Michael Lawson spent Thursday morning choking tears in front of a bank of TV cameras in Leimert Park.
He did not know police had already identified a suspect in the brutal, deadly shooting at Beverly Hills philanthropist Jacqueline Avant. He only knew he had to do everything to get justice for the 81-year-old woman who had loved him as a family. So he convened a press conference to talk about it.
“We just wanted the world to know how important this was to us,” he said President and CEO of the Los Angeles Urban League told me. That it was a “shot in the hearts of all of us.”
A few hours later, Beverly Hills police would reveal at their own press conference that they had arrested a 29-year-old man from Los Angeles with a lengthy criminal record for burglary and robbery.
And a few hours after that, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by members of the LAPD and the FBI, would talk about his friend Avant and then turn to the rash of “smash-and-grab” and “follow-home” robberies.
Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook used his time in front of the cameras to send a message to anyone considering committing a crime in his town. “You will be caught and brought to justice,” he declared.
Garcetti used his time to reassure Angelenos that there was no cause for alarm, citing the arrests of 14 people suspected of the shoplifters. Police Chief Michel Moore also did a lot to howl over an impending influx of new officers.
“This is still [the] the safest decade, probably in our lifetime, ”he said. “I’m always careful when I say that, because it does not matter if you are a member of the Avant family. If you are a member of a family that was attacked today. We never reject that. We also do not want it to explode where everyone thinks we are suddenly seeing statistics far beyond what the actual figures are. “
In other words, there is crime, and then there is crime policy. And at the moment, it’s the latter’s slide that I’m most worried about.
Michael and his wife, Mattie McFadden-Lawson, are just crawling around thinking about whether the senseless killing of their dear friend could become a kind of political football.
When I reached the couple Friday morning, they told me about how they met Avants back in 2003. The first meeting, during a reception at Morehouse College, proved to be crucial in their lives and in the lives of their children.
“We were just tied up right away,” McFadden-Lawson said. “We said that when we got back to LA, we would contact us. And we’ve kept in touch ever since.”
Before her death, Jacqueline Avant was known by many as the wife of Clarence Avant, a titan from the music industry who helped generations of black artists succeed, from Bill Withers to Babyface to Jay-Z.
But Avant was a woman who quietly undertook cases to help people, especially in the black community of southern LA. In addition to serving on a number of charity boards, she was instrumental in the opening of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Willowbrook.
“She never looked for the limelight. She had her own life,” McFadden-Lawson told me. she was worried. ”
As close friends, Avant and McFadden-Lawson went for tea and spent long lunches talking about books and art. The families would also celebrate birthdays and weddings together.
It was Lawsons who introduced the then Sen. Barack Obama to Avants. And it was Avants who helped Obama gain a foothold in Southern California’s entertainment and political circles.
The last time the Lawson family saw Avants was the day before Thanksgiving. They were past Avants’ home in Beverly Hills to drop off dessert and ended up spending five hours together without thinking it would be the last time they talked to Jacqueline.
“This is about a woman who lost her life in the most horrible way and is no longer among us,” McFadden-Lawson told me. “Let us think of her in terms of all the good she brought to this world and how she tried her best to lift others through her ministry and through her philanthropy.”
She paused and took a deep, frustrated breath.
“It’s the story that Clarence and his family want everyone to focus on.”
Lawsons knows, though, that it might not happen.
Across California, but especially in the Los Angeles and Bay Area, many people were on edge long before last week’s fatal shooting.
For weeks we have heard of robbers looting luxury and chain stores, in some cases assaulting employees. It comes in addition to the people who have been robbed of their watches and wallets with weapons, or have been followed home and attacked, including a star from “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and a former host of BET’s “106 & Park” .
For far longer, district attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco have been under fire for their progressive stance on prosecution and sentencing.
Political candidates, ranging from those vying to become the state’s next justice minister to those hoping to be re-elected sheriff, have begun to insist that California is in chaos because of such reform-oriented policies.
Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies are looking for reasons to increase their budgets following funding cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, in many cases, due to calls from activists encouraged by the race statement prompted by George Floyd’s assassination.
And then came the shocking news about Avant – arguably the most high-profile and, for Black Angelenos, disturbing violent crime in Los Angeles County since the fatal shooting of rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.
It did not take long after Beverly Hills police announced that they had arrested Aariel Maynor and said he had entered the couple’s Trousdale Estates home with an AR-15 rifle before “I told you so’s” started on Twitter. Then pictures and video of Maynor brought the racist trolls out of their basements.
Lawsons has a hard time thinking about how Avant died in the house where they had just spent so many hours with the Avant-garde. They want justice, and they want punishment (because, seriously, who the hell is shooting an 81-year-old woman?).
But provided the allegations against Maynor turn out to be true, Lawsons also sees what happened as a flaw in the system.
“I do not know this person,” Lawson said of Maynor. “I do not know the story. I do not know if there are problems with mental illness. I do not know if he tried to rehabilitate and was pushed in the wrong direction [or] gang affiliation – all the things we ignore. ”
These details will no doubt appear in the coming weeks. In general, however, not enough money has been spent on rehabilitation or on trying to address the root causes of crime.
Example: According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Maynor did not have a permanent address when he was released from prison on Sept. 1 after serving a four-year sentence for second-degree robbery with improvements to a previous crime. He was on probation.
“But we do not want to make this a right-wing or left-wing battle cry. There is work to be done and we have to do the work, ”Lawson said. “This is a consequence of not doing that work.”