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Black Lives Matter-LA Leader Explains 'Very Deliberate' Choice To Demonstrate In Upscale Neighborhoods

Protestors listen to speeches from atop a baseball backstop during a Black Lives Matter demonstration on Saturday. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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Note: This story is based on an on-air interview conducted by Libby Denkmann

At 8:05 p.m. Saturday, five minutes after the citywide curfew went into effect, Melina Abdullah posted this message to her 21,000 followers on Twitter.

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Demonstrations in response to the death of George Floyd have been staged in upscale areas including recently gentrified downtown L.A., the Fairfax District, Beverly Hills. That is by design, Abdullah said.

"We've been very deliberate in saying that the violence and pain and hurt that's experienced on a daily basis by black folks at the hands of a repressive system should also be visited upon, to a degree, to those who think that they can just retreat to white affluence," she said.

Abdullah is a professor of Pan-African Studies at Cal State L.A., one of the original members of Black Lives Matter-L.A. and one of the city's most prominent voices advocating against police violence.

She has been a fixture at Los Angeles City Police Commission meetings leading protests. She sued former Police Chief Charlie Beck in February in federal court alleging she was wrongfully prosecuted for her activism during a city police commission meeting.


She spoke to our newsroom Sunday morning about Saturday's peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police and the subsequent violent acts by demonstrators and police.

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Melina Abdullah addresses protesters in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 30. (Josie Huang / LAist)

Abdullah said the protests are meant to remind the public that "what happened to George Floyd also happens right here in Los Angeles," Abdullah said.

In her interview with our newsroom, Abdullah cited 601 as the number of people who have been killed by police in Los Angeles under the administrations of Mayor Eric Garcetti and District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

Our review of Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner's office data compiled in the L.A. Times Homicide Report, found law enforcement officers have killed 329 people since 2013, the first full year when Garcetti and Lacey were both in their current positions. The Homicide Report lists 876 people killed by police in L.A. County since Jan. 1, 2000.

Black Lives Matter-L.A. has been organizing regular protests calling for voters to oust Lacey for failing to prosecute law enforcement officers whose actions led to those deaths.

"We want to prosecute the police who kill our people. And we also want to defund police," Abdullah said.

The group has recently been pushing for systemic changes in city spending, especially to reduce the budget for police.

"The mayor has proposed spending 54% of the city's general fund on LAPD," Abdullah said. "And we know that that is not what keeps communities safe. What keeps communities safe is good jobs, mental health resources, housing, parks, after-school programs."

Black Lives Matter-L.A. has proposed an alternate "People's Budget" that would make that shift.

She discounted concerns that some took advantage of Black Lives Matters' peaceful demonstrations to create chaos and inflict damage. Instead, Abdullah said more attention should be placed on the underlying causes motivating the protest.

"We were actually more concerned with police violence and police repression, which is what we saw as the formal part of the program ended," she said.

She said media narratives focused on graffiti and window breaking by some demonstrators.

Demonstrators put their hands in the air as they face off with police in the Fairfax District Saturday. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images)

"But I think what was much more prevalent and disturbing was the beating of protesters by police, was the shooting of people, including teenagers, with the rubber bullets and the very brutal way in which the protesters were treated by police, which further illuminate the whole idea of why we were out there in the first place," Abdullah said.

"We were out there to fight police brutality and wound up actually experiencing police brutality," she said.

Going back to 2013, Black Lives Matter-L.A.'s first planned protest was a peaceful march on Wilshire Boulevard to Rodeo Drive, some of the richest retail space in the country.

Abdullah said a return on Saturday to nearby Pan Pacific Park, disrupting everyday traffic patterns, was intended to craft a deliberate message for a public that is too complacent about the deaths of people of color at the hands of police.

"Going to Pan-Pacific Park was absolutely about letting white folks who are from more affluent backgrounds understand or get a little glimpse of what we experience as black people every day," Abdullah said.

Black Lives Matter has held weekly demonstrations at the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey and even showed up at her home in the pre-dawn hours of Election Day. They have also held demonstrations outside Mayor Eric Garcetti's official residence in Hancock Park.

"White folks who are from affluent backgrounds aren't going to experience that, but at least they can experience the frustration of not being able to make it through traffic. And so those are the kinds of things that we try to do when we go to affluent spaces that way," Abdullah said.


June 1: This language in this article was updated to clarify our review of homicide data compared to numbers cited by Abdullah.