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MOCA’s Black Lives Matter event turns into community forum

"Raise your hand if you're ready to show up for black lives like never before," Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors instructed the audience.
(Jessica Roy / Los Angeles Times)

The event at Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on Thursday night was titled: “What is Contemporary? Black Lives Matter: Patrisse Cullors and Tanya Lucia Bernard in Conversation.”

Cullors is one of the founding members of the Black Lives Matter movement. Bernard is the art and culture director for the advocacy group of the same name.

The talk was supposed to be about their work as artists and activists.

But it quickly turned into a community forum as it came amid a wave of protests and racial anxiety following two high-profile shootings of black men this week at the hands of police. Philando Castile, 32, was shot Wednesday night while he was reaching for his wallet after he was be pulled over by police in a Minneapolis suburb for a broken taillight. Alton Sterling, 37, was shot to death Tuesday while pinned to the ground by police in Baton Rouge, La.

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“We wanted to extend the conversation to the community and hold space for other folks,” Bernard explained.

The area inside the Geffen was already standing room only by the time the program began. People stood behind rows of chairs and on the second-floor balcony overlooking the gallery.

The artists spoke at microphones set up under a house-shaped art installation by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh. They opened the event by singing “We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest” and reading the names of victims of police violence.

Then the two women led the crowd in a chant of “Black Lives Matter.”

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Cullors and Bernard later invited questions and comments from the audience. Some talked about their fear of police. Others reflected on their uneasy interactions with law enforcement officers.

One woman said she had to explain to her young nephews why something like a broken taillight could escalate into a deadly confrontation.

MOCA’s program began just as events in Dallas were beginning to unfold. Over the next few hours, a sniper would kill five police officers and wound a dozen others in what had been a peaceful protest over recent police shootings in that city.

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The assailant was later killed by police.

jessica.roy@latimes.com

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