LOS ANGELES—A queue of Black Lives Matter activists in Los Angeles patiently wait to approach a table piled with greens, fried catfish, and cornbread—the favorite foods of a young man who was killed by LAPD officers exactly two years ago.
The dinner spread was laid out in front of the James K. Hahn City Hall East building where Black Lives Matter activists have been camped out in protest for the past 35 days.
When the sun sets each day, activists pitch tents and unroll foam pads to make the sidewalk more comfortable for sleeping. At 5:45 a.m. the drumming starts as a daily wake-up call and reminder to quickly drop the tents and clear the sidewalk by 6 a.m., on orders from city hall.
It's a daily routine that protesters say will continue until L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti fires Police Chief Charlie Beck for his handling of what activists call the most murderous police force in the country— and one whose policies disproportionately affect black people.
“There’s been a complete lack of humanity inside the walls of city hall and when that happens people have to figure out other ways of being heard,” said protester Britney Craig, one of the mothers who cooked the Aug. 11 dinner to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the killing of Ezell Ford by L.A. police officers.
In 2015, LAPD was involved in 48 officer-related shootings, 21 of which ended fatally, according to police statistics. That's more than twice the number of fatal police-related shootings in New York (9) and Chicago (8) last year.
The activists say every officer-involved shooting hits close to friends and family. The Black Lives Matter group says it's channeling their collective frustrations into fiercely loving black people.
Craigg, 24, says the protest encampment outside city hall is inspired by that love.
“My commitment is to do everything that I can to change the system,” says Craig, who has spent almost every night at the encampment for the past month.
Black Lives Matters members in Los Angeles say they started their vigil because they have exhausted all other avenues to make themselves heard by authorities. They say they have spent the past year repeatedly raising their concerns at weekly Board of Police Commissioners meetings, and have organized dozens of protests, including one where they temporarily shut down the 405, one of the city’s busiest highways.
But the police killings continue. Three individuals, including a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, have been killed by LAPD officers since the activists started their protest encampment on July 12. And the Sheriff’s department in Los Angeles has killed two other individuals in that same time.
Black Angelenos are disproportionately killed by police, the numbers show. Last year black people were involved in 21% of LAPD officer-involved shootings, but represent only 9% of the population in the city of Los Angeles. Police insist the vast majority of police interactions with the public do not involve the use of force.
The Black Lives Matter activists decided to occupy the space in front of city hall after the police commission ruled that the fatal shooting of 30-year-old Redel Kentel Jones last August was "within policy." The group marched immediately from the commission meeting to city hall and started what has since become the longest-running Black Lives Matter encampment, now entering its second month.
Protest camps similar to the one outside L.A. City Hall are quickly becoming a tactic employed by other chapters of Black Lives Matter. And it's one that activists believe is getting results.
A week after L.A. activists started their city hall protest, Black Lives Matter activists in Chicago followed suit with a similar protest camp in the windy city. Then New York started one a day before the resignation of New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton.
The Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter held a 15-day protest camp outside police headquarters after officials announced there would be no criminal charges for a police officer who fatally shot a South Sudanese refugee. And in May, the San Francisco police chief resigned after five San Francisco activists led a 17-day hunger strike pressuring him to resign.
Those successes have inspired the L.A. contingent to keep at it.
"They were successful in New York; it took one day for Bratton to step down," said Melina Abdullah, a founding member of the Black Lives Matters chapter in Los Angeles, at the police commission meeting earlier this month.
The activists say they have cut back on work hours to remain at the city hall protest during the day. Some take mid-day breaks to go home and shower, while others haven't been home for the past month.
Brooke Tatum, 25, says her 8-month old daughter, whom she brings to the encampment everyday, has grown two new teeth since the protest started (literally cutting her teeth in the Black Lives Matter movement). But she thinks it's important to have her daughter with her at the camp.
“The innocence of a child shows that the world is capable of fiercely loving and coexisting with people of every race," she says.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who spent 10 days in Rio during the Olympics, released a statement prior to his trip saying the protesters outside his office "have serious and valid concerns" and that he has offered to meet with a delegation from Black Lives Matter. But the only time the mayor has addressed the group's primary demand was in an interview with a local radio station, when he defended Police Chief Beck.
"I think it was something reflected when the White House called a few police chiefs from around the country. He was one of the ones they reached out to," Garcetti told KABC. "He’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, the city’s not perfect, but he’s somebody I strongly support as someone who has continued to push forward with constitutional policing as a foundation for how we win trust.”
But Beck's White House invitation doesn’t impress Black Lives Matter activists in LA.
"The mayor should be more concerned with how his constituents feel about the officials in his office rather than who is being invited to the White House," activist Craig told Fusion. “I gave my word that I’d be here until we saw justice. Firing Chief Beck is the beginning of getting justice.”