Demonstrators take to L.A. streets to rally against shootings by police

Ernestine Brass, holding her daughter, protests the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 7, 2016.
Ernestine Brass, holding her daughter, protests the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Los Angeles, Calif., on July 7, 2016.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times )
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Jelecia Smith was driving near her South L.A. home on Saturday afternoon when the 23-year-old saw a small group of people standing on the corner of Florence and Normandie avenues, holding photos of people shot by police and handing out fliers.

Smith stopped her car, parking at a gas station across the street. She joined the protesters, holding her fist in the air as they chanted.

“Let’s go, you guys!” she shouted at the passing cars.

The protest was one of two held in Los Angeles on Saturday against killings by police, the latest local demonstrations in a week marked by two high-profile police shootings and a sniper attack on officers in Dallas. A second rally, organized by the political group Unión del Barrio, took place early Saturday evening outside the LAPD’s downtown headquarters.


Two police shootings this week — the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. — refocused the heated national conversation about how police use force, particularly against African Americans. Both Sterling and Castile were black.

The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter held a protest in downtown Los Angeles after the deaths Alton Stirling and Philando Castile. (Dillon Deaton and Callaghan O’Hare/Los Angeles Times)  

Protesters — many affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement — have marched in cities coast to coast, shutting down a freeway in Oakland and packing Times Square.

Many of the demonstrations, however, were tempered after a sniper opened fire on police in downtown Dallas during what had been a peaceful protest. Five officers were killed and several others wounded.

In South Los Angeles on Saturday, Smith said the deadly shootings by officers this week in Louisiana and Minnesota were “the last damn straw.”

She was born in 1992, the year that four Los Angeles police officers who beat motorist Rodney G. King were acquitted and Florence and Normandie became the flash point in the riots that ravaged South L.A. She’s seen her only brother profiled by police, she said.


“I’m over it,” she said. “They’ve killed too many people who look like my brother.”

Smith spent Saturday afternoon calling her friends and posting on Snapchat, trying to get them to join the demonstration. She doesn’t know what else she can do to fix the problems she sees with policing, she said. But demonstrating makes her feel as though she’s doing something.

“It’s so disheartening,” she said. “It’s so disheartening to have to do this in 2016.”

Smith and the others -- about a dozen people in all -- marched down Florence toward the LAPD’s 77th Street station, demanding police reform. People watched from their front doors and porches as the group passed, several cars honking in support.

The protesters eventually stopped in front of the police station. Some people from the neighborhood joined them. Police blocked the street in front of the station, then watched the peaceful demonstration from afar.

Kirsten Goudeau, 32, and Kamran Williams, 28, held signs bearing names that have become hashtags: Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Redel Jones. Each died after being shot by police.

Goudeau and Williams, both members of the local Black Lives Matter movement, said the most recent videos showing African Americans being killed by police were difficult and disturbing to watch. They worry, they said, that their friends or family -- or they themselves -- could be next.

“I used to think it’s only black men,” Goudeau said. “Then I realized ... it was black.”

“It feels personal,” she said.

The downtown Los Angeles rally in the evening drew about 200 people. No uniformed officers stood watch outside the LAPD’s headquarters, but Ron Gochez, social justice educator for Union del Barrio, who helped organize the event, said “we know they’re in there watching. We must offer solutions. We must organize -- that’s what they fear most.”


Gochez introduced activists from across the city, each pumping up the crowd in Spanish or English.

“Black and brown unity!”

“Where are the good cops?”

“Viva la lucha!”

The gathering opened with an indigenous dancer calling for “a fraternity against oppression and corruption” and “dignity for all people.” It continued with Gochez pushing the urgency of getting involved in neighborhood councils -- telling supporters to use city money given to these groups for beautification projects to instead fight against police brutality and for causes such as women’s rights.

“We have to keep the message going and not have the narrative change by things like what happened in Dallas,” said Kerry Koerbling, who drove to downtown L.A. from Thousand Oaks, where he’s a member of the Ventura County branch of the Socialist Party USA.

His friend, Mimi Soltysik, presidential candidate for the Socialist Party USA, said he is proud that across the country, demonstrators have stayed calm, showing the world what they stand for.

“I think if there’s fear and unrest, it would come from law enforcement. Why? Their record speaks for itself. The fact that a lot of protests have been peaceful is a real testament to the people.”

Bernard Miller, a Southwest College student from Watts, marched back and forth, his voice growing hoarse from yelling “hands up, don’t shoot!” He remembers when he was younger, Martin Luther King “spoke for me. Now I speak.”


Next to him, voices surged, promising to “carry on with the struggle.”

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7:47 p.m.: This article was rewritten to include descriptions of the two rallies in Los Angeles

This article was originally published at 10:40 a.m.