For Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, police brutality hits close to home


Patrisse Cullors is used to comforting the families of people who have died at the hands of the police, not the other way around.

But there she was, handling voicemails, DMs and WhatsApp messages from well-wishers as she grappled with the sudden loss of Keenan Anderson, a distant cousin who died earlier this month following a traffic stop in Los Angeles.

Body camera footage of Keenan Anderson, 31, being held on the ground by an LAPD officer as another officer points a taser at him on Jan. 3 in Venice. Anderson, a teacher, was stunned several times and later died in a hospital.

(Los Angeles Police Department)

Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, said she knew what it was like to share in the trauma and grief of others who had loved ones killed by law enforcement. But the pain of losing someone so close to her hits differently, she says.

“People are shocked. I’m shocked and I’ve helped spark a movement to hold police accountable,” said Cullors, who left the organization she helped set up in 2021 after it became synonymous with a global movement against racial injustice. “Even though you’ve hashtagged, and you’ve protested, and you’ve held the police accountable and you’ve had conversations with your family about it, but it’s very different when it ends up on your doorstep.”

Anderson, a father of a high school English teacher, had visited the city from his home in Virginia. His death was the last of three in LAPD custody so far this year.

The department released body camera video of all three incidents on Wednesday: the police shootings of Takar Smith and Oscar Sanchez, and the death of Anderson, which came hours after he was groped during an arrest in Venice. Anderson’s relationship with Cullers drew attention to the case from widespread publications such as the New York Times and the Guardian in London. And it provoked a quick reaction on social media, where it inspired the hashtag #nocopsattrafficstops.

Two city council members have joined the growing call to fire the officers involved in all three incidents. After the videos were released, Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement saying she had “serious concerns about the deeply disturbing tapes” and that she believed the officers involved should be placed on leave.

City Council members and staff listen to Melina Abdullah speak about the LAPD murders of Takar Smith and Keenan Anderson.

Los Angeles City Council members and staff listen to Black Lives Matter-LA co-founder Melina Abdullah, not shown, speak out against the LAPD murders of Takar Smith and Keenan Anderson at a council meeting at City Hall on Friday.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The deaths of Anderson and the others come at a politically sensitive time for both Bass, who campaigned for a pledge to reduce police brutality, and Chief Michel Moore, who is seeking re-election for a second term.

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Moore spoke briefly about the incidents Tuesday at a police commission meeting. He said he decided to release the videos for the sake of “transparency”.

Later in the meeting, several callers cited the incidents as evidence of the department’s failure and a reason not to reappoint Moore, who is seeking a second five-year term. He has said that if reappointed, he would probably only serve two or three years, stepping aside in time for the 2028 Olympics to make way for the next chief.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore speaks at a press conference at the Hall of Justice in LA on Nov. 29, 2022.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, shown in November, spoke this week at a meeting with the Police Commission about the police incidents that resulted in the deaths of three men in January. He decided to release the bodycam videos of the incidents for the sake of “transparency,” he says.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Moore has defended his record and dismissed some critics’ characterization of his department as the most “murderous” in the country, saying that the number of fatal encounters has fallen for years and that the department has benefited from several new policies and workouts.

The committee met in closed session Tuesday to discuss Moore’s future, but a previously announced vote on the matter has been postponed.

The footage has also caught the attention of lawmakers in Sacramento.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) plans to introduce a bill this year that would significantly expand a state law requiring the office of the state inspector general to conduct independent investigations into all fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against the officers involved. Under the proposed new bill, the law would cover all police killings. Incidents such as Anderson’s death are some of the reasons McCarty decided to work on the bill this year, he said.

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The legislation would “cover all law enforcement fatalities, regardless of whether the person was armed or not,” he said. “The priority on my account is accountability when agents may cross the border.”

Currently, state law—Assembly Bill 1506—limits investigations to fatal police shootings only and excludes “the use of electronic control devices, stun guns, BB, pellets, air, gas-operated guns, or weapons that fire rubber bullets or beanbags.” the state Department of Justice said.

A preliminary toxicology report from the Los Angeles Police Department determined that Anderson had cocaine and cannabis in his system. The results of a more complete autopsy performed by the Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office may not be made public for weeks, if not months. No cause of death has been disclosed.

But Cullors said the family plans to have an independent autopsy — paid for by a program founded by former NFL quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick — after learning that the county medical examiner’s office was several months away. may take to release her findings. Even if the results come out sooner, Cullors said she worries they could be colored by bias and used to create a pro-police narrative that would blame Anderson for his own death.

She said she spent hours on FaceTime with relatives since his death, trying to keep track of the financial and legal details of burying a loved one. After having so many of these conversations with others over the years, Cullors said she thought she would know what to do and say.

“And then I burst into tears talking about, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this for my own family, I’m so used to doing this for other families,'” she said in an interview with The Times. . “It feels really scary, it feels really frightening, it feels disturbing and all I can do is just do the job that I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.”

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After his mother died when he was 10 after a long battle with substance abuse, Anderson moved in with his distant uncle, Michael Brignac, 59.

Even when the family knew his mistakes, they chose to remember positive memories of Anderson. Ever since his mother’s death, his uncle said, Anderson always seemed to have something to prove.

There was the time Anderson was growing up when he learned how to ride a motorcycle, Brignac said. Eager to prove his fearlessness after only a few test rides, he suddenly got on the bike and started “riding around with no hands and yelling, ‘Uncle Mike, I told you I could ride better than you!'”

Even as an adult, Anderson never lacked confidence, stepping into a family cookout for a year “like he was the movie star,” his uncle recalled. “He was always kind of the life of the party and everyone ran up to him and hugged him,” said Brignac. “He changed the mood of the picnic.”

He was also a loving father to his 5-year-old son, Brignac said.

With a cruel twist of irony, Brignac recalled that his cousin once pursued a career in law enforcement because he wanted to help people. He even went so far as to earn two majors in criminal justice and sociology from New Mexico Highland University, where he was also on the football team. He had a partial football scholarship, but also paid for part of his education through a combination of work-study jobs and working at his uncle’s Creole and Cajun restaurant during the summers, Brignac said.

After years of moving from job to job, Anderson decided to go into education and graduated in 2022 with a master’s degree in education, leadership and change from Antioch University.

About six months ago, he moved to Virginia with his fiancée, where he took a job as 10eAn English teacher at a high school in Southeastern Washington, D.C., his family said.

He was back in Los Angeles picking up items he left behind during his somewhat abrupt move east. His relatives said they did not want to speculate on what led to his fatal encounter with police, saying they hoped the police video would shed some light on what went wrong – and whether it could have been prevented.

Even before the footage was released, Cullers said she was concerned about how Anderson’s sudden death would affect others who knew him, including his former students.

“I can only imagine what all those babies are thinking,” she said. “They were literally 5 years old when Black Lives Matter started, and then their own teacher was killed.”

Times staff writer Hannah Wiley contributed to this report.


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