Family and friends of Fred Taft urge police to investigate shooting death as a hate crime

Niece of Fred Taft talks at Community meeting

Dr. Medell Briggs-Malonson, the niece of Fred Taft, talks about her uncle during a community meeting outside Lakewood Village Community Church July 28, 2018. Taft was killed during a family reunion at Pan American Park in Lakewood on July 21, 2018

Posted by Long Beach Post on Sunday, July 29, 2018

 

One week after the shooting death of Fred Taft, family and friends are left wondering why someone would shoot and kill the man who they described as a loving father and grandfather. And the only motive they can think of is racism.

Taft, who is black, was fatally shot in the bathroom at Pan American Park in Lakewood Village on July 21 while he was attending a family reunion. Witnesses say a white man shot Taft and then fled the scene.

Representatives from the Long Beach Police Department, along with Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, held a tense community meeting Saturday morning at Lakewood Village Community Church to answer questions on the case. Afterward, family and friends of Taft held a memorial and rally at the park.

“I believe it’s a hate crime,” said Mareatha Moore, the mother of Taft’s daughter. “If he was missing his phone or wallet, we would think maybe this was a robbery or something.”

Taft’s belongings, including his wallet full of cash, were returned to the family, she said. In addition, racist graffiti was found near the scene prior to the shooting, she said.

But the police are hesitant to call it a hate crime, because they don’t yet have a suspect or know the suspect’s motive. Investigators have to be able to prove that a suspect was motivated by racism to prosecute a hate crime.

“That’s inflammatory and we have to work on facts,” Cmdr. Erik Herzog said at the community meeting. He assured those at the meeting that he had employed the same resources on the case as they would a hate crime, noting that he’s not afraid to address hate crimes in the city.

The shooting has left the usually quiet east Long Beach community of Lakewood Village in shock. At the memorial rally, a racially diverse group of neighborhood residents and non-residents gathered around the bathroom where Taft was killed to hear about the kind of person he was.

“He was a loving person, he didn’t know color lines,” said long-time friend Rico Gil. “He didn’t know I was Mexican, he didn’t know if you were white.”

People in the crowd wore red, white and blue shirts that said “All Lives Matter” on the back and “In remembrance of Fred ‘Hooks’ Taft” on the front. They were being sold to help raise funds for funeral costs.

“It’s not just a black thing or a white thing,” said a co-worker and friend, Jackie Wade. “That could’ve happened to anyone.”

If the shooter had given Taft a chance to talk, Wade said, he would’ve seen what a loving man he was.

Between speakers at the rally, organizers led the crowd in alternating chants of “Black lives matter” and “Say his name: Fred Taft.”

Najee Ali, who helped organize the rally, said he was encouraged that the crowd was so diverse.

“Half the people here are white, which is great. It would’ve been disheartening if it was just black people,” Ali said. “Some similar situations, like in South L.A., only black people would come out (for a rally).”

Moore told the crowd that Taft was not only a grandfather to his own grandkids, but to others’ too—he was getting ready to teach her 16-year-old grandson how to drive.

But Moore hopes his death will ultimately be for the greater good.

“I think his death is going to change things,” she said.

Several speakers at the rally urged the community to love even the people who hate them, while calling for justice for Taft’s death.

Updated at 4 p.m. to correct spelling of Mareatha Moore’s name.

 

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Valerie Osier is a breaking news and crime reporter for the Long Beach Post. She’s a Riverside native who found her love for journalism while at community college. She graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach journalism program in 2017 and covered the Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Daily Breeze prior to coming to the Post. She lives in Long Beach with her husband, Steven, and her cat/child, Jones.
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