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LA Black Lives Matter Leader Takes Clergy To Task For Inaction

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, speaks and introduces families at the funeral memorial program held in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, June 8, 2020. (Susanica Tam for LAist)
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Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and local clergy held a memorial on Monday for George Floyd in downtown L.A. on the corner of 1st and Broadway near City Hall.

BLM-LA's co-founder, Melina Abdullah, opened the ceremony with a speech calling on the black clergy of Los Angeles to join their movement to defund the Los Angeles Police Department and instead invest in an alternate vision of community safety.

As she spoke, Abdullah stood in a white dress on the bed of a truck, which was parked in front of four caskets and large yellow flower arrangements. Clergy from various denominations -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist -- stood in in black robes, prayer shawls and silk stoles, making a large circle around the caskets. Behind them, a crowd spilled onto the sidewalks.

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Here's what Abdullah told the crowd:

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Hey, everybody.

I pray that the words that come out my mouth are what's needed in this space. And I want to be just transparent.

It's really important that we are here on one accord, that we understand what it is we are here for. And while we have clergy who've been in this work from the beginning, people like Pastor Cue, Pastor Eddie, Pastor Smart, Pastor Thomas -- who have been in this work, who are not afraid to stand alongside us, go to jail with us.

We also know that there are clergy that are new to this work. And so we've heard -- as I walked up, I heard clergy talking bad about Black Lives Matter.

I heard clergy talking about how we need to be 'reasonable' with police. Last week there were clergy kneeling with police.

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I want to be very clear as I entered that energy, it actually shifted my energy into the wrong space. And I'm thankful to Future for getting me in the right place. Future who said, 'Let's take it back. Because this is a Black Lives Matter gathering.'

This is a Black Lives Matter gathering.

Funeral program held in conjunction with Black Lives Matter - Los Angeles and local faith leaders in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, June 8, 2020. (Susanica Tam for LAist)

And if we think about the best of the Christian tradition -- and my name is Abdullah now but I was raised in the Baptist Church.

We know that the best of black Christianity, it's about freedom struggle. You cannot claim to be a Christian and then bow down to white supremacy.

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So I'm putting it before you right now: that any hopes you had of using this moment to cozy up to power -- that you release that from your spirit.

We come from a people who are born to fight, and born to win. And honoring Mama Harriet Tubman who heard the voice of God in her ear as she freed at least a thousand people from chattel slavery -- that's our tradition.

Honoring Nat Turner who saw the signs of God as he staged one of the greatest insurrections of human history. That's our tradition.

So I'm asking you to commit to those voices. I'm asking not to let your ego pull you away from God.

I'm asking you to use this moment to kill your ego.

Ego and God cannot stand in the same space. Kill your ego.

So it's really important that you understand what it is we've been doing for the last seven years as Black Lives Matter.

What we've been doing is heeding what I call our sacred duty. It is our sacred duty to fight for the full freedom of our people, not a comfortable place in oppression.

It is our sacred duty to lift up the name not just of George Floyd -- although we say his name. What's his name?


Say his name.

It's not just that we lift up the name of Breonna Taylor -- but we say her name. What's her name?


Say her name.

It's important to lift up the name of Ahmaud Arbery -- What's his name?


Say his name.

Local faith leaders say prayers at the memorial service for George Floyd and others killed by police, June 8, 2020. (Susanica Tam for LAist)

But there are 601 people killed by police right here in L.A. County.

[Note: Abdullah has previously said that 601 is the total since 2013. According to Los Angeles County coroner's data available via the L.A. Times Homicide Report database, the total of police killings since Jan. 1, 2013 is currently 330. Black Lives Matter-LA organizers have said their database includes other deaths, including traffic collisions involving law enforcement and deaths in jails tied to suicide or natural causes. We are working to better understand the gap in the counts.]

LAPD and L.A. County Sheriff's Departments are the two most deadly law enforcement units in the country.

[Note: LAist has not been able to independently verify this assertion. Mapping Police Violence, which tracks police departments nationwide, lists the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Dept. and the Oklahoma City Police Dept. as two highest in per capita killings by police from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2019. In raw numbers, the LAPD and the Phoenix Police Dept. are the two highest. The group does not track sheriff departments.]

So we cannot stand alongside a police chief named Michel Moore, no matter how much he smiles at you and invites you to the table.

He has blood on his hands, figuratively and literally.

He himself is a killer cop. You all know that, right? That he killed somebody when he was a beat cop?

[Note: Moore was involved in two shootings in his career. In 1985, while working in South L.A.'s Newton Division, Moore wounded a man who police reported had pointed a gun at him and his partner inside a produce market. In 1986, he was moonlighting as a security guard at Topanga Plaza when he shot and killed a man in the parking lot. According to the police account, Moore confronted the man, who was armed with a rifle, as he was beating and shooting a woman later identified as his wife. LAPD officers said at the time that the man turned his rifle on Moore and Moore shot him twice. The woman and man both died at the scene. Moore won the LAPD's Medal of Valor for his actions.]

So we cannot look for reconciliation with a system that puts a target on your back no matter how respectable you are.

We have to kill our egos and kill that system. So you are at a Black Lives Matter rally. And we say unapologetically that Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

Caskets memorialize George Floyd and others killed by police, downtown Los Angeles, June 8, 2020. (Susanica Tam for LAist)

And we say Black Lives Matter unapologetically because it's black people who stand at the bottom of every single economic, social and political measure. And if we refuse to say it, we will stay there.

We have to be unapologetic in saying Black Lives Matter when somebody comes with that 'all lives' bullshit.

We gotta be quick in correcting that record. We gotta be quick in correcting that language. Does that mean we don't love other people? No. We love other people. But if they love us, they know that they can't get free till we free. So they have to say Black Lives Matter, too.

We also are not about tinkering around the edges of a system -- of a policing system -- that evolves from slave catching. What kind of idiocy is it to say that we are going to reform a remnant of chattel slavery? How the hell do you reform chattel slavery?

You can't reform slavery. So when we say, "Defund the Police" -- what do we say?


What do we say?


That's absolutely about abolition.

It's about abolition.

The system of policing has got to go.

You can't call on Mama Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth and David Walker and all of these people, and then say, 'We gonna hold on to a remnant of the system that they gave their lives to abolish.'

We are going to abolish police. We are going to reimagine and build new systems of community safety -- right?

When we build black communities, that brother, that neighbor who thought he was doing the right thing by calling for a wellness check on Atatiana Jefferson -- instead of doing that, he would have gone and knocked on Atatiana's door.

Building new systems means when you see Jesse Romero and you're not quite sure what he's doing, you go and ask that 14-year-old child. 'Hey, what are you doing?'

Does that make sense to y'all?

Building new systems means why Wakiesha Wilson should have never wound up in jail in the first place for having an altercation. Who hasn't had an 'altercation'? I almost had one right now.

It's really important that when we say abolition, we mean tearing down the system of policing that we are now submitting to, and also building something new.

Building something new.

To all of the clergy that are here: You are faithful people.

Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church speak in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, June 8, 2020. (Susanica Tam for LAist)

To all of us who have a spiritual tradition: We are faithful people, which means we should have the faith to know that a new system can be built.

We can do anything. We can do anything. The reason you're here is because God told you to come.

God said, we can do anything. Usher in something better. Usher in something better.

And don't be afraid to join a movement. The church and the movement should be united, not divided. United, not divided.

All of you, as churches -- we need spaces to meet. We need access to your clergy. We need you to lend us your sound systems from time to time. And we need you to refuse to be the house Negroes, that this system of white supremacy wants you to be.

Now I see some people getting upset. I'm not calling you a house Negro. I'm saying don't be a house Negro.

I'm saying do not let this system of white supremacy define who you are and take you away from the community that is your home. You have to fight for black people and that means all black people. That means queer and trans black folks. That means formerly incarcerated black folks. That means currently incarcerated black folks. That means houseless black folks. That means poor black folks who don't have no suit to come to your church.

That means non-Christians and Christians.

It means the young brothers and sisters who are on the corner that you turned your back on. That means every single black person needs you and you should be committed to them much more than you are committed to all of these people who occupy these big buildings and make you think they have power. They don't have power. We have power.

All power to the people.

All power to the people.

All power to the people.

With that, I want to remind you why we're here and why we're fighting. We called on these names -- and you see these beautiful faces of Eric Rivera, of George Floyd. I can't see who's on the other side, I hope it's Ryan Twyman.

But we want to remember why we're here. Because as God has pulled us out of our homes and told us we cannot seek a comfortable place in oppression, we also have to remember that that call is much deeper from the actual families of those who've been killed.

And so we are so grateful to stand alongside these families. Sometimes we say we're doing work for the families, but we got to remember, the families are actually doing work for us.

When Mr. Quintus Moore stands up here and shares his powerful words about his son Grechario Mack, he is ensuring that the future for my son, Amen, who's 10 years old, is safer. They are doing work for us.

So we owe them. We owe them every space of solidarity. We owe them everything we can provide. We owe them every prayer. We owe them and we are so grateful to be alongside these families.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly gave Adbullah's son's name as Ahmed. It is Amen. LAist regrets the error.