Trigger Warning: The following story contains graphic details.
The Long Beach chapter of Black Lives Matter organized a funeral procession from Long Beach to a Los Angeles rally, along with other regional chapters, to protest police brutality and honor the lives of George Floyd, Long Beach’s Fredrick Taft and the countless others lost to racist violence on Monday, June 8.
Frederick Taft, a black man from Long Beach was shot and killed during a family reunion at Pan American Park in the 5100 block of Centralia Avenue in the Lakewood Village on July 21, 2018. His murderer has still not been found. According to the Long Beach Police Department’s investigation, the suspect was identified as a male White adult in his 50’s.
Taft’s daughter Corie Taft and his nieces Allison Flanigan and Lakisha Porter, were in attendance at Cal State Long Beach where participants met before the procession, and shared their story with the crowd gathered in the parking lot by CSULB’s pyramid before the procession left.
Frederick had been attending a large family gathering and was spending time with loved ones at Pan American Park on July 21, 2018 when he went to use the park bathroom at around 4:26pm.
According to Flanigan, the only stall was occupied by the killer, forcing Taft to turn his back to use the urinal. The killer then emerged from the stall in the men’s room and shot Taft nine times from behind, including once in the back of the head, killing Taft while he was still exposed.
However, the LBPD press release only states that Taft was shot from behind in the upper torso.
According to the family, LBPD left his body in plain view for hours and did not make any efforts to place a sheet or obstruct the public’s view and people began to gather and take photos of the scene on their phones. Among those who saw the body was Taft’s own grandchild, recalled Flanigan.
Flanigan also noted that LBPD only secured the immediate area near the bathroom, even though a family member had seen a suspect with a rifle escaping through the park. According to the family, if the suspect had dropped anything or left behind any evidence as he fled, there would be no way of knowing because LBPD didn’t secure and search the entire park.
LBPD stated in a news release from Aug. 2, 2018 that, “Detectives and patrol officers canvassed the area surrounding the park immediately after the shooting, and throughout the investigation, to search for witnesses and/or video that may relate to this case.”
Flanigan recalled that she and her traumatized family observed that LBPD officers responding to the scene seemed distracted, on their cellphones and laughing.
Frederick was a Black man and his murder occurred in the area of the Lakewood Villages, a mostly white neighborhood in Long Beach. After his death, racist graffiti appeared in Pan American Park.
Frederick’s family believes his murder was a hate crime but LBPD claims that is “unsubstantiated” and stated in an Aug. 2, 2018 news release, “the motive for this crime has not yet been determined and is still under investigation. The Police Department will not classify a criminal act as a hate crime unless there is evidence present that meets this legal standard.”
Since her father’s untimely death, Frederick’s daughter, Corie, has had racist remarks yelled at her by a white man from a moving vehicle while in the park. She shared that she felt the LBPD did not seem particularly concerned or sympathetic when she reported the incident to them.
Flanigan recalled hearing community members question what Frederick was doing in the park after learning of his murder. Her family, activists and many others are highly skeptical that this same question would be asked if a white grandfather was shot in the back of the head while attending a family gathering.
Taft’s family mobilized and partnered with the Black Lives Matter Long Beach chapter to investigate and pressure officials to offer a reward for information that could identify the killer.
Their independent investigation within Lakewood Villages found that LBPD only questioned residents whose homes immediately faced the park, and many in the neighborhood were unaware that a killer was on the loose.
LBPD stated in the news release from Aug. 2, 2018, “Investigations Deputy Chief Richard Conant and East Division Commander Erik Herzog met with the Ministers Alliance on Thursday, July 26th regarding unsubstantiated claims made by outside sources that the murder was racially motivated. The motive of the murder remains under investigation.”
The press release continued, “Additionally, Patrol Deputy Chief Wally Hebeish and Commander Herzog attended a Lakewood Village Neighborhood Association meeting on Saturday, July 28th to address their questions and concerns regarding the murder and the safety of the neighborhood.”
Taft’s family also pushed to have a sketch of the suspected killer released to the public, which is available here.
The $30,000 reward for information about Taft’s killer was not renewed because no tips were received by LBPD’s Homicide detail when it was available, according to LBPD Public Information Officer Arantxa Chavarria.
When asked to comment on the statements made by Fredrick’s family, Chavarria said that the investigation remains ongoing.
“No one knows anything,” Flanigan said. “We’ve been fighting and trying to get information from the Long Beach police. It’s been us reaching out– no one’s reached out to us– but we’ve been reaching out, trying to have meetings, trying to see if there’s updates, and still today– crickets. We get nothing. So we’re here today in support of all lives, who include George Floyd, Fredrick Taft, [and] all the other names that you had mentioned that [have had] either no justice, [or] died at the hands of police and it’s been covered up. We say no more. We’re tired. So we’re here because all lives matter, but Black lives are the ones that are being targeted.”
The LBPD news release from August 2018 states, “Detectives are in regular communication with Mr. Taft’s family where information is being exchanged regarding this case.”
“Fredrick Taft” was the first name repeated by the crowd as Black Lives Matter Long Beach poured libations, a spiritual ritual they include in their community actions.
The names of those who have died due to racism and police violence were said aloud as water was poured out on the ground.
Many other names followed Fredrick’s, including the well known “Breonna Taylor,” and the names of locals such as “Lionel Gibson,” “Donte Jordan,” and “Feras Morad.”
These same names and many others were written on the sides of vehicles that gathered in the parking lot to participate in the procession. Other popular written phrases included “Black Lives Matter,” and “Defund the Police.”
The focal point of the June 8 procession from Long Beach was a hearse provided by Destiny Funeral Homes, which carried an empty casket symbolizing George Floyd and those lost to police violence and racism.
From the CSULB campus, the procession headed to Los Angeles.
Clergy members of several religions and denominations were present at the rally. A stage had been brought in on the back of a truck.
Around noon, Los Angeles County Sheriffs began to position themselves and their police vehicles behind the truck parked in the intersection. Over loudspeakers, an organizer asked the White clergy members to line up in front of the gathering police officers, to create a barrier to protect the other protesters. They complied, and the White preachers, priests and rabbis present at the protest stood side by side facing the sheriffs.
A short while later, the LA County Sheriff’s forces began to pull back from the intersection.
Activists and religious leaders, including Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter, took turns speaking about the dangers of racial inequality in society and the importance of solidarity when supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting police brutality. An important talking point throughout the speeches was the importance of divesting funds away from the police department and creating new systems of community safety.
Abdullah pointed out that modern day police forces evolved from slave patrols, which were responsible for searching enslaved populations for weapons, preventing uprisings and capturing escaped slaves to return them to slaveholders.
Frederick Taft’s family came onto the stage to share their painful story for the second time that day with the much larger crowd in Los Angeles. Family members of those killed by police violence also shared their stories, including the mother of Eric Rivera, Valerie Rivera. Valerie became emotional during her explanation of how Los Angeles Police Department officers shot her son seven times from a moving vehicle, before pinning his lifeless body underneath their squad car.
After Valerie’s testimony, she turned and was embraced by the family of Fredrick Taft, who were standing on stage beside her.
From the intersection of 1st Street and Broadway, protesters marched to Los Angeles City Hall where more speakers, including activist Cierra Foster, addressed the crowd from the front steps.
“Say his name!” organizers instructed over megaphone as the crowd departed city hall to march throughout the area again.