ECHO PARK — The Los Angeles Community Action Network, Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles and Street Watch LA and other co-sponsors organized a rally for the unhoused Black community in solidarity with Black Lives Matter on Saturday, meeting at the Echo Park Lake Boat House.
The rally was led by housed and unhoused Black individuals, who are more likely to experience police violence. They demanded L.A. City Council to defund the police and called for the reallocation of funds to housing and healthcare for the unhoused community.
Pete White, an LA-CAN organizer, welcomed the crowd by asking everyone to look to their neighbors on either side and say, “There’s a problem in Los Angeles.”
“Once we acknowledge there’s a problem, we are duty bound to do something about it,” he said, quoting the book, “Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson.”
White recently read a headline this year attributing the rise of homeless numbers to racism. This is something he and organizations like LA-CAN have witnessed first hand and have been actively fighting against for decades.
“Racism is the cause for a lot of organized abandonment in our communities, and it’s interesting that Los Angeles is now talking about racism being the cause, when we’ve been talking about it from the ground for 25-30 years,” White said. “We’ve been talking about industrialization, we’ve been talking about redlining and segregation, we’ve been talking about runaway unemployment, underemployment and just no opportunities for Black folks in this city – all you have to do is take a ride around.”
Individuals took turns sharing personal stories. One person who spoke about his journey was Theodore Henderson, who has been unhoused for seven years. Henderson hosts the podcast “We the Unhoused,” to amplify the voices within his community.
Henderson said the stereotypical perception of unhoused individuals does not accurately reflect who they are – a reality he knows too well.
“What people first think of me is that I am unhoused and I am a criminal,” Henderson said. “They don’t see that I am unhoused and an educated man – they don’t care.”
Henderson, a former educator, said he lost his home after falling ill.
“My story doesn’t begin in the park like many of our unhoused neighbors,” Henderson said. “We didn’t grow up one day and say, ‘We’re going to live out on the street.’ We had a life, we had a family and so did I.”
Henderson said he has encountered brutal treatment as a Black and unhoused person in L.A.
“I’ve gone through unhoused white vigilantism,” Henderson said. “I’ve gone through terrorism from police officers that look like me and some that don’t look like me, and I do mean guns drawn, billy clubs out in the rain that throw me out of the park, because they felt I was dangerous – a crazy, drug dealing Black man.”
He wants to see funds allocated toward helping communities on the ground level instead of policing.
“When you criminalize people, people like me – I’m in that boat too – you diminish their humanity,” Henderson said. “When you defund the police and put the money in ways to help our humanity, you liberate all of us – all lives matter.”
The crowd marched to the 13th District Office on Sunset Boulevard while chanting, “Defund the police” and “House keys not handcuffs.”
Ashley Bennet, Ground Game L.A. co-founder and organizer, posted a list of demands on the wall outside of City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office. Demonstrators joined by adding their own messages.
The list of demands consisted of three points: defunding the police, implementing the People’s Budget to include services, healthcare and housing, as well as calling for Councilmember O’Farrell to step down as the Chair of the Homelessness and Poverty Committee.
“We must do better,” Bennett said. “It’s our job to take the reins and rebuild the system.”