A memorial bench dedicated last weekend in memory of a Long Beach man who was killed by police in 2013 has sparked anger within the ranks of the Long Beach Police Department, and it’s led city management to author a letter telling city commissioners to deny similar memorial benches in the future.
Friends and family gathered July 16 for the unveiling of a memorial bench at Seaside Park in Central Long Beach for Donte Jordan, who was shot and killed by Long Beach police officers in November 2013.
Seaside Park was frequented by Jordan when he was alive. It was where he would give haircuts and food to people in need, his friends and family said.
The bench has a mural with Jordan’s likeness on the back and a message on the front that reads “Justice for my beloved son” on the top and “And for everyone who has lost a child” on the seat portion of the bench.
It’s painted with bright colors—a marked difference from other park memorial benches installed across the city that are typically plain stone, according to the Partners of Parks’ guide for tribute benches. The nonprofit donates funds to pay for the installation of the benches.
In a July 20 memo, City Manager Tom Modica shared concerns with the Parks and Recreation Commission, which approved the bench in October 2022, while noting that the context of the person being honored may not have been fully “explained or evident” to commissioners at the time.
“One of the approved benches includes a political message, which goes far beyond the intent of honoring someone’s life and uses public assets to further a specific personal cause,” Modica said, referencing repeated claims by Jordan’s mother and activists that he was murdered by the LBPD.
The memo was signed by Modica and LBPD Chief Wally Hebeish.
Jordan was shot and killed by LBPD officers after allegedly firing a gun near the intersection of Anaheim Street and Magnolia Avenue. According to a report from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in 2016, two officers followed Jordan down Anaheim Street, repeatedly asking him to stop.
After firing at him, one of the officers saw Jordan drop something that the report said he believed to be a cell phone—but it was actually a handgun. A few dozen feet farther, the two officers fired at Jordan again, with two rounds hitting him in the back, according to the report.
One officer said he believed the cell phone in Jordan’s hand was the gun he had already dropped, and the report concluded the shooting was lawful because the officers believed they were acting in self-defense and in the defense of others.
Modica said the bench implied that the LBPD was guilty of murder.
“While we understand and support the need for families and friends to grieve and remember loved ones regardless of how those loved ones were lost, to do so in this manner with the use of public assets can impact the basic principles of community policing and public trust that our police department is committed to providing,” he said.
The bench dedication and Modica’s memo have stirred emotions in activist circles and the LBPD rank and file.
“I’m not surprised, but disappointed,” said Audrena Redmond, the co-founder of the Long Beach Black Lives Matter group who helped Jordan’s mother, Pamela Fields, navigate the memorial bench approval process.
“The simple fact is that people are always more than any crime they may have committed,” Redmond added. “They are also whole people, members of their families and their communities and that’s what we were celebrating.”
Redmond said she didn’t understand the city’s concerns since the bench doesn’t reference the LBPD. She noted that there was some initial language that they were asked to fix during the process, and they did.
“What is harmful about that phrase unless you have a guilty conscience?” Redmond said.
Her group is also part of a second memorial bench that’s set to be unveiled today at Pan American Park. That bench, which also includes a mural, will be dedicated to Fred Taft, a 57-year-old who was gunned down inside a park restroom in 2018.
Rich Chambers, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, said officers found out about the bench through a news article published by the Post, and it prompted Hebeish to send a department-wide email Sunday night relaying his disappointment in the “disparaging remarks pointed at the department.”
Chambers said the bench appeared to be official and endorsed by the city, which elicited pointed responses from officers he represents.
“This is why people don’t want to be a cop in this city,” Chambers said one officer told him after seeing the bench.
Chambers said he understood the grief that Jordan’s mother feels and will continue to feel as she mourns the passing of her child.
“But he was not a community hero,” Chambers said.
While the agreement approved by the Parks and Recreation Commission in October gives the city discretion to remove the mural at any time, Jennifer De Prez, a spokesperson for the city, said the bench will not be removed or altered.
Modica’s recommendation to deny painted benches would only apply to future applicants, she said in an email Friday. Benches installed under the city’s park bench memorial program are typically granted a 10-year term before permits have to be renewed.