Black Lives Matter Claims Victory, But No Justice in LAPD Murder of Grechario Mack
|thenorthstar||Mar 31, 2019|
On April 10, 2018, Grechario Mack had a mental health episode at Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza, in the heart of Black Los Angeles. A switch to his medication, coupled with the recent trauma of a short bid in county jail for a probation violation, made his mental health tenuous.
It was hot that day, and Grechario had taken a walk. He refused his father’s offer of food from the fish market and his sister, Margie, had just bought him something from Carl’s Jr. He wanted air and found a cool place inside the mall, which was filled with after-work/after-school shoppers. From the second floor, near TJ Maxx, he peered over the barrier, people watching, commenting to himself. In his hand, he held a small kitchen knife, one that they might sell for $2 inside the store he was standing in front of. He stood there for about an hour, watching and whispering to himself, sometimes laughing. His younger sister, Arianna, recalls “He’d have moments like this, even as a kid, but more as an adult. He’d take the space that he needed and they’d always pass.”
Patrons began to notice Grechario, as did mall security. A young, Black security officer asked him to step out of the mall, but Grechario’s consciousness was in turmoil, and he refused. When a shopper asked if Grechario was alright, he snapped back, “Just leave me alone! I just want to be left alone!” Grechario’s mind was wandering. His eyes lost and regained focus. He felt as if he was outside of himself, his body as if he awoke from sleep and couldn’t move.
Grechario was jolted from his state to find police were chasing him with “every gun blazing.” There were dozens of them. “He must have been thinking ‘Why are they trying to kill me?’” his father, Quintus Moore, said. “He was so scared. He ran. Tried to take cover…. And then POW!” Grechario was shot six times from behind. Bullets riddled his body, he was on the ground, but still alive. Police report that he was still holding the kitchen knife, but witnesses and video show the knife on the floor. Officer Martin Robles walked over to his body and shot a final seventh bullet into his back, stealing Grechario’s life.
The mall was not evacuated until after they murdered Grechario. Police fired 14 rounds into the crowded mall; seven bullets hit Grechario, while others shot out the TJMaxx window, the glass barrier on the second floor, and flew randomly and indiscriminately. Mothers, fathers, patrons, and workers dove into stores, attempting to shield their children from the officers’ bullets. Police immediately cordoned off the mall. They warned witnesses not to speak with the growing crowd of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Africa Town organizers and community members. A Black former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer, who claimed to be a witness, spoke with media and asserted that the victim of police murder was responsible for his own death.
For 11 months, LAPD painted Grechario as a criminal — a crazed, knife-wielding danger — who had to be taken down. They worked to assassinate his character after they’d stolen his body. The official story was a setup to clear the LAPD of wrongdoing, to enable the Police Commission to rule Grechario’s death “in-policy,” to excuse the police chief from enacting discipline, and to allow the district attorney to exonerate them by refusing to prosecute. Mainstream media went along with the police story; no one questioned why the legal possession of a kitchen knife warranted Grechario’s death. No outlet interrogated the police about the wisdom of shooting up a crowded mall and what it means for the safety of (mostly Black) shoppers. The system’s process moved forward, and coverage of Black Lives Matter protests was confined to The Guardian and alternative outlets, and eventually almost entirely muted.
Still, there is power in organizing, even when it feels like shouting in the wilderness. To say that the Moore/Mack/Walker family is close-knit would be an incredible understatement. There are nine children in total, “a combined family like the Brady Bunch,” said Moore, Grechario’s non-biological father who raised him from infancy. The now-divorced parents remain close. Grechario’s mother, Catherine Walker (Sister Cat), is the spiritual center of the family and is grounded in a Black Christian tradition that summons a God of divine justice. She often speaks in prophetic terms and can reference Bible verses for every situation, including the murder of her son — who was a father to two girls, Shyla and Grace, as well as an uncle and community member.
On April 11, 2018, nearly 100 family members were supported by Black Lives Matter organizers in a candlelight vigil outside the mall. Shyla, Grechario’s 9-year-old daughter, broke down. “I just want my Daddy back! I want my Daddy!” Arianna fell out. Her family caught her and held her, offering food and juice to raise her blood sugar. Grechario was Arianna’s best friend, her everything. As young children, he’d saved her life by knocking her out of the way of a speeding car — like a superhero.
Tears poured freely, watering the dozens of lit candles. People stood on the corner for hours, grieving, angry, and still in shock. Another young Black man, Kenneth Ross, Jr., was murdered by police a few miles away just hours before; his mother joined the gathering for Grechario. As the crowd thinned, Sister Cat said every candle was to be boxed up and sent home; Grechario’s tribute would not be left where others might knock it over.
Trisha Michael — a member of Black Lives Matter and the twin sister of Kisha Michael, who was killed two years earlier by Inglewood police — connected with Grechario’s family on the night of his murder. BLM offered support to the family in the midst of their grief, balancing care with cautionary reminders that the police were moving to concoct a story about Grechario. BLM urged his family to commission an independent autopsy, which the organization would arrange and pay for. A pathologist had recently volunteered his services, bringing the regular autopsy cost, upwards of $7,000, down to around $1,000. The independent autopsy told them where each bullet hit, the trajectory of the shots, and which were fatal. The independent report confirmed that Grechario had been shot in the back and the fatal shot came after he was already on the ground. After a moving homegoing celebration, Grechario’s body was cremated, his ashes divided and placed in necklaces and urns for his large family to keep, with a portion enshrined alongside a babbling brook at a cemetery, because Grechario loved to go fishing. Even before his son was buried, Grechario’s father began to make radio and television appearances, but the horror of Grechario’s murder never made national news on a large scale.
The long, hard accountability work commenced, demanding that the officers who killed Grechario be fired and prosecuted.
BLM organizers regularly accompanied Grechario’s family and stood in for them when they couldn’t attend the Tuesday morning Los Angeles Police Commission meetings. The Commission is charged with ruling on whether police acted “in-policy” when they kill people. LAPD has killed more people than any law enforcement unit in the nation, ranging between 17 and 22 killings a year; the killings are seldom ruled “out-of-policy.” While an out-of-policy ruling is only advisory and does not mandate that the chief fire officers, it opens up the way for discipline and is part of the investigation forwarded to the district attorney, who decides on whether officers will be prosecuted.
The five-member Commission is touted as a civilian oversight body meant to hold the LAPD accountable, but its members are appointed by anti-BLM Mayor Eric Garcetti — who, in meetings with Black people, brags that he spent a year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia and had a Black roommate in college. Garcetti appointed Steve Soboroff, a white, Republican, near-billionaire land developer from Malibu, to serve as long-time Commission president. Soboroff is known for flipping off grieving families, raging at meeting attendees to “Shut up,” and calling for the arrest of Black folks who speak “off-topic” or over their allotted two minutes.
Grechario’s murder was first scheduled to be considered by the Commission on March 5. Quintus Moore had taken the day off work, Catherine Walker was prayed up, the family was assembling, and supporters had organized. On the Sunday before the meeting, the gun-wearing, badge-carrying, LAPD family liaison notified Moore that the “item” was postponed because “not all the commissioners could be in attendance.” He lied; all five commissioners were present.
The following Tuesday, when only four commissioners were present, Grechario’s family packed the room, sitting through hours of reports, and comment, and finally were offered two minutes each to speak for Grechario. They exceeded their time, and Moore drew from the independent autopsy to provide a methodical account of what happened to his son. Walker lifted Bible verses, prayed, and demanded that the Commission be moved by God, before collapsing in tears.
Coldly, the Commission recessed to closed-session to consider the testimony and the LAPD reports. The family was left in the gray, auditorium-style hearing room for 3.5 hours, with no offering of food, water, or comfort. Finally, the family liaison and Commission Executive Director Richard Tefank summoned the family out of the room, sans Black Lives Matter members, to note that a ruling would not be coming that day. They would need to wait another week, and offered this consolation, “It will be the first item on the agenda.” They directed the family to arrive at 8:30 a.m. (neglecting to tell them that the room wouldn’t be open until 9 and the meeting wouldn’t start until 9:30). The team circled up outside, prayed, chanted, and committed to returning in even greater force for the third week, convinced that the Commission was stalling because they didn’t want to give an in-policy ruling in front of a large crowd.
On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, in the hearing room surrounded by more than 30 police, after listening to public comment, being threatened with countless ejections, witnessing the arrest of one Black community member and the citation of a National Lawyers Guild legal observer, the five-member Commission adjourned to closed session. The family waited for two hours. A member of White People for Black Lives smuggled a few snacks into the hearing room as attendees braced for an in-policy ruling and quietly plotted a response. Grechario’s mother and younger brother warned us not to speak in defeatist terms, “God is working!” Sister Cat declared.
As the Commissioners filed back in and took their seats, Soboroff directed the executive director to read the rulings on a host of counts. After several in-policy determinations, Tefank got to the fatal shots. The Commission found the fatal shot to be out-of-policy and offered two unanimous out-of-policy rulings. Hallelujahs and prayers commenced; family and organizers embraced each other; Moore shook the liaison’s hand, and activists shared the news on social media as people filed out into the courtyard to declare victory. A few reporters were there to take statements. Paula Minor, a Black Lives Matter core organizer, sobered the crowd a bit, reminding everyone that the ruling was simply the opening of the way to accountability. It is a “success,” but not justice.
We are engaged in a struggle for justice in the name of #GrecharioMack, #KishaMichael, #WakieshaWilson, #AJWeber, #KennethRossJr, and so many others. We hashtag their names, have shirts made, lead chants, write articles, sing songs, hold vigils, and stage protests. However, we cannot get “justice” for Grechario or any of them. Justice would mean that they are still here with us in physical form. Justice would rewind time and erase the grief carried by their parents. Justice would allow their children to call their names without collapsing, and enable their siblings to share memories without being overtaken by sadness. When we call for justice, it is a greater justice that ensconces the meaning of their lives and deaths. Justice is tied to a near-martyrdom, that somehow their deaths will transform the world in such a way that it means life for others.
As we move from hashtags and chants to what Dr. Martin Luther King calls the “long and bitter, but beautiful struggle,” it becomes more apparent that our wins fall short of justice. We are moving towards accountability, reforms, and meaning. Justice, like freedom, is the vision, yet it can only be achieved through the toppling of an entire system of violent racism. The measurable victories are only steps along the way: the firing of officers, prosecutions, an end to oppressive programs, decarceration, and out-of-policy rulings. In the midst of it all, we must honor the work, celebrate the successes and victories, and continue to struggle for justice in the name of Grechario Mack and so many others.
About the Author
Melina Abdullah is a senior writer for The North Star and professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. She was appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014 and is a recognized expert on race, gender, class, and social movements. Abdullah is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to womanist mothering.