Quiet vigil in downtown L.A. protests police violence

Quiet vigil in downtown L.A. protests police violence
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas raises his hands during a silent vigil on the steps of the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Dressed in dark suits and ties, roughly 50 African American men gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Monday for a silent vigil in support of Eric Garner and others who died during confrontations with police.

The noontime gathering was intended to illustrate that police do not target only youth in low-income neighborhoods, said Kerman Maddox, managing partner at Dakota Communications and the organizer of the vigil.

"The larger community doesn't know how common it is for African American men to be stopped and harassed," he said during the event.

The vigil, called "Suits in Solidarity," grew out of a desire to show support for youth who have been protesting across the country, but in a different way, Maddox said.

Since grand juries declined to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men — Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — demonstrations have been held in cities across the nation. In some cases, protests have turned violent, and almost all have been loud, with some marches blocking streets and, in Los Angeles and Oakland, freeways. On Monday, protesters chained themselves to the Oakland Police Department headquarters.

Monday's vigil was low-key. Men greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was one of the speakers.

"This is a season to celebrate hope, joy and fulfillment. We will celebrate our right to expressing our 1st Amendment rights," the supervisor said.

The vigil drew men from all walks of life, including pastors, architects, engineers and lawyers, many of whom described being racially profiled by police. Throughout the event, the men held signs that read, "Black lives matter."

"We can still express our concerns and outrage in a nonviolent and peaceful way," said Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson).

Many of the speakers emphasized that they were not anti-police, saying they believed that many police officers are honorable and professional. What the demonstrators wanted, said Akili Nickson, associate attorney for Isaacs Friedberg and Labaton LLP, was due process for all, "including those who look like me."

"In our society, African American men are demonized — we are seen as a threat," said Virgil Roberts, a lawyer. "It's time for you in America to see us as Americans and contributors to society."

The 30-minute vigil began with a prayer and a moment of silence, and ended with a moment of silence. Then the men put their signs down and stood silently for 30 seconds with their hands up, their gazes fixed ahead.