South Central continues marches over death of Ezell Ford
Ford, a mentally disabled, 19-year-old black male, was shot by LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas last month when they claimed he refused to obey orders and attempted to take one of the officers’ guns. The shooting took place two days after the highly controversial police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri which sparked weeks of street protests by angry local residents.
For those who were neighbors to Ford, like Jasmine Harris, and knew him since childhood, his killing did not come as a surprise. An hour before the latest march demanding the officers who shot Ford be arrested and tried, Harris, a life-long South Central resident, sat in her car reminiscing about life in this struggling area and lamenting what is perceived as a calculated, cold-blooded campaign of gentrification and racial discrimination.
“It’s just bullying,” said Harris, “the cops just come here and jump out of their cars bullying people. Ford never hurt anybody, his parents loved him and unlike others parents with mentally challenged kids they didn’t lock him away. They dressed him in designer clothes and let him be a normal kid.”
Harris believes that the rise in reported police violence is part of a wider program to push out low-income, African American communities to make way for the encroachment of new homes for the upper middle class. “The elites want to be here, but without having to deal with black people, Latino people. Years ago you wouldn’t see them with tattoos, now they get them because they want to be cool, but they don’t want to be around us,” she added.
Nearby tattooed men from the neighborhood gathered around a vintage, 1950s car and made signs calling for the trial of the officers who shot Ford. Among them was Lavell Ford, Ezell’s brother. “The police is killing us and getting away with it, you feel me?” said Ford, marker in hand, “We are trying to expose them. That’s what we want out of today’s march. Ezell was mentally ill and unarmed. He was peaceful, he loved sports. The people should know he was a good dude, and didn’t deserve to get killed. I can’t even put my mind around it.”
For outsiders Ford said, “They might not see what’s happening here, they might not live it, but it’s happening and it will affect everybody.”
Former SMC student Kevon Gulley, a cousin of Ford’s, said of the incident, “People need to be aware of the brutality happening south of the 10 [freeway].” He added, “it needs to stop. It’s not about color or race, it’s about helping each other out.”
On the street corner where Ford was shot, a mural has been hastily painted in his memory. Awash in blue surrounding a portrait of his face, it stands over a set of candles and letters addressed to his memory.
Keyanna Celina of the Coalition For Community Control Over The Police, a group demanding greater citizen oversight of local law enforcement, looked at the mural and called on L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lace to press charges against the officers who killed Ford. “Witnesses say that the police had been harassing Ford the day before the killing, and the day of they specifically pulled up on him and a crowd gathered yelling ‘he’s slow, he’s slow’ and the cops were telling people ‘shut up, shut up.’”
According to Celina, witnesses then saw the officers wrestle Ford to the ground and, during the scuffle, shots were heard.
“The police feel they can murder black, brown, poor white people in America,” said Celina. “Four blocks away and nine days after Ford was killed, a Latino, Omar Obrego was beaten to death by police in front of his own house. We need an all elected, all civilian police control board with authority in all aspects and levels regarding all requirements to be a police officer, including firings,” she said.
At 3:00 P.M. the protest and march officially began with activists and local residents speaking into a megaphone at passerbys and those exiting the local shops. “No Justice! No peace!” shouted one speaker while others would grab the mic and add more heated, explicit commentary such as “f--k the police!”
While small, the protest still attracted a diverse gallery of activists such as “Sean,” a member of the Anonymous hacker collective who preferred to not use his real name but directed readers to his site, autonomy.org.
“People need to take a look around to see what’s going on all across the United States. We are starting to see the cracks forming in the system that’s in place. People need to question it. We have to put the burden of truth on the system, including the police,” he said as the protest gathered steam.
The protesters soon began marching down the hot streets of South Central to towards Martin Luther King Jr. blvd and then towards the Newton Police Station, the station from which the two officers who killed Ford came from.
It is already a notorious street, called “Shootin’ Newton” due to the large amount of gunfights that have taken place in the area. The original Los Angeles Black Panther headquarters are nearby as well, now long gone and converted into a Baptist church.
Outside of the police station a row of officers, stood before the entrance doors to protect the building from demonstrators. On the rooftop above other police personnel in caps and shades took video and photos. Even some of the cleaning personnel stopped their work to observe the proceedings.
Speakers from the crowd fired verbal rage at the officers, accusing them of arbitrary arrests and harassment. “How would you feel if you were killed like Ford?” shouted a speaker. “Can we please speak to the Chief of Police?” he demanded. At one point, a police official looked outside from behind the station doors, laughed and walked away. This provoked more rage.
At this point Brother Ali, the West Coast representative of the New Black Panther Party, dressed in military fatigues, took the mic and called for peaceful organization and self-defense.
“I’ve lost six people over the last ten years to police brutality,” said Ali into a megaphone, “brothers and sisters, we must defend ourselves but I must stress that this has to be done peacefully,” he emphasized as the first row of officers retreated back into the station, they were soon replaced by a new squad to watch over the entrance.
The protest culminated with all the demonstrators turning their backs to the officers, raising their hands in the “surrender” sign that has become a rallying sign from Ferguson, and then marching away.