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Mayor’s return to church where protesters disrupted him is scuttled

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, right, greets members of the Holman United Methodist Church congregation Sunday. He blames Black Lives Matter for his decision to cancel a plan for Mayor Eric Garcetti to attend services.

(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Less than a week after protesters disrupted a forum featuring Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the pastor of a West Adams church said Sunday that he decided against a return visit by the mayor after the idea was leaked online.

“I appreciated the intent of the mayor’s visit, to come and be with us so we can deepen our relationship,” said the Rev. Kelvin Sauls of Holman United Methodist Church. “But in light of the organized social media campaign of Black Lives Matter, I decided it was not strategic.”

It was during an Oct. 19 forum at Holman — where Garcetti had hoped to smooth relations with South L.A. residents — that protesters stood and turned their backs to the mayor as he spoke. As the meeting ended, the mayor was surrounded by a crowd of chanting activists as he tried to reach his car.

Among the crowd were protesters with the national group Black Lives Matter, which was created after high-profile police killings of young black men. Sauls and others said they were upset by the group’s behavior.

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“There were about 800 people here, and 750 of those individuals were silenced because of the disrespect that they have brought to the sanctuary as well as to us as a congregation, misusing our hospitality,” Sauls said.

The pastor said he decided to cancel the Sunday visit, which would have consisted of Garcetti’s attending services alongside churchgoers, after talking with city leaders. He said that Black Lives Matter would no longer be welcome at the church and that he was seeking an apology.

The activist group has defended its tactics, saying the mayor never told it about the forum, even though he promised to host a discussion with it.

“Mayor Garcetti had a meeting without consulting us,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said Friday. She told reporters the group learned about the forum only days beforehand.

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Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network said Garcetti had aligned himself with people who wouldn’t criticize him for not following through on his promises. “We are going to be loud about that, and we are going to engage in tactics that are meant to save our lives,” he said.

Protesters have also demanded that Garcetti and police commissioners fire Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck for his handling of police shootings, and called for increased input on mayoral appointments to city commissions.

Though Garcetti did not include the church visit on his publicly released schedule, word of his possible return spread online after political consultant and commentator Jasmyne Cannick mentioned his plans on her website and published a Police Department email about his security detail for the visit.

That email said “only a select few” were aware of the visit. In response, local activists spread news that Garcetti would be at the church Sunday.

By Saturday, however, Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah took to Twitter to tell members of the movement to “stand down,” saying she had heard Garcetti’s appearance had been canceled.

Abdullah, a professor of Pan African Studies at Cal State L.A., could not be reached for additional comment Sunday.

Garcetti spokeswoman Connie Llanos said the mayor had been scheduled to attend an event at a Glendale church Sunday, but had also considered going to Holman before ultimately deciding not to attend.

“He looks forward to visiting with the congregation again very soon, as he has done several times over the years,” Llanos said.

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Cannick said she supports Garcetti but disliked the “secretiveness” of his plan. She questioned whether a forum in West Adams — which she characterized as gentrified — is a genuine way to engage with South L.A.

And she argued that the mayor appeared to be dividing the black community into “good black people” and “bad black people” and avoiding the latter.

“This idea that you’ve got to run from people and hide from people and sneak around people is absolutely ridiculous,” Cannick said. “I don’t know any other community that has to go through this fight for attention from their mayor.”

Najee Ali, director of the civil rights group Project Islamic Hope, said he was not a regular attendee of Holman but had come Sunday specifically to see Garcetti. Ali said he was “outraged” that Cannick had spread information about the visit, arguing that it could have jeopardized the safety of the mayor.

“We want to and need to hear from him,” Ali said of Garcetti visiting the church. “But unfortunately, Black Lives Matter ruined that opportunity.”

Cannick, who emphasized that she is not a part of Black Lives Matter, said Police Department officials would not have leaked the email about Garcetti’s possible visit to her if they thought the mayor faced any risk.

Garcetti has had trouble getting his political footing among black residents of South Los Angeles. Black voters in the area widely favored his rival Wendy Greuel when he was elected two years ago.

Since then, Garcetti has been criticized by some black activists for his handling of several police shootings. The night before the Police Commission was slated to rule on whether officers were justified in fatally shooting Ezell Ford, an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Garcetti was videotaped trying to avoid Black Lives Matter protesters as he left out the back door of his Windsor Square home.

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When the activists confronted him on camera, Garcetti said he was flying to Washington, D.C., to get federal funding for homelessness and community policing. It was later discovered that the trip had been scheduled so that the mayor could attend a campaign fundraiser.

In the wake of the Monday event, Garcetti has steered clear of criticizing Black Lives Matter protesters. He told reporters: “As mayor, that’s part of the job. Sometimes people scream. Sometimes people shout.

“Any person who talks about their frustrations … you know, those are real problems with jobs, with housing, with policing. But I just keep doing the work.”

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesemily

Times staff writer Angel Jennings contributed to this report.

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