A Raw Moment with Civil Rights Attorney, Leo Terrell

By Fox 11 Anchor, and Guest Editor, Marla Tellez

I’ve known Civil Rights Attorney, Leo Terrell for almost seven years. You could say I met him on the job. Well, on the set actually. As a regular KTTV commentator, Terrell frequently graces our airwaves.  I’ve interviewed him “live” probably a dozen times, but never has this happened. This raw moment in which Terrell was moved to tears is one I’ll never forget. To hear his pain is to feel it. This isn’t about taking sides or whether or not you agree with him. This is about listening because that’s exactly what this world needs right now: to listen, learn, and grow. 


*This interview first aired on Fox LA on May 31st, 2020, and is re-published here courtesy of KTTV-TV

Marla Tellez

Marla Tellez:

For people who have lived in Los Angeles for decades, the last four nights carried the disturbing and painful echoes of the past. Leo Terrell was ten years old at the time of the Watts Riots. He was already a Civil Rights Attorney here in L.A., when the city exploded again after the verdicts in the Rodney King case. Leo joins us now via Skype. Leo, thank you so much for your time on this early Sunday morning.


Leo Terrell

Leo Terrell:

My pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Marla:

Okay, so you've been part of our coverage since these protests started on Wednesday night.  I just mentioned the Rodney King riots. You witnessed what happened last night in the city that we all love so much. Your reaction, and also how does this compare to the Rodney King riots?

Leo:

Well first of all, let me be really clear right up front: There was a tragic killing in Minnesota of a black man, George Floyd. I have been a civil rights attorney for 25 years. It’s horrific. The one officer has been arrested and now facing murder charges. Notwithstanding that horrible incident in Minnesota, what hurts me, what pains me is the looting and rioting going on under the pretext of protesting the death of George Floyd. I saw the riots in ‘65. You’re right, I was ten years old during the Rodney King riots. What makes this so, so tragic is that we haven't learned anything. Burning down buildings does not resolve issues. We have to eliminate the system that creates police misconduct, and what I saw last night was painful because it hurt everyone in the city of L.A. You couple that with one of your reporters, Gigi, wearing a mask because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and guess what, Marla? This hurts people of color, this pandemic, more than any other group, so if I wasn't a grown man I'd be crying right now, and it hurts. 

Marla:

Well you bring up so many points there. A lot of these businesses that are being destroyed, whether it's in the Fairfax District or in downtown Los Angeles, are black and brown-owned. That needs to be taken into consideration, does it not?

Leo:

Absolutely.

Marla:

For people who are potentially going to be going out today, what is your message? 

Leo:

I’m sorry.

Marla:

No, we are sorry. We're sorry for the pain within the community, we're sorry for this moment for you . . . 

Leo:

Stop the criminal misconduct, that’s all I can tell you, Marla. It’s got to stop. It has to stop. The rioting, the looting hurts what we're trying to accomplish. 97% of police officers are good. 97% to 3% doesn't justify destroying property, the killing, and the burning . . .

Marla:

So that is the message? Enough is enough, Leo, and you mentioned, you know, and we appreciate that off the top of this interview, you said there was a man who was killed in broad daylight six days ago. George Floyd is his name, 46 years old. One officer under arrest, three others not under arrest, and I think that's a big problem here. So if those officers are taken into custody, will that be enough?

Leo:

I think that's the beginning of the process, the beginning of making sure we don't have other situations. Thank goodness for the cell video. Thank goodness for us telling people who have been in denial of police misconduct, here it happened again. There's no dispute that police misconduct exists. The question is, Marla, and to all the viewers, what do we do about it? I’ve said this over and over again. The District Attorney’s office cannot investigate police officers. Why? Because they rely on police officers for evidence, and last night I heard that question posed by Elex (Michaelson) to Supervisor Hahn. It's not a question about candidates. It's the system that protects police officers. We need an independent prosecutor to prosecute police officers, to stop bad officers from remaining on the force. 

Marla:

To stop police brutality. Leo, also on our air yesterday, I heard you, and it sent chills down my spine. You were asked, who speaks for the black community, and your answer was no one.

Leo:

Absolutely no one. We have to stop this mindset that the black population is a monolithic unit. There is no individual. I have never voted in an election for the black leader. There is none. There are blacks that have different opinions. My opinion is different from some of those looters and robbers, so my point is this. We have to have a coalition of different views and opinions. My opinion, other African-Americans’ opinions, but there is no one voice and we have to stop that mindset. I'm speaking on behalf of Leo Terrell, my feelings and my love for this city.

Marla:

We had one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter on our air just a short time ago, and one of the main messages of BLM/Black Lives Matter, is to defund police. Your reaction to that?

Leo:

Thank you very much for asking that question because I want to give you and the viewers a response. I have a family member in law enforcement. You know what makes police officers so great? They protect us at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning. It is ridiculous to defund the police because we need them to protect our health, our safety, and you saw last night, our security, and I would recommend to all the Black Lives Matter personnel, the people, start voting! Start initiating referendums, and work within the system. I have spent 25 years prosecuting bad police officers and representing good officers, but to defund the Police Department is a non-starter.

Marla:

All right, it's a new day. Leo, Sunday morning, what are you going to be doing today?

Leo:

You know honestly, I'm going to get on my bike and I'm going to probably ride over to see the National Guard and thank them, and I'm going to go out there to the police officers and thank them. Because what they did was, notwithstanding overwhelming odds, they tried to save the city I love. They tried to protect people.

Marla:

I just want to reach through and give you a hug, Leo, and to think in the middle of a pandemic we aren't even supposed to be hugging, and this is the time to come together. Leo, thank you so much for your time, for your raw emotion, for your insight, for all that you've done actively, as a civil rights attorney for the city of Los Angeles, and everyone here. Thank you so much.


Watch the interview below:


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