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An Open Letter to the Mayor of Los Angeles on the Killing of Ezell Ford

By Meron Kassa , in Human Rights Open Letters Police Violence , at July 7, 2020 Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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Photo by Meron Kassa

To the Mayor’s Office of Los Angeles,

My name is Meron, and I am a reporter with Raise the Voices, an advocacy journalism organization. I am writing to you to discuss the unjust killing of Ezell Ford and the inaction following his death.

On August 11th, 2014, Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was shot three times by Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas in Florence, Los Angeles. Nearly six years later, justice is a mirage.

It was shortly after 8PM when Wampler and Villegas, patrolling the Florence neighborhood, noticed an unarmed Ford on an evening walk and stopped him on “suspicions” of gang involvement. Eyewitness testimony indicates that Wampler then exited the vehicle and approached Ford, who immediately surrendered with both arms raised. According to witnesses, Ford was then tackled by Wampler, disputing popularized claims of Ford initiating the aggression. Ford, face down on the ground, was then shot three times in the back by both officers. Whether Ford attempted to seize Wampler’s gun remains undetermined. 

Ford later died at California Hospital Medical Center. Neither Wampler nor Villegas faced charges following Ford’s death.

The Florence neighborhood is particularly familiar with Officer Wampler. Wampler was involved in multiple incidents throughout the neighborhood, even arresting Ford for marijuana possession in 2008 — six years prior to his 2014 death. Wampler’s 2008 interaction with Ford also suggests a previous awareness of Ford’s mental condition. Yet, despite his history of force, Wampler remains employed by the LAPD.

The LA Police Commission even declared the force inflicted on Ezell Ford “operated outside of policy.” However, then-police Chief Charlie Beck disagreed with the commission’s conclusion, arguing Wampler’s and Villegas’ use of force was justified. Ultimately, neither officer was charged.

It is with urgency that I ask you to bring justice to Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas. Providing Ford’s family with only a monetary settlement is insufficient compensation. The violent racism prevalent in LAPD presents a grave danger to Black constituents, who are disproportionately met with lethal force. To address this urgent issue with only a settlement — and zero consequences for the officers — monetizes Ford’s death and enables the LAPD to continue its harmful practices. It is the antithesis to justice.

For Black people with disabilities, the threat imposed by the police system is only exacerbated.

It is estimated that over 50% of Black people with disabilities face arrest by age 28. At face value, this statistic suggests that Black people with disabilities — who are most often unarmed — impose a disproportionate “threat” to the safety of officers. This couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, this statistic is reflective of biases that run deep within the policing system — dangerous biases that have a body count.

I implore you to not only hold these officers accountable, but also to examine the LAPD’s incapacity to uphold its mission — “to protect and to serve.” As a bureau notorious for its overuse of lethal force, I ask you:

  • What initiatives will you implement to prevent another racist, senseless tragedy? How do you plan to address the excessive use of lethal force within the LAPD? 

  • What systemic changes, if any, have you imposed to ensure that Los Angeles’ most vulnerable populations are treated with humility? 

  • Is it sensible to deploy law enforcement and adhere to standard procedures when interacting with constituents who have disabilities? Do you plan to establish a mental health response team that engages in crisis intervention (e.g. an initiative similar to the CAHOOTS program in Oregon)?

  • How do you plan to hold these officers accountable and ensure that police officers act within policy? Is there an independent oversight board that ensures these officers operate under the rule of law?

  • How do you plan to diversify the LA Police Commission board, so that its racial composition reflects the diverse community it serves?

Furthermore, what measures will you take to sever the association of blackness with criminality? How do you plan on preventing another Black person from becoming a statistic? 

The brute force inflicted on Black people is a distressing reminder of the inescapable truths of Blackness — that our skin is often a death sentence. That we are too often profiled simply because we “look suspicious.”

Mayor Garcetti, I urge you to reevaluate the LAPD’s response to Ezell Ford’s death and investigate the culpability of Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas. In doing so, I also ask that you provide public documentation of these accountability measures and any initiatives you implement that address police violence. We cannot allow injustice to persist.

We must also remember that disciplinary actions do not holistically address the systemic racism that plagues the policing system. However, addressing its perils is a necessary stride in the praxis that uplifts and protects Black lives. It is how we ensure Ezell Ford, and countless other victims of police violence, do not die in vain.

I hope to hear from you soon. This letter will be posted publicly as part of our advocacy journalism, along with any responses from your office.

Thank you,
Meron Kassa
Reporter, Raise the Voices
RaisetheVoices.org