LOS ANGELES (CN) — At a community vigil Friday, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore characterized police brutality and racism as viruses, but thousands of protesters who swarmed the vigil challenged the lack of accountability for officers who attacked peaceful protesters.
Massive demonstrations demanding an end to police violence and the defunding of police departments continued across California this week.
The protests in LA County and across the nation were set off by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Police departments nationwide have been criticized for using excessive force against peaceful protesters and detaining them in conditions that make them more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection.
The National Lawyers Guild sued the LA Police Department on Friday alleging excessive force and civil rights violations committed against protesters, including claims of being detained without access to bathrooms or medical attention.
The federal class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of Black Lives Matter-LA and LA Community Action Network, seeks damages and both declaratory and injunctive relief for thousands of protesters who were injured by officers.
“Over the course of the last several decades, [LA] has been sued repeatedly for many of the same tactics on display the past week, including kittling protesters before declaring an unlawful assembly, excessive force with batons and rubber bullets, and prolonged handcuffing and improper conditions of confinement for arrestees,” the 25-page lawsuit states.
Outside LA Police Department headquarters, Moore gathered with interfaith leaders and community residents next to a painting of Floyd who he described as a kind giant and a resource to his community.
Moore said Floyd’s killing exposed the long history of state violence in the country and renewed longstanding calls for reform.
“It tore at the very heart of what policing is, tore at the very essence of our duty to serve and to protect,” Moore said.
Faith leaders and community representatives described the vigil as a space for police officers to express their grief over Floyd’s murder and discuss solutions.
“As we reflect on continued acts of racism, what arises is the pain, the exhaustion, the heartbreak. I feel it and I hope you feel it too,” said LA resident Jonathan Franklin. “I also see small glimpses of change. Nobody is free until we all are free. We are LA and we are in this together.”
Moore described racism and police violence as viruses that the black community is dealing with amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a virus that has stayed with us for generations,” Moore said. “More than anything, I hope for an antidote to racism, to social injustice. Racism is not inherited, it’s not in your genes.”
“We repeat what we don’t repair” was the tagline of the vigil, which also called on participants to embrace “open minds, open hearts, responsible dialogue,” according to an event flyer.
The massive crowd of protesters chanted loudly at barricades outside LAPD headquarters, drowning out speakers at the vigil who were flanked by a line of police and National Guard.
Moore came under heavy criticism this week for saying people engaged in looting were as much to blame for Floyd’s death as the former Minneapolis police officers who killed him.
“We didn’t have people mourning the death of this man, George Floyd, we had people capitalizing,” Moore said in a press conference Monday alongside LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. “His death is on their hands as much as it is those officers.”
Moore immediately apologized during the press conference and later issued a statement on Twitter clarifying his remark.
“While I did immediately correct myself, I recognize that my initial words were terribly offensive,” Moore tweeted. “Looting is wrong, but it is not the equivalent of murder and I did not mean to equate the two.”
Garcetti issued a statement on the comment after the joint press conference, saying Moore misspoke.
“The responsibility for George Floyd’s death rests solely with the police officers involved,” Garcetti tweeted. “Chief Moore regrets the words he chose this evening and has clarified them.”
Earlier on Friday, Black Lives Matter-LA organized an event titled #RoseFromConcrete outside the Hall of Justice which houses LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office.
Lacey has been a frequent target of criticism from BLM and other community organizations who decry her refusal to criminally charge officers who kill civilians.
This year, Lacey has been forced into a runoff election in November against former San Francisco DA George Gascon, who was endorsed Thursday by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
The BLM event invited residents to lay a rose on the steps of the Hall of Justice to commemorate people killed by police.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, a labor union representing over 9,000 LAPD officers, said Friday it opposes Garcetti’s mandate for close to $150 million in police department budget cuts and his comments chiding police behavior during protests.
“We’ve sent an emergency request to Chief Moore to send the LAPD Crisis Response Team to City Hall because Eric has apparently lost his damn mind,” the union said in a statement.
Multiple videos have surfaced on social media this week showing LAPD officers striking peaceful protesters with batons, shooting pepper balls at protesters walking away from police and shooting pedestrians in the head with rubber bullets.
Garcetti said this week he will limit the LAPD’s use of rubber bullets and require officers to intervene when they witness misconduct.
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Friday he will pursue a statewide standard for crowd control tactics and use of force policy for police assigned to respond to public protests.
“Protesters have the right to protest peacefully – not be harassed,” Newsom said in a statement on Twitter. “Not be shot at by rubber bullets or tear gas.”
Newsom also directed the California Commission on Peace Officer Training to ban police from using a chokehold — also called the carotid hold — to subdue people.
LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn said Friday she will promote county support for AB 1196, a bill by state Assemblyman Mike Gibson, D-Los Angeles, which would ban police from using chokeholds across California.
LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion Thursday requiring police to explain how they will arrest, detain and process protesters in a way that prevents exposure to Covid-19.
“During the protests in Los Angeles over the last few days, not all law enforcement personnel were equipped with personal protective equipment,” Kuehl said in a statement Thursday. “Protestors were detained without face masks and were not always able to maintain physical distancing. We must develop health policies and practices that reduce the risk of infection when people are exercising their First Amendment rights.”