As violence continues to erupt in various countries across the globe, law enforcement officials and faith leaders on Sept. 27 held a press conference to show that the city of Los Angeles stands in unity — regardless of its residents’ differences.
From the plaza at LAPD headquarters, speakers denounced the violence in countries such as Kenya, Syria, Egypt and Somalia and reiterated the city’s togetherness. Jewish, Christian, Coptic Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Catholic faith leaders attended, among several city leaders.
“You know, the strength of Los Angeles is and will always be its diversity,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. “But it’s not only the fact that we have a diverse population — it is [the fact that the] diverse population respects each other and lives in harmony.”
He said he was “extremely concerned” — as all communities should be — that the incidents across the globe could impact Los Angeles. However, Beck praised the collaboration between faith leaders and law enforcement.
“This is not just a one-day occurrence,” he said. “This is the way we run this city — constant interaction, constant partnership, belief for each other, support for each other.”
Beck said Los Angeles is a “great city” in a “great region,” where people of all faiths and backgrounds live peacefully.
“We haven’t seen sectarian violence in the city of Los Angeles, nor will we,” he added. “But it’s important that we recognize that this is not a island — that what happens in other places affects us.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca agreed, saying that the city and county are blessed to have faith leaders who “harmonize” well with each other and stand in solidarity with the ideals of peace, love and justice.
“What we’re trying to prevent here today is the disharmony that may occur in individuals who live in Los Angeles County and California and America,” he said, adding “that our nation has been extremely vigilant worldwide with its allied partner countries to avoid war and tragedy in forms of violent revolution. …We will endeavor to set the best example possible.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey opened with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
She said the city and county are very diverse, ensuring that the violence overseas is a personal issue for many residents.
“It is difficult not to have some kind of reaction to the bloodshed and terror,” Lacey said. “Because our community is so diverse, there is no doubt that some of our local residents have family and friends in the regions being flashed across our television screens daily.”
She said the press conference was held to remind everyone that America is a tolerant society that embraces freedom of speech and religion.
“I urge the public to only engage in peaceful discussions about the issues,” Lacey added. “To resort to any sort of unlawful behavior, spurred by events across the globe, will not help anyone’s cause. Such conduct will only detract from the real issues and include the involvement of law enforcement.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said Beck brought everyone together to “affirm the best of who we are as a community.” He stressed the value of tolerance.
“There’s even a higher aspiration for all of us, and that is to look into each other’s hearts and view one another as a source of strength,” Feuer said. “That’s what today’s about. …Today is a day that, in the face of the strife that pervades the world, we in the city of Los Angeles are displaying the best of who we are, the best example we can set.”
He said there is a reason that Los Angeles has been free from “this kind of contentiousness.”
“It’s because we have this infrastructure from faith leaders across racial lines and religious lines and lines of class,” Feuer said. “That’s who we are in the city of Los Angeles.”
True to form, City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, injected some light-heartedness into an otherwise serious press conference.
“Faith is so important. Whatever your faith is, it’s so important. If you don’t have faith, I hope you find faith. You go to 5th Street, and then you go west … until you get to the ocean, until you get to Santa Monica, you’ll get faith then,” he said, drawing laughter. “The important thing is we’re together.”
LaBonge mentioned a city engineer who was wearing a pin with the Syrian flag on it recently. He told the individual that he wanted to write the Syrian president to let the government know that Syria has contributed to the city of Los Angeles.
“Contribution is so important as we move forward,” LaBonge said.
He said there is a separation of church and state, but not of religion and community.
“Let the word be said that this is why we’re here today,” LaBonge added.
Bill Lewis, of the FBI, advised residents to reach out to law enforcement and the faith-based community when needed. He said people in Washington, D.C., look to Los Angeles and wonder how the city, with all of its diversity, works so well.
“It works [well] because of all the men and women behind me,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney André Birotte cited his years of service in the criminal justice system at various levels.
“One thing that has become crystal clear to me in that time is that effective law enforcement only works with collaboration and engagement with our community partners,” he said, adding that there is no bigger community partner than faith leaders. “I’ve seen it work at every level.”
Rabbi Morley Feinstein, of University Synagogue, said the Feast of the Tabernacles had just concluded, and he spoke of Abraham, whose tent in the wilderness was open to all who came.
“That’s the symbol that we need in our community — that we are open to all. That we are welcome to hear other thoughts and other opinions, and we do so under the tent of peace, under the canopy that can bring us all together in a moment of dialogue,” he said. “May our community of Los Angeles be a sukkot of peace, a tabernacle of peace, an example for this community and all communities.”
Dr. Maher Hathout, of the Islamic Center of Southern California, called the recent conflicts a “tornado of violence,” which does not respect boundaries or borders. However, the U.S. must prevent the tornado from entering the country, he said.
“We are all vulnerable, and we are all passionate people,” Hathout said, advising residents to not fight their fights in America. “We need the last bastion of freedom and coexistence to stay safe.”
Matthew Ball, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church will do whatever the city deems necessary to overshadow differences and show a collective investment for doing good.
“And we will do that to show the outside world that our faith and friendship and fellowship with brotherhood here is stronger than any difference of opinion or doctrine or political strife outside of Los Angeles,” he added.
Nirinjan Singh-Khalsa, representing the Sikh community and the city’s Human Relations Commission, said the faith leaders were not trying to get press, but instead show that they are not divided.
“We have the people in this community that are to willing to stand up and say divisiveness is what causes pain. Divisiveness is what causes violence,” he said.
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