Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna (right) speaks one-on-one with Ruben Morejon (left), the brother of Hector Morejon, an unarmed 19-year-old who was fatally shot by a Long Beach Police officer earlier this year. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
Around 100 people gathered at a North Long Beach church Thursday for a night promising to open the lines of communication between the community and the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), amid recent tension caused by two officer-involved shootings.
The event, hosted by the Long Beach Ministers Alliance, was the second of four scheduled gatherings this year meant to create community dialogue to build a healthier relationship between citizens and those who police them, LBMA President Gregory Sanders said.
While the public was allowed to speak in front of a microphone this time, instead of submitting written questions like in January’s town hall, many voiced disapproval at the amount of time reserved for some of the more confrontational questions.
Of the two hours reserved for the town hall, the public was only given about 20 minutes to ask questions regarding use-of-force, officer-involved shootings and police transparency.
Though the venue was only about two-thirds full—compared to a packed room in January—many critical questions were raised by attendees, including the need for transparent, independent investigations and reform within the department.
Family members of two unarmed young men recently killed by Long Beach police were among the speakers.
Ruben Morejon—the older brother of 19-year-old Hector Morejon, who was fatally shot by an officer April 23 in Cambodia Town—called for the department to turn over its investigation into his brother’s shooting to the Department of Justice.
“Long Beach police cannot investigate themselves,” Morejon said. “That’s an inherent conflict of interest.”
Ruben also called for the release of the 911 dispatch calls related to Hector’s death.
The cousins of 20-year-old Woodland Hills resident Feras Morad, who was fatally shot in an alley by police on May 27 while having a negative reaction to hallucinogenic mushrooms, asked only for departmental changes.
“I speak on behalf of the family when I say that we are not anti-police, we are anti-police brutality,” Kareem Morad said.
“My family is seeking justice, but justice does not come from indicting one officer. True justice comes from making a change, and preventing unjust killings from happening to anyone ever again,” Morad added.
LBPD Chief Robert Luna promised both men objective reviews of each case—from his department, the county’s coroner’s office and the district attorney’s office.
“I will tell you this: that my job is to look at every factor very objectively, to make sure that we did everything we were supposed to do,” Luna said, addressing Morejon. “It’s a part of our process and we have a very, very thorough process.”
Most of the town hall was spent on questions surrounding community engagement with police, hiring practices and policies, diversity and promotions, and racial profiling.
Medicinal marijuana advocates criticized the department’s shutdown of dispensaries which they said could help cancer patients and military veterans with PTSD. Others were concerned with the number of marijuana offenses that disproportionately imprison minorities.
When asked about how to deal with police interactions and reverse the fear of police, Luna responded by urging parents to not speak badly of police officers to their children.
"What I implore on parents is that, if you see a negative story about the police on the television, or if you see something going on, don’t bad mouth the police in front of the kids," Luna said. "Don't get the kids to hate the police from a young age."
He continued, saying that "parents should tell their kids, 'if you get stopped by the police and even if you don’t agree with why they stopped you, don’t resist, just go along with the program,' and maybe after that, then that is when we follow our process. File a complaint with internal affairs."
“We really have to take a hard look at each other and make sure we are doing the right things,” he added.
Though the town hall had a few hecklers, Sanders was content with the turnout of the event, which he saw as a work in progress.
“The fact that we have our whole staff here [PD command staff], we have the community here, to me that means we did start off good,” Sanders said.
Members of the Black Lives Matter organization and supporters of Morad and Morejon announced a scheduled protest against police brutality in Lincoln Park (at Pacific Avenue and West Broadway) planned for Saturday, June 13, beginning at 11:30AM.
The date of the next town hall has not been released.
Top, left: LBPD Chief Robert Luna speaking with Kareem Morad and Pastor Gregory Sanders speaking with Ruben Morejon. Photo by Stephanie Rivera. All other photos by Jason Ruiz.