Los Angeles marchers carry hundreds of mock coffins to protest death by cop

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With Ferguson, Mo. and later Baltimore becoming the focal points of social unrest over police brutality, April’s Los Angeles Death by Cop march was a timely, peaceful event.  There were tears, anger, and frustration by family members whose relatives were killed by police in Los Angeles County. Police have added cameras to their uniforms, and even attended the event. But as one protester told me, until a police officer is held accountable, the frequency of deaths among African Americans and Latinos by cops will continue.  From my story (April 7, 2015):

The 617 coffins came from four directions of Los Angeles County on Tuesday morning with a single purpose.

They came from the east, where Kendrec McDade, 19, was shot by two Pasadena Police Department officers in 2012. From the west, where Douglas Zerby, 35, was shot by two officers with Long Beach police in 2010. From the north, where Gabriel Lopez, 22, was shot by three officers with the San Fernando police in 2014.

And from the south, where Ezell Ford, 25, was shot by officers with the Los Angeles Police Department in 2014.

One by one, the cardboard coffins with the names of those killed in officer-involved shootings since 2000 were carried by hundreds of protesters who marched through downtown Los Angeles, then lay out in front of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. The silent gesture conveyed a loud message: Remember me. Death by cop.

“I’m here because I feel there needs to be a change made to the use-of-force policies in Los Angeles County,” said Canek Pena-Vargas, a site director for CALÓ YouthBuild, which works with students who drop out of school.

Pena-Vargas often hears from youth that they don’t trust law enforcement. “If we’re so afraid of law enforcement, then who can we trust to help us?” he asked. “I want to make sure we have a chance to trust.”

Organized by the Youth Justice Coalition and a new group called STOP Police Violence, the rally was a call to action directed at law enforcement and District Attorney Jackie Lacey to institute new county policies.

The groups want the state of California to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate use of force and demand more action by Lacey to prosecute each incident by officers found guilty of misconduct. They also want more rights for families affected by use of force, so they have better access to information on their loved ones’ cases, county support and resources to bury people who are killed and access to mental health counseling for survivors.

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The groups are calling on changes to city and county charters to expand representation during community oversight commission meetings with the LAPD and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Lastly, the groups believe 1 percent of funds that go to law enforcement should go to developing youth centers and other services aimed at helping teens graduate and find jobs.

Lacey’s office released a statement later in the afternoon saying the district attorney opposes the appointment of an independent counsel to review officer-involved shootings.

“Under the California Constitution, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office — which is led by an independently elected district attorney — reviews and prosecutes all felony crimes within Los Angeles County,” said spokeswoman Jean Guccione.

“Specially trained prosecutors and investigators review all allegations of police misconduct in accordance with the law. They roll out to all officer-involved shootings to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a fair and professional manner. Long-established LADA policies and procedures further protect the integrity and independence of the criminal review process.”

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Organizers said the rally was in response to a continued, frustrating trend between law enforcement and black and Latino communities. Last year’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer inFerguson, Mo., sparked a national outcry and cast a spotlight on racism on law enforcement agencies.

The protests and rallies that followed spawned the slogans “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe,” all intended to bring about a deeper understanding of how young black men feel when approached by police.

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“They (Los Angeles County officials) heard our message, but what we want now is action to follow through,” said one organizer, who gave her name as Michelle X. “No (police officer) has been held accountable. If at least one person is held accountable, then it will be like a domino effect.”

Watching the protest, LAPD Capts. Michael Rimkunas and Patricia Sandoval thanked Michelle X for being part of the event. Both said they supported the rally, that they wanted to hear the community’s concerns.

But the young woman told them she had attended several community LAPD meetings over the years, and nothing seemed to improve.

“We can be doing things better,” Rimkunas, of the LAPD’s Newton Division, responded. “I’ll take this message and tell those who work under me.”

However, among those in attendance, the family members of those who had been shot felt justice was out of grasp, said McDade’s aunt Latina White. Recently released court documents showed Pasadena police made several tactical errors when approaching the unarmed young man.

“We want to keep his name out there, to keep seeking justice,” White said. “It’s nice for the community to unite like this. It’s more empowering. They (county officials) have no choice but to listen to us.”

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