More than a dozen people voiced their displeasure to the Beverly Hills City Council regarding the City Prosecutor’s decision to file misdemeanor charges against 25 protestors. The comments came on Sept. 15, during both the City Council Study Session and Regular Meeting.
The non-agendized comments took the form of video and phone calls, as well as letters. At issue are protests that took place in the City on June 26. A group of 25 protestors were arrested, and later charged for violating the City’s Emergency Ordinance. Most of those speaking out before the Council indenitifed themselves as Persian and Jewish, and took exception to comments in documents filed by police that invoked the Holocaust and the Iranian Revolution.
In court filings obtained by the Courier, a report by the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) noted that “a large percentage of [the City’s] population is comprised of Iranians and Jews of Christian and Jewish faiths.”
“Many of the community have experienced untold atrocities before they fled their countries to come to the United States,” a police sergeant wrote. “Many lost their families to mobs who took them from homes during the cover of darkness and executed them in the streets during the Iranian Revolution and the genocide of the Jews. To many of the residents, this is not merely an intrusion of their peace, rather, it is a terrifying reminder of their past.”
City Attorney Laurence Weiner and Beverly Hills Police Department Interim Chief Dominick Rivetti responded to the criticism at both Council sessions. Weiner noted that the City Prosecutor operates independently and without input from the City Council. Rivetti said that the statements referencing the Holocaust and Iranian Revolution were simply recitations of what residents told officers that night.
For Liza Raffi, a Persian-Jewish graduate of Beverly Hills High School who addressed the Regular Meeting via video, the statements by police were “callous and disingenuous.”
“In Iran, our families experienced violence that was state-sanctioned,” the USC medical student said. “Because of our religion, police officers looked the other way as our parents and grandparents were mistreated or robbed. Today, if our streets are the site of a march, it’s not because of who we are or how we worship, it’s because there are people calling for social justice and equal rights, for us to hear and support their cause.”
Another member of the community, Beverly Hills High School graduate Nicole Emrani Green, called on the City to drop charges against the protesters while also expressing understanding for the fear felt by neighbors on June 26. “As a Persian Jew who visited concentration camps in Poland, [was] raised by parents and family who fled Iran during the Revolution, and dedicated over 10 years to understanding psychology and trauma, I can truly understand that the fear instilled from traumatic events is real,” submitted Green, who has a Masters in Psychotherapy. But, she said, “bending society around perceived threats is not recommended by any trained professional actually dealing with trauma.”
“My family fled a country where peaceful protests were not tolerated because the government perceived them as a threat. But, in reality, the silencers were the real threat. I hope we will not make the same mistake,” she wrote in her comments.
Community members repeatedly urged the City Council to drop the charges against the protesters. However, Weiner clarified in both meetings that the City Prosecutor does not take instructions from the City Council.
Given the City’s relatively small size, Beverly Hills outsources its prosecutorial needs to the firm of Dapeer, Rosenblit & Litvak, which filed the charges against the protesters on Aug. 14.
“They do not make judgments on either side of the political spectrum,” Weiner said. “They do not take direction from the City Council–so the mayor and the Council and me, frankly, are not part of that decision-making process. They are ethically obligated to work this way so that they are free from political influence.”
Some of the callers noted that Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer decided to drop all charges in connection with curfew violations during recent protests.
Beverly Hills native Lucy Licht made a broader appeal to history in her comments. “To make criminals of individuals who are fighting against the widespread killing of Black people by police is a sure way for Beverly Hills to find itself on the wrong side of history and of justice,” she said via video. “Whether or not, as City Councilmembers, you drove the decision to pursue charges against these individuals, our City Prosecutor receives his instructions from this body and you have the power to direct him now.”
Raffi, the medical student, had these words for the Council: “The next generation and my generation is watching how the City answers this difficult moment. Will we treat these protesters with respect as they agitate for a good cause, or will we throw the full book of the law at them? Will we respond with a measured and thoughtful approach to each situation, or will we succumb to alarmist fear?”
The 25 protesters are next scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 25.