L.A. clergy, activists say Black Lives Matter was not excluded before Garcetti event

L.A. clergy, activists say Black Lives Matter was not excluded before Garcetti event
Pastor Kelvin Sauls, far left, from Holman United Methodist Church, Najee Ali, center, director of Project Islamic Hope and other pastors at a press conference talking about trust being broken with the Black Lives Matters members. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A group of South Los Angeles clergy and community activists said that rather than being excluded, members of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter were included in meetings leading up to the church forum with Mayor Eric Garcetti that they ended up disrupting.

The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, pastor of the Holman United Methodist Church, said Black Lives Matter was part of a round table that met on several occasions, including a planning conference call on Oct. 19 hours before the evening event, which ended up with protesters turning their backs on the mayor before following him and chanting as he walked to his car.

"Black Lives Matter has been part of the planning, framing and shaping of the town hall," Sauls said at a Monday morning news conference. "A covenant of trust has been broken."

Last week, Garcetti was speaking to several hundred people at Holman when about 50 demonstrators from various groups including Black Lives Matter stood up to protest.

Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, said he saw protesters make verbal and physical threats against the pastor.

Members of Black Lives Matter said they were frustrated that the mayor broke a promise he had made to them.

Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the national Black Lives Matter movement, said Garcetti kept the group in the dark about the Oct. 19 event despite previously agreeing to work with the activists to host a two-hour discussion. She said the mayor promised to do so in July after meeting with members of the group.

"What happened afterward is that Mayor Garcetti had a meeting without consulting us," Cullors said at a news conference at a memorial site Friday near the spot where LAPD officers last year fatally shot Ezell Ford, a black man whose family said suffered from mental illness.

Cullors and others said that members of Black Lives Matter learned about Garcetti's first South L.A. forum only days before the event.

That's when members reached out to Sauls and he asked them for their input, said Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter.

"They had already been planning for two weeks and the fliers were out and they already had panelists lined up," she said. "From that point, we were pulled in and asked to contribute the conversation."

Working together, Abdullah said, they sought to create a community discussion, but because the Black Lives Matter activists joined late in the planning process, they could not create an ideal format. Still, there were some agreements made during the planning process that were violated, she said.

At the last minute, a moderator was brought in. Speakers were asked to write comments on cards, instead of speaking from the heart

"What we agreed to was not the town hall meeting we got," she said. "We made it clear, if there were disagreements, if we had dissents from what the mayor did then we would make it known."

On Sunday, Garcetti planned a return visit to Holman. But Sauls, the pastor of the West Adams church, said that he decided to cancel after the event was leaked online.

"I appreciated the intent of the mayor's visit, to come and be with us so we can deepen our relationship," Sauls said. "But in light of the organized social media campaign of Black Lives Matter, I decided it was not strategic."

At Monday's news conference, Sauls and the roughly dozen people in attendance said they support the mission of Black Lives Matter and hope to reconcile with the groups.

"We are not divided in our message," said Paulette Gipson, president of the NAACP's Compton chapter. "Just in our actions."

Twitter: @angeljennings


Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this story.