Why Traditional Black Churches in Los Angeles Are Keeping a Healthy Distance from Black Lives Matter

The McCarty Memorial Christian Church congregation comes together to embrace a man who recently lost his brother at the hands of police. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)
The McCarty Memorial Christian Church congregation comes together to embrace a man who recently lost his brother at the hands of police. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

For decades, they’ve been catalysts for civil rights activism, occupying an important niche at the center of protests over police misconduct and racial flashpoints in Los Angeles, from the Rodney J. King beating to the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.

But some black churches in Los Angeles, and the traditional African American clergy who lead them, have kept a decided distance from the new breed of activism represented by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many church leaders have been cool to the brash, in-your-face tactics of Black Lives Matter. Ministers have spoken out forcefully about the way blacks are treated by police, but few have openly supported the group. For their part, Black Lives Matter organizers have turned to street protests and social media to get their message out rather than relying on the pulpit.

In many ways, the division is generational. Black Lives Matter is a young movement, while many black churches tend to cater to older parishioners. But there are also political differences.

Pastor J. Edgar Boyd of First African Methodist Episcopal Church — the oldest black congregation in L.A. — said Black Lives Matter “is a tremendous force that is … lacking of the kind of direction that it needs to have.”

He cited protesters who confronted Mayor Eric Garcetti last year at Holman United Methodist Church. More recently, Black Lives Matter protesters staged a sit-in outside City Hall to demand the removal of L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck.

“The black church, or at least the faith-based community, has not embraced Black Lives Matter because it doesn’t seem to have that central direction where people of responsibility can make the decisions and 99% can follow that,” Boyd said.

James I. Jones Jr., known as the Rev. JJ, heads Gangstas for Christ and is the facilitator of the Watts Gang Task Force. He said he supports the Black Lives Matter movement but disagrees with the L.A. chapter’s mission to fire Beck and remove Matt Johnson as the president of the Police Commission.

”We’ve come a long way,” Jones added. “Right now, in L.A. I would be more concerned with my grandson getting dressed to go to a party and somebody who looks like him from a different area ask him ‘What set you from?’ than worrying about if police are going to kill my grandson.”

Black Lives Matter activists have made Beck a persistent target, holding protests demanding his dismissal. But the chief has retained the support of many veteran African American leaders, including some who have battled with the L.A. Police Department in the past.

Civil rights lawyer Connie Rice, who sued the department multiple times, said the LAPD deserves credit for diversifying its force and treating minority groups better than it did in the past.

“We took paramilitary police and we took them 180 degrees,” said Rice, who worked with Beck to train several LAPD units that patrol low-income communities.

Black Lives Matter formed in 2013 after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman, a Florida man, in the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. Protesters channeled their frustration with the verdict into a movement that galvanized millennials.

Rice praised the group for keeping pressure on police and pushing the issue of injustice to the forefront, even though she doesn’t always agree with the comments of some its activists.

“We have a long way to go before most poor neighborhoods see LAPD through the lens of trust and guardianship,” Rice said.

Some experts say this divide extends beyond Los Angeles.

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Source: The Los Angeles Times | Angel Jennings