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article imageInside the camp of LA's Black Lives Matter protesters

By Veronique Dupont (AFP)     Aug 18, 2016 in World

A young man slumbers in the open air at the foot of some mattresses piled up near a modest collection of books and a table laden with salad and fruit.

For more than a month, Black Lives Matter has maintained a makeshift encampment in front of Los Angeles City Hall to demand the resignation of police chief Charlie Beck.

"It's a black-led space. When white people, come they are not to take the reins, but to be there in support," says Christina Griffin, 28, a spokeswoman for the movement's LA branch.

The protesters are trying to run the camp along the lines of the world in which they'd like to live, Griffin explains, with "less police, more resources."

In August 2015, Redel Jones, a 30-year-old black woman, was shot dead after she allegedly moved towards LAPD officers while holding a knife.

Then in July, the Los Angeles Police Commission found that the officer who opened fire had not violated deadly force rules.

The decision was at odds with a statement from a witness quoted by the Los Angeles Times, who said police opened fire as the woman was running away.

"America Is Only Great When You're A Cis Hetero White Male" is written on the sidewal...
"America Is Only Great When You're A Cis Hetero White Male" is written on the sidewalk at an encampment of activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, outside City Hall in Los Angeles
Robyn Beck, AFP

Black Lives Matter members, outraged by the decision, marched to city hall, where they have maintained their vigil ever since.

Last week, emotions ran high as they commemorated the two-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford, who was gunned down after two LAPD officers stopped him as he walked alone and unarmed in South LA.

Community members cast doubts over the police account that Ford had attacked one of the officers, countering that he was mentally ill and had been complying before he was shot.

- Nationwide protests -

Ford's death came only days after Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, the most high-profile in a spate of cases that have made headlines and set off nationwide protests.

According to an internal LAPD report, officers shot 38 people last year, 21 of whom died.

Eight of those involved in the incidents were black, yet African Americans represent less than 10 percent of the city's population. Hispanics, who represent just under half of "Angelenos," made up 58 percent of the cases.

A sign reading "Honk 4 Black Lives" is seen at an encampment of activists associated with ...
A sign reading "Honk 4 Black Lives" is seen at an encampment of activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, outside City Hall in Los Angeles
Robyn Beck, AFP

Scrutiny has also fallen on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which killed an African-American man while hunting a carjacker in July and subsequently admitted the unarmed victim had nothing to do with the case.

Critics of the nationwide BLM movement say it ignores black-on-black killings -- by far the most common type in the African American community -- and blames police even when the slain suspect looks to have been at fault.

They say the high proportion of black deaths at the hands of police can in part be explained by their disproportionate involvement in violent crime.

While blacks account for around 13 percent of the US population, black offenders committed 52 percent of homicides recorded between 1980 and 2008, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics.

More recent but less comprehensive statistics by the FBI tell the same story.

- 'Threatened by police' -

People sit around a table at an encampment of activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movem...
People sit around a table at an encampment of activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, outside City Hall in Los Angeles
Robyn Beck, AFP

Undeterred and angry, the LA branch of Black Lives Matter is in its third protest in two years.

Morning and evening, a few dozen mainstays gather at the encampment to talk about their goals and air their grievances.

Many go to work or take courses during the day and return to sleep at the camp at night, using toilets in public buildings and relying on the kindness of the public for food.

"The only times I've felt threatened so far is by the police. One day they gathered in a line with their weapons," says assistant nurse Brittany Craig, 24.

"They try to make our life difficult, asking us to move from there to there."

An LAPD spokesman told AFP the police had asked the group to leave a basement leading to an underground area of a shopping mall but otherwise had allowed them to go about their business.

According to a count by LA radio station KPCC, the LAPD shot 375 people between 2010 and 2014 and in that time no officer has been prosecuted.

"The LAPD kills more of its residents than any other police in the country," says Melina Abdullah, one of the leaders of LA's BLM movement.

The activist, a professor at California State University, said more city money should be spent on education and housing, rather than on a high police budget.

Black Lives Matter sent a 9,000-signature petition almost two weeks ago to LA mayor Eric Garcetti demanding the police chief's head.

While media attention has focused on violent protests in New York, Ferguson and Milwaukee, campaigners say the hurt is just as deeply felt in LA, even if the demonstrations are largely peaceful.

"We chose not to burn the house," says one 68-year-old protester who only gave his first name, Akili.

But he added that "grief and outrage" had led the city's black community to the "enough-is-enough point."

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