They came marching and chanting down the street … “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! No justice, no peace.”
They are the young African American and Latino students participating in the Community Coalition (CoCo) Freedom School program, and they were on the way from their morning session to a meeting with Mayor Eric Garcetti to discuss an issue that has captivated the attention of America—the Trayvon Martin verdict.
Mayor Garcetti thanked the young people for responding to his last-minute request to meet with him.
“I’m here because this is my job (as mayor). I told my staff I wanted to talk with young people right now, today. I wanted quiet conversation with youth leaders (away from the glare of media cameras),” Garcetti told the youth assembled at the CoCo office located on Vermont and 80th Street in South Los Angeles. His intent, in the wake of the civil disturbances Sunday and Monday nights was to let young people know that someone is listening.
The mayor acknowledged the underlying frustration he sensed in the youth there as well as those in Leimert Park.
Many of the 100 students in the CoCo Freedom Schools attended the Sunday rally in Leimert Park after the “not guilty” verdict, and two days later as they spoke with Garcetti, the anguish and frustration they felt was still very palpable.
“I’m frustrated watching the news,” said Sylvia about the images she saw broadcast in the aftermath of the Leimert Park rally. “We tried to do things right, but other people …. The laws are always against people of color,” added Sylvia, who struggled to finish her sentence through tears.
“… with Trayvon Martin, this is our Emmett Till,” a young lady named Hope told Garcetti. “It’s tangible, we feel it. This is our time to make a difference, and we see that times have not changed … the fact that they have not changed is real to us and makes so much difference.”
Celia, who too was overcome by emotion and began to cry, lamented the fact that while she and others were at the Leimert Park rally to voice their frustration, others were there simply to party.
Fremont student Alphonso Aguilar answered Garcetti’s question about feeling safe in Los Angeles with a disturbing no.
“I don’t feel safe as it relates to the LAPD. They automatically profile me as a gang affiliate just because of the way I’m dressed. And it was the same cop, asking the same questions three times in a row. I can’t even walk to school without being looked at by police officers. Cops profile us because of the color of our skin, and the way we’re dressed. They ask, ‘what’s in your bag, what’s in your pockets?’ ‘Do you have a weapon?’ They’re abusing their power by doing what they do,” said Aguilar.
Aguilar’s comments were echoed by others in the audience
Third-year UCLA student Tyla suggested a meeting with the LAPD to talk about the tension and “to have a honest conversation with them about how they patrol us.”
Celia, who said she grew up in the community but never really went to schools there and is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, added that there needs to be conversations about why the police and the school system try to control Black and Brown youth in South Los Angeles rather than protect and serve them.
Acknowledging the young people’s concerns, Garcetti also pointed to some of the changes that have taken place over time, particularly within the LAPD. He called it a much different agency from years ago while agreeing that it was not perfect.
He also noted some of the efforts he is currently engaged in that are aimed at youth, including working to ensure that there is enough money available to give every young person in the city who wants one a summer job next year.
Garcetti ended his conversations with the youth by urging them to counter the images of mayhem that were broadcast from the Sunday Leimert Park rally and subsequent gatherings; to push policy and law changes by going to schools and City Hall; and to work to connect with each other by going door-to-door talking to neighbors and the friends who were not in the meeting and those who feel the only way to make a difference is by breaking things.
He pledged to help them facilitate meetings and get the television cameras in to see the positive actions taking place.