On Saturday night, after two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were shot in the head while sitting in their patrol car, a handful of people stood outside the hospital where they were being treated and celebrated the attack. At least one person shouted that he hoped the deputies died.
Right-wing media, including Fox News and Breitbart, latched onto the story, eager to link the small gathering to the massive Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and systemic racism.
President Donald Trump and his allies often stoke fears over BLM and the anti-racism protests that have erupted across the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in May, claiming demonstrators are left-wing extremists.
But it wasn’t just the usual Trump-friendly outlets that made the LA connection. Many headlines and articles in local and national outlets vaguely described the demonstrators as “a group” of “Black Lives Matter protesters.”
In fact, the demonstration consisted of four people. They were members of the so-called Africa Town Coalition ― a Black advocacy group that is not affiliated with the Black Lives Matter national organization.
The LA County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Saturday that a “group” was blocking the emergency entries and exits to the hospital and chanting “we hope they die” about the deputies. (One of the wounded deputies was released from the hospital on Wednesday; the other remained in stable condition. No arrests have been made in the shooting.)
Cellphone video recorded by one of the demonstrators shows the four men walking toward the hospital’s entrance and attempting to get inside before people who appear to be hospital staff members tell them they can’t enter.
The small group can be heard celebrating the deputies’ injuries and bashing police officers as “pigs” and “murderers.” At least one shouts that he hopes the deputies “fucking die.” Eventually, roughly a dozen law enforcement officers arrive and demand that the demonstrators leave. At least one officer shown on the video draws a gun at the protesters.
The demonstration lasted less than 10 minutes and resulted in the arrests of one protester and one journalist who was covering the confrontation. The sheriff’s office said the journalist neither identified herself nor carried press credentials. Video of her violent arrest showed both claims were false.
In a video posted to Facebook on Monday, Africa Town Coalition leader Kevin Wharton Price identified himself as one of the demonstrators at the hospital. He stated explicitly that his group is “not Black Lives Matter.”
“We’ve been on some actions with Black Lives Matter, but we have our own political agenda,” Wharton said. “Not Black Lives Matter. Not antifa.”
Price went on to defend the chants, which have been widely condemned by Democrats who support Black Lives Matter, including presidential nominee Joe Biden and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.
But The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, in an editorial published Sunday, said Democrats needed to do more to ostracize the protesters, who the paper appeared to link to the broad BLM movement.
“Democrats may fear the wrath of Black Lives Matter, but the backlash elsewhere in America will be far greater if pleasure at cop killing becomes common on the left,” the editorial said.
In his video, Wharton said his group supports neither Trump nor Biden for president and said “many of us” won’t vote in the election.
Black Lives Matter ― a massive, decentralized movement against police brutality and racial injustice ― began in 2013 with a hashtag. #BlackLivesMatter was created by three Black activists in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Black teenager Trayvon Martin.
Over the years, the movement morphed into the Black Lives Matter Global Network and created guiding principles for other official chapters devoted to ending state-sanctioned violence and racism. Principles include acknowledging, respecting and celebrating differences and commonalities, as well as being “unapologetically Black in our positioning,” according to its website.
Anyone can start a Black Lives Matter group, though that doesn’t make it an official chapter of the national organization.
Since Floyd’s death, tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The protests have been largely peaceful, and though their demands vary, all of the demonstrators are unified against police brutality.
None of the Africa Town Coalition members who showed up at the hospital chanted “Black Lives Matter” or appeared to hold any signs linking them to the movement.
Portraying the four Africa Town Coalition members who showed up at the hospital as reflective of the vast nationwide movement is simply inaccurate.