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Amid portraits of African American icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Dubois, Rosa Parks and the Tuskegee Airmen, the lowest form of socially unconscious, bottom-feeding thieves, burglarized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) office on Western Ave. Saturday morning, July 14, at 2:45 a.m.
“This is not going to deter us, it will bolster us,” Rev. Eric Lee, SCLC President, CEO and California State president, said with determination. “It’s sad that the very organization in place to aid the community would be the target of this crime. This act just shows that people in our community are suffering. They may be trying to get money for the computers to make ends meet or for drugs; I don’t know. This is exactly the reason we are going ahead with the Poor People’s Campaign. We as a community and a people are suffering. The suffering sometimes leads to drugs which leads to criminal activity.”
The office had an audible alarm, which the thieves cut, but not before LAPD was notified and dispatched, but to no avail. With no video surveillance cameras in place, the thieves tore through two metal doors, broke a window, ripped iron window and door gates out of walls, made and left a gaping hole in the SCLC office’s water-heater-room wall, and made off with five Dell Pentium Four, Optiplex 170L computer towers, six 17-inch and 20-inch, flat-screen monitors, one Compquad computer tower and the staff’s peace of mind.
The center was to start a 12-week job training class August 13 to give participants the opportunity to attain their construction apprenticeship verbal exam for trade unions in the areas where the computers were stolen from. The SCLC also hosts job training classes, rape and crisis intervention and hate crime counseling.
The thieves caused considerable damage to the office in addition to rattling the employees, who provide administrative support and free counseling and referral services to the community. SCLC staff said they were shocked when they arrived to work Monday and saw the damage.
“This really makes you feel violated,” said Aggy Barbero, SCLC’s Martin Luther King, Los Angeles, Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center advocate and outreach counselor. “I really feel unsafe because we don’t know if they will try to break in again. They even ate the candy we put out for children that come to this office.”
“I was so overwhelmed that I had to go home,” said Barbara Bullen, a mediation coordinator at the dispute resolution center. “My daughter told me about a brutal murder and it made me think that we were lucky that the robbers came in when we weren’t there. It could have been a lot worse.”
“This is a horrible and disrespectful crime,” said Eric Griffin, Hate Crimes and Victim Assistance Program Coordinator. “At one time, this was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s office! I have to investigate and assist people who have been the victim of hate crimes in order to help them and then something like this happens. It makes me angry, but I just hope the community rallies together against crimes against our own.”
According to SCLC employees, the thieves attempted to take more - a fax machine, microwaves and room fans were unplugged and moved—but were unsuccessful.
An area resident spoke to The Sentinel on the condition of anonymity said, “My shed out back was broken into not too long before the SCLC was broken into. I’ve lived 23 years in this area and there has been a lot of vandalism. It’s not as bad as it was, but just when you think things are getting better, something like this happens.”
Instead of getting angry, Rev. Lee said he hopes the thieves are caught so that they can be helped.
“If they had jobs, they probably wouldn’t need to break in and steal our computers,” Rev. Lee said. “I really can’t be mad because it speaks to our community’s condition. It is my wish that if they are caught, prosecuted and serve time, that when they are released they are allowed to come here so I can help them get a job. What could be a better outcome? To have them back as a productive member of our community is the best thing that could happen.”
SCLC is progressing with the Poor People’s Campaign, hoping to produce a Congressional “economic bill of rights.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC organized the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968 to address economic justice for all Americans.
The original proposal asked for $30 billion antipoverty package that included an increase in housing for the poor and a guaranteed annual income for poor people of all nationalities across the nation. Martin Luther Kin Jr., was in Washington to help promote the Poor People’s Campaign and those gathered and before the nation on TV he delivered his “Mountaintop” speech. The day after, on April 4th, King was assassinated, but the struggle and the movement goes on.