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South L.A. activists seek dialogue with Sheriff’s Department after deputy shooting inflames tensions

Community activist Najee Ali gives L.A. County sheriff's Larry Villareal flowers and a "get well" balloon.
Community activist Najee Ali gives L.A. County sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Villareal flowers and a “get well” balloon outside the St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood on Monday for the two deputies who were recovering from being shot in Compton.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

In the wake of Saturday night’s shooting of two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department deputies in Compton, several activists have come forward to denounce the violence and urge the department to engage in more dialogue with the community.

Najee Ali, an activist at the forefront of ongoing protests around the Aug. 31 fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee, and LaWanda Hawkins, the founder of Justice for Murdered Children, a group that represents families of homicide victims, stood Monday morning outside St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to deliver a reconciliatory message amid rising tensions between residents and law enforcement.

“We don’t support shooting. We don’t support the murder of anybody,” Ali told a group of reporters. “At the end of the day, we’re not against the Sheriff’s Department. We’re not against law enforcement. We are simply against police abuse, police racial profiling, police mistreatment of Black and brown residents within the city.”

Both deputies, one a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old boy and the other a 24-year-old man, were shot in the head near the Compton Metro station in what authorities have described as an ambush. They were listed in stable condition, and authorities are looking for the gunman who was captured on video firing into their patrol car.

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Officials have not offered a motive for the attack, which came in the midst of tense nightly protests near the South L.A. sheriff’s station to condemn the deputy shooting last month of Dijon Kizzee, 29, in Westmont. Some of the demonstrations have escalated into violent clashes with deputies, and protesters have said they’ve sustained injuries from projectiles fired by officials.

Sheriff’s officials, however, have not linked Saturday’s shooting to the protests.

Compton and South L.A. communities have had to contend with a spate of recent violence involving the Sheriff’s Department.

Last Thursday, detectives from the Operation Safe Streets Bureau also killed a man who they said opened fire on them as they served a search warrant in Compton, the Sheriff’s Department said.

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Ali and Hawkins referenced videos that have surfaced showing people celebrating the shooting of the deputies. On Saturday night, some demonstrators showed up at St. Francis Medical Center, with one identifying himself as a member of an activist group called the Africa Town Coalition. Videos capture at least one person in the crowd yelling, “I hope they ... die.”

Ali said the activists “don’t represent our community, our movement, our struggle for justice,” and Hawkins pleaded with residents to help identify the shooter.

“What happened to those deputies should never have happened, and those who know anything should call in immediately,” she said.

During a separate Monday news conference, County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also condemned the actions of the group outside the hospital. She said she supports peaceful protest but that a line had been crossed.

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“The events of this weekend have made it clear to me that the anti-law enforcement rhetoric expressed by many elected officials, community leaders and others has created a toxic environment amid the time of civil unrest,” she said. “Not only is this dangerous for those who are working to serve and protect us, but the communities that they are trying to protect.”

Experts, though, have warned that such assumptions are misguided and that protests are a response to problems, not the cause.

“That’s a really, really important thing to point out, because you absolutely will get people who will spin this into meaning that these protests are causing problems,” Dr. Sarah Vinson, a forensic psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at Morehouse School of Medicine, told The Times.

Pastor Michael Fisher of Greater Zion Church Family in Compton, which has about 3,000 families, said he believes there’s a climate of mistrust in law enforcement that hasn’t been addressed by officials.

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“There is a lot of hurt in our community that is now spawning a lot of hatred, and it’s unjustifiable, but you can understand how we got there,” he said.

For months, Fisher has been pushing for the Compton sheriff’s station to support the creation of an advisory council composed of civilians that would relay community concerns to officials.

“The community is hearing nothing,” he said. “The community is demanding answers, and all they’re getting from law enforcement is, ‘It’s under investigation.’”

The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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Before approaching a group of sheriff’s officials outside the hospital with a bouquet of flowers to deliver to the injured deputies, Ali called on the department to fire deputies in Compton and elsewhere in the county who are part of tattooed cliques known for an aggressive policing style.

He asked for “honest dialogue” between the community and the department.

“I would not be a leader if I did not hold both sides accountable,” he said.

Times staff writers Laura Nelson and Kevin Rector contributed to this report.


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