#DearLAPD: South LA Residents Share Their Thoughts on Community-Police Relations

By Julia Poe

On the bustling corner of Vermont and Slauson avenues in South Los Angeles, cars honk loudly on their evening commute. A man selling fresh fruit calls out in Spanish to students walking home from school and a small group gathers, chatting about the work day.

Just last month, five miles south of here, groups poured onto the streets to protest two fatal police shootings. The shootings were separated by one block and eight miles, taking the lives of two young men — one black, one Hispanic, both allegedly armed. Many in the community feel the killings were unjust.

Similar demonstrations have been occurring across the country as communities speak out against police brutality. Nationwide, the activism is increasing tension between minority communities and the officers who patrol them.

Intersections South LA asked residents to share their thoughts on relations between the community and police in their neighborhood.

For Linda Gerhart, the solution to tense community-police relations is simple — love and respect. As a worker for the Church of God in Christ, she sees her community come together with grace and compassion every day. But she also sees violence and distrust, particularly when it comes to interactions with the police.

Gerhart acknowledges that some cops are in the business for the wrong reasons.

“Some polices [sic] is not, should not be a police officer,” Gerhart said. “Some people have jobs just for the money or for the power and [they’re] not thinking of the people.”

But that doesn’t change her belief that citizens must help to mend the relationship between police and the community. It is the responsibility of individuals on both sides, she says, to unite and create a more positive approach to crime and law enforcement.

“The police and the community gotta work together and love one another,” Gerhart said. “We need to have more love and affection for the police department towards people and vice versa. We gotta restore the community because there’s a lot of crime.”

The sentiment is one echoed by many members of the South LA community. Javier Diaz has lived in the community since 1975. Over the years he has become increasingly comfortable in his community. Diaz believes his comfort has come with the demonstrated respect he receives from the police in return for respect he shows he has for the police. But Diaz, who is black, acknowledged feeling that respect from officers may be in part due to his demeanor, education and overall appearance.

After living in South LA for decades, Diaz understands the fear that officers must feel when they are answering a call. But he places most of the burden of patching up community-police relations on the officers in the field every day.

“They are trained professionals,” Diaz said. “They’re the ones that have been trained. Every citizen isn’t trained in responding to conflict, to a distress, or emergency, but [officers]are. As such, they should take the high road.”

While Monique Cooper agrees that officers must be held to a high standard when enforcing the law, she also said many negative altercations can be avoided if the community does its part.

The topic of police brutality hits close to home for Cooper. In the 1980s, several police approached Cooper following a tip that she had a gun. She told the officers that her gun was registered in her name and locked up, but her resistance to comply with officers caused the police to become physical. One officer leveled a kick into her back.

Cooper was pregnant at the time of the assault. The baby didn’t survive.

Though she received compensation from the department, Cooper said it took years for her to overcome the bitterness that she felt toward police. But now, she insists, both groups must put aside the differences and faults of the past in order to create a better future.

“This can’t continue to happen. People need to stop, think, and they need to bring all of this together,” Cooper said. “People need to sit down, talk about the problems that they have. I don’t like what those officers did, but we need them. [Police and the community] need to communicate with one another.”

Zamil al-Ashanti believes the heart of the issue is seeing police officers as more than a badge or a uniform. He sees police officers who are frustrated with the level of crime in the neighborhood and afraid for their own lives.

The first step in fixing any part of the problem, al Ashanti said, is to view police officers as part of the community of South Los Angeles. Without making this adjustment, he said, the community won’t find a way to change.

“The one thing we can’t forget is that even though LAPD is LAPD, they’re still human,” al-Ashanti said. “They got feelings just like every human being, they bring their personal problems to work even though it says on the contract they’re not supposed to do that — just like we do.”