By Libre Lelliott for Bulletin
COMPTON—The shooting of two deputies as they sat in their patrol car last Saturday finally gave Police and elected officials, Black activists, and the people of Compton something all could agree on: violence is loathsome, condemned, an assault against an entire community, whether it is actually perpetrated by the police against a citizen or by a citizen against the police.
Although Compton Mayor Aja Brown has herself experienced the potentially life-threatening behavior that is a key grievance of Black and Brown citizens in Compton and cities around the country, she unequivocally condemned the violence against the deputies.
"I condemn violence of any kind” said the mayor. “The shooting on Saturday was an absolute tragedy, not only to the two victims involved, but to our entire community as a whole. The act of one person does not reflect our city of 100,000 residents, or the great strides we’ve taken collectively to improve safety in our community. We do not tolerate nor promote violence. We will continue to keep the deputies and their families in our prayers."
In recent days, there’s been mention of the anger and frustration expressed at a press conference on August 5 when Mayor Brown said that in June 2019 she was stopped by sheriff’s deputies, ordered to get out of her car and to place her hands on a police vehicle while deputies searched the mayor, her husband and her car for drugs. They said they stopped her because she ran a red light. The mayor denied running the light and expressed outrage at the suggestion that she would drive around with her husband, their infant daughter and drugs in the car. At the press conference, she accused the police of terrorizing the community.
How likely is it that the officers who hung a U-turn to stop her or any officer in the “seven to nine” vehicles that descended on the scene knew that they were stopping the mayor? Neither Mayor Brown nor Sheriff Alex Villanueva was available to answer that question as she managed a city in crisis and he directed the search for the gunman.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Sheriff Villanueva said that the shooting “pissed [him] off” without specifying with whom, other than, obviously, the gunman. He also said he felt dismay before pivoting to express high praise when security camera footage revealed the courage of the 31-year-old female deputy as she applied a tourniquet to the arm of her 24-year-old partner, possibly saving his life. The deputy, bleeding from a bullet wound to her jaw, is barely able to speak as she asks for help in a 911 call. Both deputies are expected to survive their injuries. Comparisons between the plight of the deputies and that of Jacob Blake, who is still recovering from gunshot wounds that left him paralyzed after he was shot by police, are hard to miss.
So too are Sheriff Villanueva’s feelings of being “pissed off” and “dismayed” being echoed by community leaders like Dr. Michael Fisher, pastor of Greater Zion Church Family.
In a statement, Fisher described the shooting of the deputies as a “vicious, cold-blooded ambush—the definition of evil.” He says that the “wholehearted, impassioned response to this shooting” is what people in communities of color long to see when they are the victims of violence.
“If we accept that all life is precious,” he said, “it is the responsibility of our community and law enforcement to respect all life equally. It is our responsibility to respond with equal outrage, sadness, energy, urgency, passion when Black lives, blue lives, any lives are targeted or taken.”
Acknowledging the pain in the community, he said, “When a deputy is shot, the world stops and there’s a massive manhunt. When we get killed, the killer is resting comfortably at home and the house is protected by fellow deputies.”
But Fisher, himself a young Black man, issued an impassioned caution against the urge to exact vigilante justice. “I know many of us are filled with so much hatred right now. We are filled with so much disdain. I fear that in our hatred, we are losing respect for life. We believe (that) if we don’t handle things ourselves, bring justice by our own hands, it will never be handled.”
By the time the deputies were shot, the police shooting of 29-year-old Dijon Kizee had relit the scorching embers that never really cooled over the long hot summer of 2020. As the death of one after another unarmed Black or Brown person either came to light or played in a continuous loop before the eyes of the world, Kizee’s death on August 31, not Labor Day, marked the end of the summer in Los Angeles. His family said he was shot more than 20 times after the police tried to stop him on his bicycle for a vehicle code violation. The police say he was reaching for a gun; his family say he was unarmed.
Then as now, the police called for calm. Like Fisher, Sheriff Villanueva said, “we need to appreciate that respect for life goes across professions, across races, creeds.” That he said that in the context of challenging LeBron James to match the police reward for the gunman only slightly dimmed the luster of his words.
In an apparently more serious vein, Sheriff Villanueva called on public figures to “stop fanning the flames of hatred.” He accused them of “just turning up the volume when we don’t need it. We need to be turning it down. Particularly our elected officials and civic leaders and sports figures, they need to start emphasizing trust in the system, due process.” Zooming out over the last several months, even years, those words, no doubt, ring as hollow to the people he is addressing as they ring true to him.
There is a scriptural principle written by the Apostle Paul to a Christian congregation in ancient Greece that had a ring of the truth then. He said, “We are not conscious of anything wrong in ourselves.” That has never sounded truer than it does today.
Fisher, addressing the community of Compton, gets at the need to embrace the spirit of what the sheriff has said: allow law enforcement to do its job, even when the reality of how the job gets done is terrifying.
He said, “Do we have a right to be angered -- enraged -- by our experiences with law enforcement? Yes. Do we need to shine an eternal light on injustice and move purposefully to tear down systems of oppression? Yes, without pause. But we cannot be in the streets saying, ‘respect life,’ and then take life.”