South Bay Forum on Institutional Racism and Solutions

Not Talked About: Justice for the 2018 Killing of Christopher Mitchell by Torrance Police

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There’s viral video evidence that racism in the South Bay is alive and well, and that’s before incidents of anti-asian harassment by Torrance resident Lena Hernandez. Other examples are any of the pro-Trump rallies that have popped up around the South Bay, and other aligned groups such as the Rise Above Movement (RAM), which is listed by the Southern Poverty as an overtly racist, violent right-wing fight club that attends rallies around the country to do open combat with counter-protesters.

A couple of weeks ago Assemblymember Al Murasutchi hosted a virtual town hall on being black and racism in the South Bay, even though 

This whole movement since the death of George Floyd. I’m a former prosecutor. I live in the South Bay. A lot of people live here because they want safe neighborhoods so public safety has always been a priority for me. 

In the last year we passed a landmark bill that strengthen the legal standard for use of force in the state legislature and creating a national 

Muratsuchi is a co-author of Assembly Bill 1506, which aims to take the decision on how and when to hold police officers accountable by taking the decision out of the hands of local district attorneys and put it in the hands of the State Attorney General’s office to avoid potential conflict of interests.

“As a former prosecutor, I recognize that relationship is ripe for conflicts of interest,” Muratsuchi said. “As for the sake of anything else in trying to restore public trust in our law enforcement and prosecutors.”

Muratsuchi recently co-authored Assembly Bill 1506 along with 32 other assembly members, which would allow local law enforcement agencies and district attorneys to more regularly request the attorney general to launch a formal review of situations where an officer used force that resulted in death or harm. The Department of Justice would have to review the incident and, upon its conclusion, could pursue prosecution should that force be found unwarranted.

Half the Los Angeles County Assembly delegation co-authored the bill, including Assembly members  Richard Bloom, Autumn Burke,  Wendy Carrillo, Laura Friedman,  Jesse Gabriel, Mike Gipson, Chris Holden, Sydnee Kamlager-Dove, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Robert Rivas and  Miguel Santiago.

The proposal would also create a new police practices division by 2023 in the department that would specifically handle requests by local agencies to review policies and practices related to use-of-force.

Because of the strength and voice of the Black Lives Matter Movement challenging us to challenge and hold me accountable, I hope to step up and represent the tremendous diversity of Manhattan and the South Bay in general. 

The panelist included Howard Scott Jr., of Harbor City, founder and president of the City Lights Gateway Foundation;  

Tonya Mckenzie, president of the President of the North Redondo Beach Business Association and owner of Sand & Shores public relations;

Former Torrance City Councilman Lt. Col. Milton Herring. He was elected to the council in 2016; and Kavon Ward of Manhattan beach, co-founder of Anti-racist Moms in the South Bay. 

“Black Lives Matter is not just a hashtag. It’s real,” Scott said.

Though the panelists were all African American, their experiences with racism ran the gamut of post traumatic stress disorders induced by indirect experiences to direct experience and potentially dangerous encounters with South Bay police departments.

Scott recounted growing up in a diverse Harbor City but learned about race through his and family’s experience with the Torrance police, describing it as a “sundown town,” a place where you don’t want to be caught after dark if your black due to the racial targeting of African Americans in the city of Torrance through the 1950s and 80s. 

Scott recounted stories told by family members not to be in Torrance after dark due to their own experiences and experience of others they knew. Scott noted that he didn’t fully understand until he had his own encounters.

McKenzie recounted alluded to a troubled childhood in which her encounters with law enforcement officers served as her protectors in the racially diverse Bay Area city of San Jose. When she recalled the first years after she moved to Redondo Beach with her family and the stories she heard about the encounter of trusted peers and their family’s experiences with the Redondo Beach police department and recalling the fears those stories evoked for her own son. McKenzy noted that investing time and energy into the new community she moved to help allay the fears while breaking down barriers. 

Former councilman Herring noted that he and Muratsuchi did not agree on every issue but was appreciative of the Assemblyman’s hosting this forum. Herring spoke as an elder statesman, being the oldest on the panel. He’s a 30 year resident of Torrance. Herring recounted having to have the talk on how to deal with being detained by police without cause. 

Prior to being elected, he had the experience of being escorted to his home by the police while jogging in his neighborhood. 

He heard the same stories of blacks not being welcomed in Torrance after dark. His wife served as civil service commissioner and dealt with issues dealing with discrimintion by the Torrance police department. He had positive experiences with the Torrance police overall in his experience. But pointed to the need for honest conversations about institutional racism. 

Kavon Ward recounted the most contemporaneous experiences with racism in Manhattan Beach due to her activism. 

“In Manhattan Beach, life is good for white people, I’m not so sure about for black people.” 

She recalls her experience as being uncomfortable after living in the South Bay city for the past three years. 

The first week after she moved to Manhattan Beach, Ward recalled walking her young daughter in a stroller with a blanket over and being asked by a fellow Manhattan Beach resident which family she nannied for. 

I’ve been called a nigger bitch walking in my neighborhood. I’ve been called a terrorist for wearing a Black Panther shirt. I’ve been told in a Manhattan Beach library that I don’t live in Manhattan Beach so I should be disrespected. And recently she learned about the history of Bruce’s Beach, a stretch of beach once owned by an African American family around the turn of the 20th century.

“Do I feel welcomed here, by the citizens of Manhattan Beach. No, I don’t feel welcomed here. I don’t feel welcomed by the citizens here or the government here. Originally from Harlem, NY, Ward noted that she didn’t go to the police to report instances of harassment due to the lived experience of the police not generally being helpful in such situations.

“We don’t run to the cops. We run from them. We don’t believe that there are just a couple of bad apples. The bag is rotten. With my experience with the police, New York or in D.C. I don’t feel safe with the police.”

Given all that’s happened in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the administration that is currently in the White House, there is permission to be blatantly racist and show their true colors. 

Ward  said she is willing to help with the work necessary to make everyone feel safe in places like Manhattan Beach and Torrance. And will continue doing the work through the anti-racism organization she co founded, Anti-racist Movement Around the South Bay. 

Wards argues that the change begins with changing of policies, noting that regardless of the actual race of the officers on the streets, all of them have to enforce the same racist policies. 

The biggest issue that wasn’t discussed was justice in the case of Christopher Mitchell, who was killed by Torrance police in December 2018 following a report of a stolen vehicle. The police fired on Mitchell in less than 2 seconds of opening his door and finding he had an airsoft rifle pointing towards the floorboards between his legs. Black Lives Matter activists have been calling for the arrests of the officers involved and changes within the Torrance police department. District Attorney Jackey Lacey cleared the officers of wrongdoing and the Torrance City Council, before the pandemic, took measures to restrict access to city council meetings following tense protests. 

The activists have made it a priority to oust Lacey from office and other anti-police brutality goals. Muratsuchi’s AB 1506 is a step forward to one of those goals, but Lacey’s ouster could be a more difficult task. Lacey received 48.71 percent of the vote, just under the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.

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