Long before Black Lives Matter made a mark in Los Angeles, there were the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, Najee Ali, Earl Ofari Hutchinson. They and a handful of other black civil rights and religious leaders led the charge whenever issues of race and police brutality arose in South L.A.
They organized marches and held news conferences. But they also broke bread with L.A.’s political establishment, seeing it as an effective way to bring reforms.
Now there are new kids on the block, and they are shutting down freeways, disrupting community meetings, and camping outside LAPD headquarters and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Windsor Square home.
Earlier this month, they confronted Garcetti at a forum in a church, eventually following the mayor–chanting along the way–to his car.
The hundreds of members of the fresh crop of community activists–many of whom came of age during the 1992 Los Angeles riots–reject the traditional tactics of the “old guard.” Despite their relative youth, they have adopted acts of civil disobedience used during the 1960s civil rights era and are more interested in pushing city officials and politicians to make change than in sitting on their commissions and boards–and waiting.
United under the banner of the national group Black Lives Matter, they are actually a loose coalition of organizations that believe that a more in-your-face approach to issues like excessive use of police force is not only more effective, but justified.
“You can’t attempt to employ 1980s and 1990s strategies in a 2015 moment,” said Pete White, founder of Los Angeles Community Action Network and a member of Black Lives Matter. “There’s a push back against methods and individuals whose message did not work.”
For the veteran activists–many of whom grew up in the era when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached nonviolence–the actions of some of the protesters distract from their message.
“With Black Lives Matter being a new organization with young activists, they don’t have the experience or discipline to be more effective advocates,” said Ali, the director of the advocacy group Project Islamic Hope. “They seem like a one-trick pony and all they can do is disrupt and make noise.”
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, a part of the established group of black reformers, invited Garcetti to host his first town hall meeting with area residents at his church. Eventually the hourlong discussion was interrupted by protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter.
About 50 demonstrators turned their backs on the mayor as he spoke to a crowd of several hundred. When Garcetti attempted to leave, the demonstrators surrounded him and chanted as he walked to his car. One activist jumped on the trunk of the car as the mayor stepped inside.
Later, a group of clergy and other leaders of well-known organizations demanded an apology from the protesters, accusing them of being disrespectful and using words that seemed akin to a public spanking.
“I was raised by strict Southern grandparents that told me that if I acted up in public then I would get my discipline in public,” said Xavier Thompson, president of the Southern Missionary Baptist Church. “We will not tolerate irreverent behavior.”
Despite the tension, both groups of activists said they are willing to work together toward a common goal.
“This is not about the black community airing out its dirty laundry,” Thompson of Southern Baptist Missionary Church said. “We will come together behind closed doors.”