Holidays bring generations together at “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations

Jona Knight and her family. (Photo credit: Lena Nozizwe)

Monday’s release of the autopsy of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man fatally shot in August by Los Angeles police, has prompted a new wave of demonstrations against the use of deadly force by police and the perceived lack of accountability to affected communities. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says the Ford autopsy is consistent with what the officers involved in the shooting have told investigators, but activists still have questions about how and why police shot the 25 year-old man whose family says suffered from mental illness, three times, including once in the back. The shooting happened just two days after officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The holidays have not put a stop to the nationwide demonstrations for police accountability, but rather have served to bring generations together at the protests. Lena Nozizwe reports from Los Angeles.

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Knitted hats and all, Jona Knight and her two exuberant boys were all bundled up for the blustery weather as they stood just across the street from an upscale shopping mall in Mid City West in Los Angeles, California.

While this time of year you might expect them to be headed for holiday sales, instead Knight and her family gathered with hundreds of other protesters during the final days of 2014.

They arrived with a group of members of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, the largest African-American church in Orange County.

“Basically the walk is for them.” Knight says, referring to her boys. She adds that participating in the movement is a way of giving her sons a lasting present. “They don’t know what’s going on. But we want to try and make the world a better, more just place for them. So it’s important for them to see all of this going on because they will remember one day.”

Knight’s youngest son, four-year-old Jo Jo, needed some prompting when it came to explaining why he came. His brother John is two years older and was pretty sure he knows what a march is; a walk “when you put your knees higher.”

John and Jo Jo’s maternal grandmother Betty Latsen joined her family for this demonstration. She knows very well what it means to march.

As protesters chanted in the background, she shared her recollections of growing up in a segregated high school in Virginia in the 1960s where she watched the civil rights movement unfold. “I remember the awe and just the respect and the desire I had to participate,” Latsen old FSRN. “I remember friends of mine, in fact my late husband participated in the sit-ins, but I was not allowed to because my parents were afraid for us. Some of us were afraid during those times and even though the children had the desire to participate we were not allowed because our parents were afraid for us. So I  remember the dogs and the  fire hoses being shown. I remember all of that I remember people’s lives being taken for our cause.”

While Knight believes that it is important to teach her lively sons about respect and discipline – and she does not hesitate to do so even during the middle of an interview — she says they are too young to learn about Grandmother Betty’s memories about violence that erupted, often at the hands of the police, during the beginning of the civil rights movement.

“I don’t give them the picture that police are bad,” says Knight. “I teach them police are to protect us and there are some people who don’t obey the laws and make bad choices and bad decisions and they go to jail in some cases. That’s what I tell them. I don’t want them to be scared. But the older they get, I’ll have to share with them that they do have to be careful and watch it when they are around police.”

As Knight and her family marched, protesters’ chants listed off names that have become symbolic of a new civil rights movement, names that included Mike Brown from Ferguson and Ezell Ford from Los Angeles; unarmed black men who were killed by police officers.

The names are different for Betty, who will turn 70 in 2015, and that makes her wonder about progress. “It is like déjà vu to me,” she said. “It appears we are going back to the kinds of confrontations we had in the 60s.”

As LA’s Millions March concluded, the organizers told all who gathered that it was not the end, but the beginning.

For Jona Knight, it was the start of a longer-term family discussion and life lesson for her sons. “They will come back and ask me later ‘Hey Mom we marched… What was that all about?’ Then I can bring it back to life for them by them actually being a part of it.”

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