After police officers across the country were filmed violently suppressing countless peaceful protesters and journalists in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, calls to defund police and widespread rage over police brutality hit a crescendo this week. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti appears to be the first leader of a major city to at least in part acquiesce to the defunding calls, promising to cut his proposed LAPD budget by 5 percent. It seems no accident that he announced this decision on Wednesday, immediately after a veritable tidal wave of anger came crashing down on the Los Angeles Police Commission’s Tuesday Zoom meeting.
Hundreds of city residents called into a Los Angeles Police Commission meeting, ostensibly meant to be a listening forum, and turned it into a session to publicly berate and humiliate the chief of police and the commission’s members: President Eileen Decker, Vice President Shane Murphy Goldsmith, Commissioner Dale Bonner, Commissioner Steve Soboroff, and Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa. Nearly every participant dialing into the meeting called for the firing or resignation of LAPD Chief Michael Moore, who a day earlier had criticized people in the streets by saying that George Floyd’s death was “on their hands as much as it is those officers.” (The police chief had apologized prior to the session and used his time at the start of the meeting to defend his officers.) As one caller put it: “Chief of police, you don’t deserve to resign. You honestly don’t deserve to be fired. You deserve to be run out of the city like it’s the Old West.” The footage of the meeting has been viewed more than 1 million times.
Ultimately, the combined outrage of the protesters and the callers appears to have had some impact on the city. Garcetti accepted Moore’s apology and stood by his chief. But by Wednesday, the mayor was also promising between $100 million and $150 million in cuts from an original $1.86 billion LAPD budget. (That initial budget, for what it’s worth, had included a $120 million increase for the department.) The mayor also on Wednesday offered his support for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate misconduct allegations. By Thursday, curfews across Los Angeles had been lifted, and Moore was repeatedly taking a knee at the demand of protesters.
The entire meeting was seven hours long, so we’ve broken out some moments that best encapsulated one city’s rage.
The marathon of fire emoji started from the first very caller, who—because it is Los Angeles—was an elected California Democratic Party official and the daughter of horror film legend Wes Craven, Jessica Craven. “I spoke to many, many, many people who attended these protests,” Craven said. “All of them said it was peaceful until the police showed up.”
One common theme, often expressed in obscenity-laced tirades, was the fact that the commission at times appeared to be inattentive to the concerns of the community. This was the perhaps the most emblematic of those speeches.
As one caller put it, “If I had hundreds of people lining up to tell me that I was this terrible at my job, I wouldn’t sit there blinking.”
A black teenager called in to describe the violence she says she witnessed from police officers at the protests over the weekend: “As we yelled the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, police officers laughed at us. … They laughed in our faces. They shot [with plastic bullets] at just countless peaceful protesters. Your officers were the ones that were being violent with us. There were children in the crowd. There were elderly women and men in the crowd. I saw people ducking behind cars, people were running, and you’re seriously going to sit here and say that it is our fault that an innocent black man was suffocated to death? You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I am 16 years old and I know more than all of you.”
Several callers said that they felt radicalized by the police crackdown. As one caller put it: “Even though I’ve never been a fan of the police, I never believed in the police abolition movement until this Saturday when I saw with my own eyes how egregiously the police were behaving at the protests.”
“This department has failed so miserably that you’ve mobilized a movement to defund your department,” another Angeleno said. “I never thought that was something that would be on my radar that would be a political agenda of mine, but you’ve done it—you’ve mobilized me, a lazy white person.”
Multiple callers noted that the police response was radically different at other recent protests that were more dominated by white faces, including the 2017 Women’s March and the recent protests of the COVID-19 closures. As one Angeleno noted: “I went to the Women’s March when they had the first one. It was predominantly white women that were there. There were police there in regular uniforms, regular uniforms. There were millions of us there … packed into downtown Los Angeles, and you know what: There was not a single incident. … We were talking to the police, they were very nice, but they didn’t instigate anything, nobody threw tear gas at us, nothing. And you know why I think that was? Because there were mostly white women there. So, the police can operate peacefully, but just not when it’s about Black Lives Matter or about anything to do with police brutality.”
“I live two blocks from Mayor Garcetti’s home and during the pandemic, we saw numerous protests around his home about reopening the economy by a largely white, largely pro-gun contingent, so that they could get haircuts because of freedom,” another caller noted. “These protesters were allowed to circle the immediate vicinity of the mayor’s home and even stand and post about it right outside with minimal LAPD presence or interference and certainly no use of force.”
Again, a lot of the anger was directed straight at Moore. “Chief Moore, you have the most racist eyebrows I’ve ever seen,” said one caller.
“To Chief Moore, there is a reason no one is calling here to congratulate you on a job well done,” said another.
Some citizens took a patronizing approach. “Chief Moore, I’m sure this last 24 hours has been extremely difficult for you,” said one caller. “You’ve had to face a tough reality about your capabilities and what you can do for this city and what you can’t do. … Chief Moore, this is not the job for you. I’m sure you are doing your best, but the root of this is your best is not good enough.”
Others used obscenity a bit more strategically, as a casual signoff.
One caller raised some of the other problems with Moore’s tenure, such as the $1.27 million pension payout he collected due to what the Los Angeles Times described as a “brief, highly unusual retirement” before he was rehired to his current tenure as chief.
Multiple white callers expressed guilt at taking time from black members of the community, only to then articulate their own rage at length. One caller, perhaps lacking in self-awareness, used one minute and 58 seconds of his two minutes before yielding his final two seconds so that more people of color could speak.
When asked about the community’s response on Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department referred me to a statement put out earlier in the day, which said: “We are aware of individuals who have posted videos online and on social media depicting encounters with the police, that they believe constitutes excessive force or misconduct during these demonstrations. We will investigate each instance thoroughly, and hold any officer who violates Department policy accountable.”
An allegation by multiple callers that the LAPD was using tear gas has been denied by the mayor and the police department. There are many police jurisdictions operating in Los Angeles County—from the Beverly Hills Police Department, to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, to the California Highway Patrol—and one or more of these other law enforcement organizations may have used tear gas to suppress protesters. A Los Angeles city official told me she was not in a position to comment on tactics taken by other law enforcement agencies that report to other jurisdictions within the county of Los Angeles. [Update, June 5, 2020, at 7:05 p.m.: On Friday, the police commission announced that its inspector general would be reviewing incidents of possible excessive force that were posted on social media. “These harsh police tactics have no place in Los Angeles and tarnish the professionalism and care that thousands of officers—who work to end injustice—show each day,” Garcetti said in a statement. “The civilian Police Commission’s Inspector General is reviewing the footage and will ensure a full investigation of incidents depicting excessive uses of force, which could lead to officer discipline or removal. Every incident has a larger context, but our officers must keep the peace, without violence.”]
Ultimately, at least one caller had Chief Michael Moore’s back. That caller, though, went by an unusual alias.
In a city as progressive as Los Angeles, though, it probably doesn’t help when one of your lone supporters, Rusty Shackleford, closes his statement like this: “Fuck Mayor Garcetti, and fuck the Democrats, and fuck anybody that supports these protests. You’re all scum, and you’re destroyers of nations. I salute you Chief Moore, keep doing a good job. But get a better PR firm.”