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At Outdoor Town Hall, Angelenos Picture A World Of Non-Violent 911 Encounters Without LAPD

Jan Williams (L) imagines her brother, who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, getting emergency help without police present, as Black Lives Matter-LA co-founder Melina Abdullah looks on.(Josie Huang/LAist)
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Jan Williams and her family face a painful dilemma. Her brother has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and doesn't always take his meds. She said he's not violent, but at times the family needs emergency intervention to get him to the hospital.

They're hesitant to call for help because police officers accompany mental health workers, and she said they may see her brother as a "300-pound Black man."

"[Police] don't come with patience," Williams said. "They come with weapons and ready to defend themselves."

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Williams wants a world where her brother can get help from the city's Psychiatric Emergency Teams without the presence of officers from the Los Angeles Police Department. It's a hope shared by many of those who spoke at a brainstorming session on Saturday organized by the People's Budget L.A. coalition led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.


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More than 200 people attended the town hall-style event in response to an effort at City Hall to shift non-violent 911 calls -- be they for domestic disputes or crises involving people on drugs -- from the LAPD to unarmed specialists in areas such as mental health.

Ideas include creating community-based street teams trained to de-escalate volatile situations, as pioneered in Newark, and more youth-oriented programming as that provided by GYRD Foundation. The organization keeps recreation centers and parks running late into the night during the summer.

Councilmembers Herb Wesson, Curren Price and Mike Bonin (r. to l.) attended a town hall on policing Saturday organized by Black Lives Matter and the People's Budget-LA coalition. (Josie Huang/LAist)

The motion was co-introduced by L.A. city councilmember Herb Wesson, who attended Saturday's session and imagined aloud a situation where a driver who had had too much to drink is approached by community interventionists rather than law enforcement.

"Don't you think you're going to react better if a couple of brothers pull up and say, 'Can I get you a ride home?'" Wesson said. "'Here's some water. I got my partner with me. He'll drive your car home.'"

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Wesson, who was joined at the town hall by council colleagues Mike Bonin and Curren Price, said the driver would still be given notice to appear in court.

"He might be mad," Wesson said, "but he's going to be alive."

The event showcased how much traction the Black Lives Matter movement has gained in City Hall since worldwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis nearly two months ago.

At the pressure of activists, the city council voted July 1 to cut the LAPD budget by $150 million and divert funds to community programs. Weeks earlier, Wesson co-introduced his motion to create a new city model for non-emergency interventions.

After Wesson's speech, Black Lives Matter-LA co-founder Melina Abullah noted, "This is a strange place to be."

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter, and L.A. councilmember Herb Wesson hug after his speech. (Josie Huang/LAist)

"We're not on the outside of City Hall, yelling, right?" Abdullah said. "This is a point at which we are actually collaborating. This is an opportunity for us to actually engage in our own governance."

Activist Skipp Townsend said effective community involvement is already happening without police. He said he and other interventionists have been working to resolve situations where street vendors were attacked. In a recent case where a vendor was pelted with eggs, a community leader confronted the father of the alleged attacker.

"We are not going to allow you or your son to interrupt the community peace that we have," Townsend recounted. He added: "No one knows the work we're doing in the street to help the vendors."

Social distancing was strictly followed at Saturday's town hall on police reform and community interventions. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Ten-year-old Adele Martinez of South Los Angeles was among the speakers, saying that police also need to appropriately respond when they are needed. She said a neighbor's body was decomposing for days before officers showed up Saturday, and that his truck is still on the street.

"When we needed the police most, they weren't there," Martinez said. (LAPD has not responded to a request from KPCC/LAist for comment.)

Public hearings to hear recommendations on police reform will be scheduled in the coming weeks, according to Wesson.

Abdullah said ideas taken from today's event will be presented to the council.


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