Below is my resignation letter from the Los Angeles Public Library Cybernaut position, a role supporting patrons’ technology needs in the library computer center. This letter was sent to LAPL leadership as well as my supervisors. Names have been redacted here for privacy. I worked in the role for less than a week when the incident occurred.
SUBJ: Cybernaut Resignation
This letter is to inform you all of my resignation as a Cybernaut at LAPL Central Library, effective immediately.
Multiple factors played into this decision, but the most substantial is an incident which occurred at the very end of my shift on Saturday, October 16th. A patron at one of the fifteen-minute computers was occasionally speaking to himself in loud, non-aggressive outbursts about sports. The LAPL employee who was in the computer center with me walked past him twice and told him to lower his voice. When another outburst occurred, she told me that when [Supervisor] arrived at 5 PM — the end of my shift — she would ask [Supervisor] to talk to him.
A couple minutes prior to 5 PM the LAPL employee went to the bathroom, and [Supervisor] came into the computer center early. I mentioned what the employee had told me, and just at that moment, the patron had another outburst. [Supervisor]’s response was not to go talk to the patron at all, but instead, to immediately reach for the phone and call security. At orientation, I had been told that the security at Central Library was, at the moment, private security, rather than LAPD. However, about two minutes after [Supervisor]’s call, two armed, uniformed LAPD officers arrived to remove the unsuspecting patron from the premises. As there had been no warning, the patron quickly became upset, and the officers physically removed him from the computer center while threatening to arrest him if his behavior escalated. At that point, my shift ended, and I had to leave immediately to go to my other job.
This incident was, frankly, unconscionable. The officers’ suggestion that it was the patron who was escalating the situation would be laughable, if it were not so dangerous: the escalation came entirely from LAPL staff, who refused to engage with a non-aggressive, non-threatening patron in any meaningful way prior to engaging armed law enforcement agents for a situation which was a minor disruption at best. I am aware that libraries encounter serious situations where threats or acts of violence can be very real, but this circumstance was, obviously and emphatically, not that at all.
The LAPL — like public libraries across the country — styles itself as a place of welcome and inclusion. But that welcome is clearly contingent: patrons who are Black, or visibly homeless, or mentally ill, are not accorded the same respect, welcome, or basic dignity and sense of safety from staff as patrons who are white, or do not appear homeless. As someone who has been unhoused in my own adult life, I found regular respite at libraries when I had nowhere else to go. I am also a white woman who was very conscientious about maintaining a “presentable” appearance, precisely because I was terrified that library staff would treat me differently if they realized that I was not, in fact, showing up daily because I was a diligent student, but because I was homeless.
Neither can the LAPL claim to be ignorant of the effect of LAPD within libraries, or of the consequences of calling LAPD on Black patrons. In June of 2020, LAPL put out a statement in support of Black Lives Matter, stating that “Black Lives Matter. Always and in all ways.” But the actions of staff betray the emptiness of this sentiment on the part of LAPL. If “Black lives matter” is to be anything more than a self-congratulatory gesture, library staff must create a culture of dignity, trust, and respect for Black patrons, rather than a culture in which a Black man can be threatened with arrest simply for talking loudly. I should not need to educate anyone on the possible consequences of the choice to make armed law enforcement the first response to minor situations. The names that we all know through headlines and hashtags have been tragic education enough, and they represent only a tiny fraction of those whose lives have been ruined or even ended by police contact.
Building such a culture is not impossible. Other libraries — like many schools and organizations around the country, including some that I have worked for — have turned to the practices of restorative or transformative justice to reshape their understanding of safety and service. Such practices might seem intimidating, and training library staff in advanced de-escalation techniques may not be possible — but all staff can practice basic courtesy and customer service, and rely on conversation before cops. This video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g426BTOAmqw), about policing in libraries, offers a useful starting point.
But this is urgent work, and a starting point is not enough. As long as LAPL fails to protect the most vulnerable members of our LA community, LAPL fails Los Angeles; and as long as the comfort of white staff members is prioritized over the safety of Black patrons, well, we all know exactly whose lives really matter.