Black Lives Matter L.A. Co-Founder Melina Abdullah Fights LAPD Charges

Black Lives Matter L.A. Co-Founder Melina Abdullah Fights LAPD Charges

Activist Melina Abdullah, a professor and co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, has been charged with eight misdemeanor counts following an altercation at an L.A. Police Commission hearing in May.

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She was at the hearing to participate in a demonstration demanding justice for Wakiesha Wilson, 36, who was found dead in LAPD custody in March 2016. According to the police, Wilson committed suicide, but her family claims she would not have taken her own life.

After the hearing, two women including Abdullah were detained when an unknown powdery substance was thrown at Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck during the hearing.

Abdullah is due to appear in court again this month.

Sheila Hines-Brim, an aunt of Wakiesha Wilson, allegedly threw a powdery substance at police chief Beck and shouted “That’s Wakiesha,” suggesting that the substance may have been Wilson’s ashes. Abdullah, who allegedly assaulted an officer as police cleared the room, was arrested along with Hines-Brim.

Melina Abdullah, talks during a Black Lives Matter rally in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. Family, friends and community activists held the rally and a march for the recent deaths of a few homeless Black men, according to Black Lives Matter. They were also gathering for the death of another man killed in a shooting earlier in the year. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

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She was detained and later arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery on a police officer. Abdullah was detained and later arrested on suspicion of committing the same offense after she allegedly made contact with another officer. Both women’s bail was set at $20,000.

The account of the incident varies. Some witnesses say the powder was placed in front of the police chief and was not thrown.

Police and fire department hazardous materials crews cleared the scene and determined the substance was not dangerous. Beck was examined and no injuries were reported.

“Today’s assault was not only disrespectful to the office of the chief of police, but more importantly to a process of community engagement that has been recognized across the nation,” Beck said in a statement, as Fox L.A. reported.

“Our police commission is the model for civilian oversight in every major city across the country, and is designed to invite productive discourse in a public setting. This only created chaos and fear for any Angelinos who wanted to voice their opinion about policing in our city.”

Wilson was found hanging in her jail cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The coroner’s office declared her death to be a suicide. But her family and activists disputed the ruling; they also said the LAPD failed to notify Wilson’s family of her death.

Her family sued and in December 2017, the city agreed to pay Wilson’s family $298,000 as part of a settlement in which the police admitted no fault in her death. Then, four months later, Hines-Brim learned that the LAPD had fired one of the jailers for having improperly isolated Wilson in a cell “and for failing to render medical aid when Wilson was found unconscious,” NBC Los Angeles reported.

“They didn’t tell me (the jailer) was fired,” Hines-Brim says. “I had to be told by a reporter from Channel 4.”

Abdullah has come up against the LAPD before.

“For the past four years, she has organized the grieving families of people killed by police, or who died in police custody, into a formidable group of advocates seeking deep changes to policing in Los Angeles,” Land Mag reported.

“I was very surprised,” Abdullah told Land Mag. “I thought it was going to be an arrest without charge, which has happened several times in the past.”

But this time was different.

“At the arraignment, Abdullah was shocked to learn that the number of charges against her had multiplied. What began as one criminal misdemeanor charge is now eight. The new charges date back nearly a year to two separate Police Commission meetings from summer 2017,” Land Mag reported.  

Abdullah’s defense team argued that the new counts were hasty and vindictive. Abdullah is seeking  to have the criminal complaint dismissed and claimed the move by the city was “a cynical attempt by law enforcement to silence one of the loudest and most effective critics of LAPD practices.”

Some say the LAPD is trying to silence activists and anyone who speaks out against them. Abdullah’s lawyers called it “policing Black anger.”

Abdullah is professor and chairwoman of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Southern California in political science and her B.A. from Howard University in African American studies.