at LAPD HQ less than a week after Ezell Ford’s murder.

The community and members of the Ford family attended a public meeting with Chief Beck and his cronies only a few days later. A couple of days after meeting with Beck, we demonstrated in front of DA Lacey’s office and were escorted inside, where we submitted requests for Lacey to file charges for the savage CHP beating of Marlene Pinnock, the murders of Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego, Carlos Oliva, and other victims of police murder. We targeted DA Lacey in several protests, from East Los Angeles to the campus of USC, to Newton Division police station.

BLMLA was not doing anything that had not already been done within the first two weeks after Ezell Ford’s murder. None of the momentum they hijacked from the autopsy release was directed onto DA Lacey, but to THEMSELVES and Chief Beck.They brought the movement back to August, and we were in January. This was not an honest mistake; Melina had known all along that DA Lacey was the target, and we’d had several conversations about her role in awarding Lacey, BLMLA’s silence around Ezell Ford. BLMLA had the chance to target Lacey and join the community and other organizations in solidarity, but ignored protests all over Los Angeles regarding Ezell Ford.

These criticisms were brought to Melina in a face-to-face meeting recently, where she responded that she wouldn’t apologize for what had already been done and could not be taken back; that they were moving on to target Lacey after ‪#‎OccupyLAPD‬ “anyway.” A dismissive “anyway” to compromising justice for someone’s son. When I expressed that their action brought 90% attention to Chief Beck and 10% to DA Lacey when it should have been the other way around, Melina told me they couldn’t “just pack up and move to 210 W. Temple St”, where Lacey’s office is located. To which I responded “Why NOT?” And was told that Occupy LAPD was a unique action when the kids were on vacation from school that could not be repeated; she continued, though, to invite the community to join them in front of LAPD HQ. Black Lives Matter can pull a publicity stunt and bring attention to themselves anytime they want to; taking the heart of the movement after the autopsy release and deflating it as a “demonstration of our power” is not the time or place for that. This momentum is not a given, nor can that moment be recaptured; BLMLA undermined it and dissipated it to a dead end road. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. Black men are shot down in the streets by police often. Not everyday is their story told. The Fords (and Abregos) are the only ones who will have to live with the outcome of these shenanigans. If they do not get charges for their loved one, that is a heavy cross they will have to carry. Think of that, BLMLA, as you continue to ask the community to join you in front of LAPD HQ and mislead genuine people to believe they are pushing for justice. YOU ARE MESSING WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES. Anything less than charges filed is not a demonstration of power, it’s a selfish diversion.

Melina has expressed that BLMLA will begin to target Lacey (an opportunity they have had since August last year) starting Tuesday, January 20, when Lacey returns from burying her father. When it was a white man, Chief Beck, they camped out over the holiday while he was on vacation and refused to leave until he met w/ them) But DA Lacey, a Black woman who exonerated Ezell Ford’s murderers and refused to file charges on them, is being treated with kid gloves and understanding. I maintained unity in my criticisms, supporting their bail fund and their disruption and die-in at The Grove. When it comes to rich white people, Melina has no problem disrupting them. But when it came to disrupting rich Black people in prominent positions, she turned her back on a comrade in struggle, threatened to tell her organization, dissed the mother of Ezell Ford, and awarded the District Attorney of Los Angeles while the community demanded charges from Lacey. All less than a week after Lacey exonerated Ezell’s murderers.

This is why Amiri Baraka said “Skin is thin, but Class will kick yo ass.” There is a comprador class of Black people who have sold out and Lacey is a part of that class. You can ride with Black all day, but what class do you ride with? Do you want to beat or become the one percent? Melina could have used her position as the vice-chair of LAAAWPPI to press the organization to pull DA Jackie Lazy’s “InAction Award” in light of her statements regarding Ezell Ford and brought significant media attention to the issue. Instead, Melina chose to honor Lacey. Melina continues to give Lacey a pass, representing that she “wants to file charges” and demanding “LAPD cooperate with Lacey to file charges”, rather than outright demanding charges of Lacey. Where is Omar Abrego’s autopsy report showing how the same Newton Division barbarically beat him to death in front of his home nine days earlier, just five blocks away? I do not expect an aggressive campaign against Lacey from BLMLA, or for them to uphold Omar Abrego as the #Justice4Fords movement had. However, an aggressive campaign against Lacey is needed, as well as the results of Omar Abrego’s autopsy. The family of Carlos Oliva, shot six times in the back by East LA Sheriffs, is also demanding charges from Lacey.

The membership of BLMLA who genuinely want to help, and those freedom fighters who are lending themselves to the struggle for justice, have a right to know. This is their fight, too, and they are being misled by Melina the leadership of BLMLA.

Justice for Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego, and Carlos Oliva! ALL eyes on DA Lacey! NO CHARGES, NO PEACE!