The annual Swing-A-Thon charity event sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Department, came and went without a hitch. A large number of kids — along with parents, grandparents, curious onlookers and a well-known face or two like Dodgers legend Manny Mota— swarmed all over Sylmar’s El Cariso Park on July 8 to gobble up free food and drink, perform baseball drills, compete in hula, dance and rap contests, pet police horses, sit in helicopters, display rock climbing skills, and earn raffle tickets where lucky winners could get a bike, a pair of Air Jordan sneakers, or some other valuable prize.
What most people didn’t know was that the event very nearly didn’t happen.
Horrific circumstances during the week threatened to overtake Swing-A-Thon and cause its cancellation. Police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota had shot and killed two African American men (Alton Sterling, 37, and Philando Castile, 32) on July 5 and 6. On July 7, a solo gunman killed five police officers — Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens — and wounded seven others (as well as two civilians) in downtown Dallas during a peaceful, organized protest that was underway, condemning the Louisiana and Minnesota shootings.
The Dallas suspect, 25-year-old Micah X. Johnson, a former Army reservist, was killed after a hours-long standoff when police sent a robot with an explosive device into a parking garage where Johnson was cornered.
LAPD patrol officer Michael Scott, the driving force of Swing-A-Thon and it’s annual baseball game between the police and Sheriff’s deputies, said a cancellation was considered, especially if law enforcement officials deemed officers and deputies would be used in tactical alerts to quell any potential trouble inspired by the civilian and police deaths.
“We thought about the situation,” Scott said. “But we also have confidence in our community. We know that we will overcome this. We’re good police officers out here, working for kids. We’re gonna take it as that. It’s basically a learning experience for us. We’re more alert. But it makes me want to do even more for the community.”
Scott did not ignore the deadly events that are again fueling a national debate about gun patrol, and more confrontations between law enforcement and African American communities. Midway through the Swing-A-Thon, he took time to primarily address the youth among the gathered crowd.
“We are police officers. And we want you guys to know that we are here for you [kids]. We’re letting you know we care about you guys,” Scott said.
“I know everyone’s read the news, heard about what was going on in Dallas. For us officers working the street, that’s tragic for us. Anyone of these officers out here today would give his life for your life, okay? You guys remember that.”
There was also a moment of silence for all the victims before the baseball game.
Several people who spoke with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol said they were pleased the event had gone on as scheduled.
“I am glad they put it on. It’s great for the kids,” said Richard Reyes, of Sylmar. “This is the first time I brought my kids. And we were coming, regardless.
“I’m happy with what I’ve seen. These LAPD guys are doing a lot for the community. My son took part in the baseball camp, my daughter’s done the face-painting and rock climbing, playing in the jumpers. They’re having a great time. We’re enjoying it, definitely.”
Cindy Gutierrez, who recently moved to Sylmar, also said she was planning to bring her three daughters despite what happened in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota.
“It’s something new to us. It’s our first time. I just thought it was something I could bring my girls to,” she said.
Yasean Bruce, a San Fernando fitness trainer, did have second thoughts about coming after the deaths of Sterling and Castile. But, he said, events like this were more about healing than exacerbating violence.
“In these dark times we’ve found some light,” Bruce said. “Look, there are good and bad cops. Good and bad black people. It’s unfortunate what’s happened. … I almost didn’t come. But I’m glad I did. This is a positive for everybody.”
Kim Garrett, a retired Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy who has also worked as an actor and film technical consultant, singled out Scott for hosting events like Swing-A-Thon that maintain a connection between law enforcement and the community.
“I’ve talked with a number of people, and the problem they have with a lot of police officers is that they don’t have a vested interest in the community they serve,” Garrett said. “Michael’s a fine example of an officer with that has a vested interest in the community he serves.”