M. Terry / SFVS

The blue shirt "All-Stars" battle the grey shirt "Pros" in the annual "Breaking Barriers game between the Valley residents and Los Angeles Police officers.

It’s a Saturday morning, and a basketball game is about to commence inside the San Fernando Valley Boys & Girls Club, located in Pacoima.

The surprising thing is not finding a bunch of boys and girls taking up space on the hardwood floor, but adults. And this is not some thrown together collection of “shirts vs. skins,” some guys just looking to get a sweat going before running some weekend errands or parking on the couch for a college football game.

This is a planned activity. The players are either Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, many from the Foothill Division Station located in Pacoima, or residents from the neighboring communities. The teams are dressed in blue shirts, signifying “All-Stars,” or grey shirts, signifying “Pros.” Even more interesting, the players on both teams don’t always know who is who.

The game is known as the “Breaking Barriers Basketball Bash.” It’s now in its fifth year, co-sponsored by the San Fernando Valley NAACP and the Foothill Division Station.

It’s an event born out of a tragic situation. 

In 2013, Christian Eaddy, an African American male, was shot by Foothill Division officers who, at the time, were responding to a call of a man with two knives and syringes threatening to kill himself. Eaddy, 26, who lived in Pacoima and was described by Valley NAACP President Rosalind Scarbrough as “6-3, 210-pounds, with the mind of a 10-year-old,” later died at a hospital.

(In 2016, a jury directed the city of Los Angeles to pay $2.2 million to plaintiff Greg Eaddy, Christian’s father, after finding that both the officer and the victim were negligent. In its decision, the jury found that Officer Christopher Carr was 65 percent negligent and the remainder was attributed to Christian. The panel also found that Christian Eaddy’s civil rights were violated.)

Scarbrough said instead of the organization making its collective ire over the shooting public, “I worked with the police, letting them do their entire investigation — the young man happened to be a member of our church so we knew him — to make sure we weren’t acting on emotion but what were the facts. I was just not going to automatically assume that [Christian] did nothing that would have escalated that situation.

“We were not satisfied with the facts [their investigation] gave us. In the civil lawsuit, all of the details came out that was not in the report they gave us.”

Scarbrough and then station Capt. Ernest Eskridge (now at the LAPD West Valley Station) explored ideas on ways to improve communication and relationships between Foothill Division and the communities it serves. Among the suggestions by the NAACP president was a basketball game.

Officer Fernando Davila was one of the officers at the scene that day in 2013. He has also worked tirelessly on helping put on the game the past five years.

“Rosalind Scarbrough met with [Eskridge] and they were trying to figure out ways for us to break barriers and get together, communicate. Not necessarily agree, but agree to disagree — to communicate,” Avila said. “One of the ways was to have a game of basketball where police officers would play against community members. We [now] play on mixed teams instead of just playing against each other. And then afterward, we share a burger and a bag of chips. Nothing very fancy, but just bring people together and break barriers. Everything is free. If you come to watch, we’ll give you something to eat. People can have fun and enjoy a game.”

Scarbrough wanted one caveat included in the event.

“Any event we have with them is a ‘no-arrest zone,’” she said. “If you have warrants, outstanding tickets, expired tags or licenses, none of that matters as long as you don’t do anything to break the law at the event. It’s one of the things I insisted upon; many of our community members have records, and they’re afraid of the police finding out things. As long as they don’t have an APB out on them — I can’t protect them from that — I insist [the police] do not look at any of that when they come here.”

The game itself on Nov. 23 — won by the “Pros,” 60-50 — was almost secondary. Making connections was more important than a no-look pass or three-pointer.

“It’s not only good for the police, it’s good for regular people to come in and play the police,” said Day Quann Williams, a participant who played in the game. “It’s a way for them to give back, too. I made some friends today.”

Others also made the point of creating the avenues of communication and keeping them open.

“I’ve only been here a year-and-a-half,” said Capt. David T. Grimes, Foothill Station commander. “[But] I’ve heard stories of officers going to radio calls and meeting and helping people they’ve met on the court…anytime you have increased community relationships and engagement opportunities like this, it’s a great thing.”

“Obviously the community engagement [is important], as far as the participation and the community members coming out here and participating in the event,” said Officer Santos Gonzalez, who has worked at the Foothill Division for eight years and has played in four of the games. “It’s about building that partnership, that collaboration with the community.”

Added game announcer Ken I. Hicks, who is also a clinical social worker, “everybody comes from families that have stuff going on. Just because you’re a policeman doesn’t mean everything in your life is going perfect, either. We all need to get along and understand that. To be compatible, and say we’re all in this together, and do the right thing — that’s what it’s all about.”

And, to Scarbrough’s thinking, there have been tangible, credible results since the game began five years ago.

She said Foothill Division has made several changes to their policies and practices in how it reacts to its communities in potential confrontations. And Scarbrough also praises the increased level of sensitivity in general by LAPD departments in the Valley.

“The police departments in the Valley, I’m very proud of. We’ve not had another officer-involved shooting of a Black man in the Valley I’m aware of since then (with the exception of a homicide suspect killed by police in Sherman Oaks in October.) We’ve come a long way from what we used to have. Foothill was known for ‘Rodney King’ type brutality against our community.”

The only disappointment on the day was the small crowd that came to watch the game even though there was no admission charge. “We have not been able to get our community to come out,” Scarbrough acknowledged. “The police department comes out in record numbers. We have a great relationship; whatever we ask them for, they do. We’re still trying to get our community to trust and come.”

But some of those attending felt the game and its ideals remain necessary.

“It’s my first time, and I’m enjoying it because I like the interaction with the officers and the community,” said Robert Long, who lives in Winnetka. “It’s more about love than hate. I hadn’t heard about it before…. the important thing is the humanistic part of it. I look at this as a positive, joint adventure. And I’d like to see more people in the community come in and observe.

“I don’t know anybody playing, I just came.”