A coalition of prominent activist and labor groups in Los Angeles declared on a "state of emergency" for the southern California city on Thursday, citing the lack of accountability and transparency in the use of lethal force by the Los Angeles Police Department against Carnell Snell Jr., an 18-year-old black man, in late September.
In an open letter issued jointly, the group, which includes the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter, the Advancement Project of California and local branches of the Service Employees International Union, among others, called on Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council to conduct open and independent investigations of lethal force cases and to decriminalize peaceful protests, among other demands.
"Time and time again, we see law enforcement exercise restraint when confronting white suspects, while not exercising the same care to avoid the loss of black life," the group's letter reads. "The lack of transparency in the investigations of officer involved killings and the repeated determinations by LAPD that these killings are justified only fuels suspicion and mistrust."
The coalition's demands come amid questions about the Oct. 1 police shooting death of Snell — a shooting that reflects a disproportionate rate of lethal force against African-American and Latino residents. An LAPD "use of force" report released Tuesday shows that blacks were 77 of the 223 people shot at by department's officers between 2011 and 2015, even though they were just 9% of the city's population.
Snell, who was fatally shot by police following a foot pursuit in South Los Angeles, was the 19th known black man killed by police in California and the 201st in the U.S. in 2016 alone, according to a database kept by the Guardian. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Snell was carrying a handgun before he was fatally shot — the chief released video surveillance footage from a nearby business that showed the teen did have a weapon.
The officers who shot him — who claimed Snell posed a threat and turned toward them still holding the weapon — were not wearing body cameras. "The recent release of the security video leading up to the fatal shooting of Carnell Snell is not conclusive of whether the shooting is justified," the letter reads.
The L.A. coalition also called on LAPD to reveal the names of officers involved in Snell's shooting, along with the officers' disciplinary records, and any witness statements.
The local community began protesting on the evening of Snell's shooting and continued demonstrations at the LAPD headquarters on Monday, where some members of the public were not allowed at a press conference held by Chief Beck. Three organizers were arrested at police headquarters, including national Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.
On Monday night, Cullors told Mic that she and fellow protesters have been charged with failure to disperse, a misdemeanor offense. The coalition asked for charges to be dropped against all "individuals who have been arrested in the process of protest or other forms of civic engagement."
Failing to meet the coalition's demands could prompt organizers to turn up the pressure on local elected officials. The group's letter invoked civil unrest in Los Angeles after the acquittal of LAPD officers in the Rodney King beating in 1992.
"We are gravely disappointed that residents continue to call for greater police accountability 25 years after the civil unrest in South Los Angeles," the letter reads.