About 30 greater Long Beach-area activists as well as residents who allege they have been
victimized by Long Beach Police Department officers gathered outside the 43rd annual Police Awards at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center Wednesday, June 22, to challenge the department and raise awareness about what they described as an unacceptably high rate of officer-involved shootings in Long Beach.
Ian Thompson, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition in Los Angeles, said the grassroots organization has launched a Campaign to Stop Police Violence, and the campaign is targeting the city of Long Beach based on what he described as a pattern of excessive use of force by LBPD officers.
"It's not just two or three shootings," he said, noting that there has also been a "series of tazings" in the recent past. "There's a pattern. ... The police department is out of control — it's like the wild, wild West."
As Long Beach police officers injured in the line of duty were honored with LBPD Purple Heart Awards and other officers recognized for distinguished service inside the Carpenter Center, the protestors marched in a corralled "Free Speech Zone" set up along the far side of the front of the center. They hoisted signs emblazoned with messages such as "Jail All Killer Cops" and "Medal of Dishonor."
Other signs called for justice for Douglas Zerby, (click here and here for previous coverage of the Zerby incident) who was killed by police after they mistook the garden hose nozzle he was holding for a gun, and for John Cabrera, whose fiance said Wednesday was unarmed when he was shot by LBPD officers responding to a domestic violence call.
The LBPD has stated that the officers fired in self-defense after Cabrera threatened to kill them and appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The couple earlier this week announced plans to file a civil rights suit against the city and the department.
Wednesday's protest was peaceful. Roughly a couple hundred feet away near the entrance of the center, police officers paid little attention to the demonstrators.
Sgt. Rico Fernandez provided the following official statement from the LBPD regarding the protest:
The Long Beach Police Department recognizes and respects every person’s right to freedom of speech. We feel it’s unfortunate, however, that this group of people has gathered on this date and at this particular event to express their displeasure with the police department in this manner.
It is an honor for the Long Beach Police Department to recognize police department employees, sworn and civilian, for their outstanding service to the community on a yearly basis, as well as honor those members of the community who have gone above and beyond to help another human being in need. Regrettably, there are some who do not share our appreciation for this event and have attended this event with different intentions.
Thompson said that demonstrating outside of the awards ceremony was aimed at "challeng[ing] the police in their moment of glory."
That "moment of glory," he contended, is undeserved considering the department's high rate of officer-involved shootings.
"Long Beach has more police shootings per capita than New York City," Thompson said.
The Long Beach Post looked into this claim, and it checks out. A December 2010 story on CrimeReport.org cites an Albuquerque newspaper that reported in October 2010 that the city of Long Beach was at that time averaging 1.07 officer-involved shootings per 100,000 residents for the year 2010. That's more than double what New York City was averaging at that time for the year 2010: .38 per 100,000 residents.
By year's end in 2010, the number of officer-involved shootings in Long Beach had climbed to nine. This, however, represents a significant drop from the previous year; officers discharged their weapons 17 times in 2009, according to statistics cited in a story about officer involved shootings published at Alibi.com. In 2008, the LBPD recorded 14 officer-involved shootings, while in both 2006 and 2007, nine such shootings were recorded. In 2005, there were 14.