More than 100 people gathered with about 25 LAPD officers in a conference room at Exposition Park in South L.A. Wednesday night, in hopes of airing grievances and improving police-community relations amid growing tensions across the city and country.
The meeting was hosted by the Institute for NonViolence in Los Angeles, which has hosted similar events since last August. This one was hastily arranged in the wake of a series of police killings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the killings of five Dallas police officers last week.
“Let’s address questions honestly, openly and respectfully,” said Avis Ridley-Thomas, director of the Days of Dialogue series at the institute.
The racially mixed crowd broke into small groups and sat at tables with two police officers and a facilitator. People appeared slow to speak up at one table, but soon the dialogue took off.
Trey Rentie, 27, said he had tried to shield himself from all of the bad news about police shootings. But he said he couldn’t ignore the death of Alton Sterling in Louisiana.
“Because of the fact they were holding him down,” said Rentie, “and telling him to get on the ground when they had him down on the ground already.”
LAPD Officer Rashad Sharif saw the videotaped incident differently.
“The first thing that came to mind for me is why didn’t this guy just do what the cops tell ‘em,” said Sharif. Both the officer and Rentie are black.
Rentie said he was not condemning all police officers. Sharif, who has been on the force for 27 years, said cops who may have grown up in a whiter and more affluent area than South L.A. may approach people more apprehensively than him and make wrong assumptions. He grew up there.
The tone was very different that the angry chants heard outside LAPD headquarters earlier this week following the Police Commission’s decision that the fatal shooting of Redel Jones was justified. Jones had confronted an officer with a knife in a South L.A. alley after robbing a pharmacy.
Rentie and Sharif disagreed, politely, but agreed the face to face interaction was helpful. They shook hands and smiled.
One sentiment expressed over and over was that good cops should report bad cops.
“If it’s just a few, clean it up,” said David Bryant, 63, of South L.A. “It could be cleaned up overnight.”
He said one police officer told him that he was unaware of any corrupt or brutal officers at the LAPD.
“I find that hard to believe,” said a skeptical Bryant.
At the end of the dialogue, many expressed optimism.
"I hope people walk out of here with more hope," said LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Scott.
Bryant, harkening back to the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, warned the police need to change.
"We don’t have time to sugarcoat this and play around with it because this is very serious business.”