THE BLOG
08/21/2014 04:40 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

In the Wake of the Shooting Death of Ezell Ford, the Elephant Has Outgrown the Room: It's Time to Re-Imagine Law Enforcement

ASSOCIATED PRESS

On August 11, at 8:10 PM two anti-gang unit officers shot an unarmed Ezell Ford in the Newton area of Los Angeles.

The official police statement says they shot Ford after a struggle ensued during an "investigative stop" when Ford tried to grab one of the officer's firearms.

Eyewitnesses, neighbors and family dispute the officers' account of the story. One witness told The Huffington Post on Wednesday August 13 that he heard one of the officers shout "shoot him" before three bullets were unloaded into the unarmed, 25 year old who was on the ground complying with the officers.

The names of the officers who shot Ezell Ford multiple times in the back as he was laid out on the ground have yet to be released. Yesterday, it was announced that the release of the autopsy report would be delayed pending the ongoing LAPD investigation.

Ezell Ford was killed only days after 18 year-old Michael Brown was gunned down by police in Ferguson, Missouri, which is likely what motivated a community forum last night at Paradise Baptist Church in South Los Angeles, not far from where the shooting took place. The meeting was organized by The Youth Justice Coalition and City Council member Curren Price among others. Police Chief Charlie Beck, Police Commission President Steve Soboroff, Inspector General Alex Bustamante and LA Deputy District Attorney James Garrison faced an audience of more than 200 residents, activists, peacekeepers, parents and children demanding answers.

The walls were covered with hand written signs: "Don't shoot us. Let us live," "No Justice, No Peace," and perhaps the most significant one in the context of this meeting, a poster prepared by the Youth Justice Coalition listing the names of 304 "officer-involved killings" in LA County from 2007-2014.

Some specifics about Ezell Ford are important to mention -- the fact that his mental challenges were well known to the community and the officers on that beat alike. According to Ezell Ford's mother, her son suffered from a form of bi-polar disorder and perhaps schizophrenia.

The similarities between Ford's death and Michael Brown's death beg not just for answers as to why this continues to be a common occurrence, but also demand swift and permanent change. The list of the dead is of course longer than this, the names on the tips of our collective tongues, from Staten Island, to Florida, to Chicago and countless cities and neighborhoods in between. The names change, but the horror and questions remain the same.

But what if we adopted a new language, committed to a new formula, looked to the one solution abundantly in place NOW that would change the game for good?

What if we had the courage to relinquish the outdated addiction to control over collaboration? What if the building blocks for sweeping systemic change were here right now?

There is a clear path to changing the way our neighborhoods are policed, patrolled and restored to relative safety. It is not true that police need to be further armed with the weapons and tactics of war. What is true is that intervention is no longer an idea but a proven practice taking shape across the country contributing to historic drops in crime.

The annual budget for the LAPD that Chief Beck has to serve and protect is roughly $1.189 billion dollars. This includes approximately 10,354 sworn and 3,640 civilian employees. What if 1 percent of that budget was spent to create an innovative and sustainable youth development plan to fund, advocate for and support youth jobs, intervention workers/peacebuilders in our streets and schools, and youth centers open year-round?

$10 million would fund 25,000 youth jobs, 50 Youth Centers and 500 full-time Community Intervention specialists and peacebuilders. Yes. This would certainly mean that Beck would have to re-prioritize his budget. After all, $10 million dollars is a lot of money, and something would have to give. But this community and countless others have had to give far too much for far too long, and in any other business, this would be considered a proposal with a very strong return on investment potential. This concrete and achievable solution was proposed by the Youth Justice Coalition with the support of many intervention leaders over a year ago and has yet to receive serious consideration.

If this sounds like a credible proposal, consider this: The infrastructure to support and implement this exists. Now. In Los Angeles. What is not in place, on a structural level is the necessary will within the law enforcement culture to bring these specialists and their protocols in as partners rather than assistants; to recognize community-based intervention as an institutional equal. That has not happened because it's threatening. If they were properly funded as part of an overall and holistic strategy to protect and to serve, they would have real power. And power is often threatening. But the only thing that is safe to say is that the time has come to sanctify this work.

Community-based intervention and the recruitment and training of peacebuilders are part of a growing movement in cities that have seen decades of violence due to economic, civil and racial injustice. The lack of economic opportunities, the school to jail track, the unmanageable drop-out rate and the near complete lack of any re-entry plan on the part of the criminal justice system has solidified the perfect storm that we are watching play out across the country. And it was on full display last night at Paradise Baptist Church as an embattled community was told again that the LAPD could not answer any specific questions about why Ezell Ford was gunned down until they had completed their investigation. They were protecting the officers at the expense of the community. And they all turned to the family, and very sincerely offered their heartfelt condolences. And I believe they meant it. But it didn't matter, because they were holding fast to their position, one that locked out every real concern that the family and everyone else in the room has.

But it does not have to be this way.

There is a strong and imminently capable network of interventionists who share best practices with each other, who are indispensable to local law enforcement in navigating the complicated relationships within and between neighborhoods, and they deserve the lion's share of the credit for whatever strides are being made in restoring, creating, influencing and sustaining the little peace there is.

It's time to give them the resources they need to thrive so that their communities can be restored. So that mothers and fathers, children and teachers, business owners, the aging, the mentally challenged, and even the police, can live in an environment that values them.

The 1 percent campaign could bring on the kind of change that could be a model for the Nation. Here is the link to the campaign: http://www.laforyouth.org/

It's not the whole answer. But it's a good start.