While some conservatives have called for stricter policing, others have called for the defunding of the police. Wherever you stand, there’s no question that something needs change.
San Pedro resident Najee Ali, a civil rights activist with a focus on police reform who travels to different cities across the United States to provide support to protestors and Jay Mastick, who has been in the LAPD for 24 years and is now a captain at the Los Angeles Police Department Harbor Division, recognize the need for progress in community policing.
Protests have surged in the midst of COVID-19 fueled by the “law enforcement” killings of unarmed people of color such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Andres Guardado. The latest act of violence was against an unarmed Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisc., while Blake was trying to settle a dispute between two women. Blake is now in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the waist down.
“It’s been mind-blowing, hearing stories of police abuse, that the black community has faced systematically for years,” Ali said about his experiences during the protests in Kenosha, Wis. “Jacob being shot … in the back as he was unarmed in front of his kids was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back. And that’s why we see the amount of property damage, due on years of bent-up frustration and anger.”
A trained professional may have better handled the domestic violence disputes, avoiding the shooting by the police officer.
“If that type of counselor or interventionist had been called to the scene to help diffuse the situation, we wouldn’t have Blake clinging on to life, paralyzed,” Ali said. “We wouldn’t have millions of dollars in property damage, that’s continuing rampant right now.”
Ali, who founded a civil rights organization called Project Islamic Hope, short for Helping Oppressed People Everywhere, has attended protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wisc., Louisville, Ky., Minneapolis, and Gardena, Calif., Guardado, a security officer, was killed by a deputy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Ali’s current activism comes at a time when Los Angeles is seeing a record low in crime for two years in a row, in 2019 and 2018. Last year had the lowest homicide rate since 1962, Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a tweet on Jan. 15, 2020. Many have also called for the reallocation of funding for the Los Angeles Police Department to other city agencies.
“Ultimately, I’m in favor of resources being allocated smartly, to help continue to reduce crime,” said Ali, who has been fighting for social justice in Southern California for 30 years.
Ali quoted Martin Luther King Jr., and said that riots are the language of the unheard.
“So that’s why I’m here witnessing the city burn, as I witnessed two months ago, Minneapolis burn after George Floyd lost his life at the hands of police,” Ali said.
Ali travels the country to provide support to communities based on his experience as an activist. At protests for the killings of Blake and Taylor, Ali shared his experiences of living through the 1992 civil unrest.
“My job is not to be a leader in someone else’s city, it’s just to give them advice and support in what they’re doing,” Ali said.
Ali said that there will always be police brutality against protesters when the two clash.
“Ultimately, we’ll hear stories that will come out of police being heavy-handed, as stories came out against the protesters who protested in LA over the last few weeks,” Ali said. “Now we have several lawsuits that have been filed against LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department.”
Ali believes that law enforcement should focus on serious crimes and that other types of calls should be handled by other agencies. He praised Mayor Garcetti’s expansion of the Community Safety Partnership bureau with the LAPD, a program that aims to change policing to be more community-based.
“Even minor traffic stops could be done by the city parking bureau enforcement,” he said.
Ali said that the LAPD has problems with police discrimination, just like other parts of the of the country.
“The LAPD, as well as the Sheriff’s Department, continue to be problematic when it comes to use of deadly force, when it comes to racial profiling, when it comes to the disproportionate amount of black and brown people being unfairly stopped and victimized by law enforcement,” Ali said.
For this reason, Ali is in favor of redirecting resources to programs for young people that prevent crime. Such programs may have helped steer a younger Ali in a different direction. After his mother died, at age 12, he went to live with his grandmother. But at 17, he dropped out of high school, joined a gang and subsequently was in and out of jail repeatedly. That is, until one day, in 1990, when he read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It inspired him to convert to Islam and become an activist.
Ali is grateful he was able to travel and represent San Pedro while showing support to the residents of Kenosha.
“When I let them know that I came out of Southern California, there’s a look of shock and amazement,” Ali said. “They say, ‘You came all the way from San Pedro to help us?’ and I just said, ‘Well yes, that’s just how the folks in my city are. We help each other, you know, whenever we can.’”
Capt. Jay Mastick
Capt. Jay Mastick acknowledges there is room for improvement of community policing, specifically in the Harbor Area, where property crime has been up by 4.6% in 2020 compared to 2019, including theft, burglaries and grand theft auto.
“It would be disingenuous to describe this state of the policing in our community as a success,” Mastick said. “So, I won’t.”
“This is actually a time for Harbor to become more engaged with the community and more vigilant in the investigation and enforcement of violent crime,” Mastick said. “Our community reported last night that some crimes around the homeless shelters are … going unreported because of perceived lack of effectiveness by the police. So this is not the time for Harbor to take credit on our accomplishments.”
Violent crime is down specifically in the Harbor Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, which includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City and the Harbor Gateway in its jurisdiction. However, this is in comparison to 2020 to 2019.
Violent crime is down by 17.6% in 2020, said Capt. Jay Mastick of the LAPD Harbor Division. Rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults number 696 so far this year, compared to 845 from January to August in 2019. In addition, there has been a 31% reduction in reported shots fired (there were 107 in 2020, and 155 in 2019) and a 46.3% reduction in shooting victims (29 in 2020, and 54 in 2019).
“2019 was a bad year,” wrote Mastick in an email. “Back in January  in the Harbor Area we went ‘all in’ for a reduction in violent street crime.”
Mastick said that in the Harbor Area violent crime has historically centered around gang activity. Because of this, Harbor Division increased its deployment to its gang division by 50%.
Mastick also spoke of a recent mass shooting with six victims hit at a warehouse in Harbor Gateway on Lockness Avenue north of Sepulveda Boulevard, as well as a homicide in east Torrance and shooting on Carson Street and Denker Avenue.
Mastick said that this is not a time to celebrate, and that his division still has a lot more work to do.
“I still hope to achieve success this year by improved communication and interaction with the community, as well as leadership and accountability of the Police Department,” said Mastick via email.