Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Race, wealth and law enforcement collide on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Salehe Bemberi was leaving a Versace boutique on Rodeo Drive last fall when a Beverly Hills cop stopped him for crossing, told him to put his hands behind his back and asked if he had a gun.

“I don’t want to ruin those shoes; they’re pretty good, ”the officer remarked, asking Bemberi to spread his legs and patting him,“ as seen in the body camera footage released by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

The searched young negro did more than shop at a luxury store. Then he was vice president of sneakers and men’s shoes for Versace.

When he was searched, Bemberi said that he had invented shoes for his shopping bag. He told the officers that they scared him about the “climate we live in” and then began recording on his cell phone.

“I get fucked looking for purchases in the store where I work, and I’m just Black,” Bemberi said to the camera, holding a Versace bag.

Bemberi captioned his Instagram video: “BEVERLY HILLS WHILE BLACK. I am fine, MY SPIRIT IS NOT. “

It was an encounter that blacks goers to Rodeo Drive describe as a sad – and entirely unsurprising – reality in a lavish shopping corridor known for its ultra-modern boutiques, celebrity Kim Kardashian-style shoppers and the ubiquitous Lamborghinis and Ferraris.

“Just being black, you’ll always be chased by the police or store employees,” said Nate Weston, a 28-year-old clothing line founder and pro fighter from Atlanta who shopped at Rodeo Drive last week with a pair of Versace sunglasses. … from his shirt. “You are expected to have no money.”

In the case of Bemberi, who could not be contacted for comment, he was not charged and no links were published, a city spokesman told The Times.

A pedestrian walks past the Life Is Beautiful sculpture in Beverly Hills October 27.

(Al-Sabe / Los Angeles Times)

Rodeo Drive is a place that seems elite and gated at the same time. Security guards in black suits stand at the doors of luxury shops, while employees meet potential customers on the street, asking if they have meetings. Shoppers are briskly walking around with bags from Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. Tourists shopping in the windows huddle around the street signs to Rodeo Drive for selfies, and the TMZ Celebrity Tour bus passes by very often.

At Gucci’s flagship store, a navy blue women’s cashmere cardigan retails for $ 2,100, and a red teddy bear toddler T-shirt costs $ 225. At Versace, you can get a pair of pink fluffy slippers for $ 525.

Wealth and race have long clashed in Beverly Hills, a 78% white city that has had restrictive agreements for decades that prohibit blacks and Jews from owning homes.

Demonstrators took to Rodeo Drive last year to protest the killing of George Floyd by police. The organizers said that Beverly Hills, along with other prestigious areas, was deliberately chosen because it was a symbol of white wealth.

Beverly Hills officials have been criticized for pressing charges against peaceful demonstrators organized by a group called the Black Future Project – even though Los Angeles County and City District Attorneys have refused to prosecute demonstrators elsewhere for similar minor violations, such as as curfew violation and acceleration orders. The charges in Beverly Hills were dropped this spring after a judge ruled that the emergency order the city used to arrest was unconstitutional.

Now Beverly Hills is being sued over charges that its police department illegally harassed blacks in 2020 and 2021, arresting them disproportionately and using excessive force for minor offenses.

Rodeo Drive Shopping Center near Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

Rodeo Drive Shopping Center near Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

(Al-Sabe / Los Angeles Times)

“Beverly Hills, do you want Rodeo Drive to be called a street where blacks are not allowed? Where are we going? Benjamin Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer, asked during a press conference last week.

At the time Bemberi was stopped near Rodeo Drive in October 2020, there was a special unit at the Beverly Hills Police Department patrolling Tony Street. Thefts are on the rise in the shopping corridor, police said, spending money from the government’s unemployment fraud and complaining about the “quality of life” of loud music and marijuana smoke.

The Times reported last week that the Police Department’s rodeo drive group, operating from August to October 2020, had arrested 90 people. Eighty of them were black, according to the Department’s data obtained under the California Public Records Act.

The police did not explain why blacks were the victims of such brutality. Few have been charged.

Crump, who has represented the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others killed by police, and attorney Bradley Gage are seeking class-action status in a lawsuit filed in August for blatant racial profiling by the Beverly Hills police. (The lawsuit describes Bemberi’s stop, but he is not named by the plaintiff.)

Named plaintiffs include Jasmine Williams and Khalil White, a black couple from Philadelphia who were jailed last summer after being stopped for riding scooters on the sidewalk off Rodeo Drive.

Williams, 30, told The Times that she and White, her boyfriend, were on vacation and that she had previously visited Rodeo Drive, where she was drawn to “the environment, the beautiful malls, their looks.” They “had a great time” until the police stopped them on their scooters and demanded ID, which they did not have.

The police department said in a statement that the couple “had been warned earlier that day that riding a scooter on the sidewalk in Beverly Hills was prohibited.”

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Williams said that at the time of the arrest, when they were filming with their mobile phones, a largely white crowd formed. She shouted out a friend’s phone number, asking passersby to contact her and tell her what was happening.

Lawyer Benjamin Crump at a news conference on the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall.

Civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump speaks at a press conference on the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall to discuss the progress of the police department’s racial profiling lawsuit filed against the city.

(Al-Sabe / Los Angeles Times)

Nurse Williams was jailed for 12 hours and White for two days, Gage said.

The Los Angeles County Supreme Court accused White of resisting arrest and making false representations to the police. Williams was accused of giving a false name to the police. Records indicate that the charges were dropped in February.

“Going from vacation to a prison cell was the worst feeling,” Williams said. According to her, she would just be angry if she got the ticket, but she will never forget the arrest and most likely never return to Beverly Hills.

Cynthia Harris, a 53-year-old black social worker who lives in View Park, said allegations that police in Beverly Hills were targeting blacks were not surprising. She is still traumatized by a police stop three decades ago.

When she was in her early 20s, Harris and his friend, a young black man, had just left the late-night diner in their sports two-seater and were driving down Rodeo Drive. According to Harris, two white police officers stopped them and pointed guns at her friend.

According to her, the police first asked if she was okay and then asked her to shut up and get out of the car when she asked why they were stopped. According to her, the police searched the car when she and her friend pulled over and then released them.

“At first I thought it was my safety, that they were worried about me … years later, it occurred to me that they had no reason to stop us,” Harris said. “I definitely think it was racial profiling because he was a black young man in a sports car.”

Now she has no problem in high-end locations such as Beverly Hills and Brentwood as a mother running with her children. But “there is still anxiety when the cops are behind me. I get nervous. I want to make sure I have everything in place. My license. My registration. ”

In October 2020, Beverly Hills expanded its police force from 145 to 150 full-time jurors, citing compliance with pandemic rules; combating unemployment fraud; and “large-scale civil unrest and ongoing protests,” including those expected during the presidential election.

“We are one of the few cities in the country that not only did not justify the police; we have increased them, ”said Todd Johnson, president and CEO of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. It is a source of pride, he said, and both sellers and buyers appreciate the high level of security and the quick response of the police.

Workers take over a shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

Workers install planks at a store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills in November 2020 ahead of the presidential election. Many businesses, anticipating protests, slashed windows, installed anti-graffiti films and erected barriers that week.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times) #

Last year, he said, many high-end stores added private security guards. More than 2,000 cameras are also installed throughout the city, he said, and “you won’t get out of here unnoticed, whether it’s walking or license plate recognition.”

According to him, Beverly Hills “is not aimed at African Americans; we target people who commit crimes. ”

Business is booming this year after the pandemic has slowed, Johnson said, and foreign visitors are starting to return as travel restrictions ease.

Among the buyers of Rodeo Drive, he said, there are very wealthy people who fly in private jets just for shopping, Beverly Hills residents and tourists who saw the famous corridor on TV.

“You cannot experience luxury over the Internet,” he said. “You can buy a good product, but you have no experience when you drive up to Gucci, get a glass of champagne, a private shopper walking with you trying things on.”

It is this luxurious atmosphere that attracts De Angelo Davis to Rodeo Drive every few weeks to immerse himself in the atmosphere.

Davis, 24, Black, lives in Hollywood, went shopping with two friends last week, fantasizing about things they would buy if they were rich. He especially likes the Salvatore Ferragamo store and wants to buy a pair of shoes there someday.

He said that as a young black, he was used to being watched in luxury stores, and he noticed that the police closely watched the lines outside the Gucci store when there were more blacks.

“You’re thinking, ‘I’d better do nothing,” Davis said. “You expect that in places like this, in prestigious places.” He joked that he had to carry an empty shopping bag with him even when he was just browsing, just so that stores would take him seriously as a potential buyer with money.

His friend, Destiny Toli, a 26-year-old black woman who lives in East Los Angeles, said: “They always assume that black people came here to buy a display case.

“And the first thing they do when something goes missing is go to people who don’t buy anything,” Davis said.

Davis and Toli showed their friend Tinasha Mukoyi from Bismarck, North Dakota around Rodeo Drive. Moukoyi, 25, who is also black, started designing clothes during the pandemic and wore a T-shirt with a logo written in purple italics.

Mukkoi calls his brand Mkoi Apparel and wants it to evoke a “youthful sense of royalty,” he said.

“In life, you define your own royalty,” Mukkoi said. He spent all day admiring clothes in luxury shops on Rodeo Drive, drawing inspiration from various fabrics and color patterns, and could not stop smiling.

“I can see that my store is located here,” he said. “Someday”.

Times staff writer Matthew Ormset contributed to this report.

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