LOS ANGELES (CN) — Black church leaders in Los Angeles marched to LAPD headquarters Tuesday in a sign of unity with the community after several days of unrest across the nation and a day after peaceful protesters and clergy members were tear-gassed outside the White House.
Racial tensions have flared nationwide as police take to the streets in riot gear while many protesters carry signs with George Floyd’s face — a name that has become synonymous with police brutality and racial injustice.
Floyd was killed on Memorial Day by a white Minneapolis police officer who pinned Floyd to the ground with a knee to the back of his neck until the man died. Video footage of the incident death sparked outrage at police, but also renewed criticism of militarized police departments across the country.
On Tuesday, Pastor Thembekila Coleman-Smart of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference asked a crowd in downtown LA, “Did you hear George Floyd call for his mother? I am his mother. I am his daughter. Vengeance is mine sayeth the lord. I am here on behalf of his mom whose name he cried out in his last breath.
“I can breathe, and I will speak, and I will stand and I will bleed the blood of Jesus until racism comes down,” said Coleman-Smart as she pulled down a face mask.
Hundreds of protesters outside police headquarters asked officers to join them as they took a knee in the street. Some officers kneeled with the crowd while others watched from behind safety barricades.
A young woman gave officers hugs and thanked them for showing support.
In an interview, the young woman who declined to share her name said the gesture from police was inspiring for her.
“The officers responsible [for Floyd’s murder] should be held accountable,” the woman said. “But I think it’s a symbol of hope for everyone to see cops recognize what happened wasn’t OK and to take a kneel with us in solidarity.”
LAPD Sgt. Anthony Tate was one of the officers who kneeled.
“We’re standing in solidarity with the community,” said Tate. “It’s only the way we’re going to be able to police the community in peace.”
When asked about the aggressive response by police against other protesters across the city, Tate said, “You get provocateurs who come into the peaceful protest. As much as possible we try to weed them out.”
Noelle Wigans of Loveland Church drove in from the Inland Empire east of LA to participate in the demonstration.
“I’m here because it’s sad that we’ve allowed this to prevail for so long,” Wigans said. “Those of us who are African-American carry that weight with us on a daily basis. We know we’re not accepted. We know we’re not respected. It’s the culture of the country.”
Wigans said she was inspired to see the multiracial, multigenerational crowd participating in the action and noted the relaxed approach to protesters by police early in the event.
“Who’s organizing the events may make a difference,” Wigans said. “These are pastors and they gave this a little more space versus what’s been happening elsewhere.”
The energy of the protest shifted dramatically when LA Mayor Eric Garcetti arrived at the rally outside LAPD headquarters.
Over the weekend Garcetti requested the California National Guard after looting spilled out across multiple neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, surrounded by black faith leaders and protestors, Garcetti’s message of unity was drowned out by chants of “Black Lives Matter here,” “fire Chief Michel Moore” and “defund the police.”
Moore faces mounting calls to resign or be fired after suggesting at a Monday press conference that Floyd’s blood is just as much on the hands of protesters as the officer who killed him.
“We didn’t have people mourning the death of this man, George Floyd. We had people capitalizing. His death is on their hands, as much as it is on those officers,” Moore said.
While Moore later apologized for the comments and claimed he misspoke, the backlash continued during a remote special meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners held Tuesday.
During the public comment period, several callers expressed their outrage and frustration with Moore’s comments. Many said they felt disgusted by Moore’s statements and the “incompetence” of the department.
Most of the callers said Moore should either quit or be fired, with one demanding his removal by the end of the week.
Others criticized the LAPD’s handling of protesters, including firing on them with rubber bullets at “point-blank range.”
Still others demanded the resignation of the entire police commission and called for the LAPD to be rebuilt “from the ground up” due to its handling of the protests.
Moore did not respond to the participants during the public comment period.
Garcetti did not march with the faith leaders, but a caravan of National Guard personnel passed by the rally.
Harris Wilson, a mechanic by trade from Lynwood, said Garcetti may have been welcomed by the pastors but not by him.
“He’s a coward. Why come out here? Maybe I’m not a good churchgoer, because he allows the police to do,” Wilson said pointing to Garcetti.
Trucks carrying National Guard soldiers surrounded LA City Hall shortly after Garcetti walked to LAPD headquarters for a meeting with black clergy.
A spokesperson for rally organizers did not respond to a request for comment by press time on the outcome of the meeting with Garcetti.
Guillermo Torres, director of organizing with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, said in an interview that religious communities play an important role in movements for racial justice.
“It’s very important that people don’t stay silent anymore. These injustices and racism have been on display for many years,” Torres said outside LAPD headquarters. “The religious component has been an important component for social justice throughout the world.
Torres called on religious leaders to use their resources to support activists and to speak out not only against police violence but for economic justice and protection for immigrants.
“In some cases, our religious voices have been absent,” Torres said. “A lot of young people are disconnected from congregations. They’re not disconnected from God. But there’s such a disconnection between what happens at church and on the streets.”
Torres chided President Donald Trump’s response to the protests against police violence and said his actions in office are out of line with religious values.
“He does not represent God and no government represents God,” Torres said. “His policies are not in line with the policies of God.”
Koko Butler, who was joined by her children agreed that Trump made a farce out of trying to prop up the church with his message.
“That’s a spectacle. We need authenticity. We need raw emotion and my children know you can’t find that in the White House right now,” said Butler, who was joined by her children, 17-year-olds Arion and Andrew Julien at the protest.
Andrew Julien said, “It’s very important for us to unite as one. This protest really showed that.”
Arion Julien said, “I didn’t know what to expect because so many images in the media about protests are about the violence.”
Shortly after the clergy-led rally ended, thousands descended on the steps of LA City Hall for a planned rally. Protesters also marched through nearby Hollywood, where they met by National Guard personnel and police in riot gear. Other protesters ran on to a freeway in downtown LA, according to media reports.
The LA County Superior Court closed its downtown LA and Hollywood branches on Tuesday due to “public safety concerns.”
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union called on Garcetti to lift his curfew order, which has been in effect since May 30. The group says it’s unconstitutional, far too broad in scope — covering all 4 million resident and 500 square miles of the city — and an irrational response to looting and destruction in “a few isolated locales.”