The Los Angeles Police Department finds itself in the center of the controversy over uses of force in law enforcement after shooting a homeless man in a Skid Row incident yesterday, who died shortly afterward. The shooting, captured on video by a bystander, shows police attempting to subdue the still-unidentified man. Police claim the man attempted to grab an officer’s gun, but witnesses claim the man was unarmed.
The video went up on Facebook yesterday and now has more than 2 million hits. Be warned that it is Not Safe For Work, due to graphic images and language (via Twitchy):
In the video, one can hear someone repeatedly yell “Drop the gun!” before the shots begin. It starts at the 19-second point of the video and gets repeated four times before the first shot. Unless that was the man who got shot yelling at the police — which seems unlikely — it appears that the police at least thought the man had a gun or had grabbed at one of theirs.
The Los Angeles Times reports that police had responded to a robbery call, but it’s not clear how that related to the shooting:
“It’s clear there was a struggle for the officer’s gun,” Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. No other gun was found at the scene.
Five shots can be heard on the video. Two officers and a sergeant fired their weapons, Smith said. …
Police had responded to a robbery call in the 500 block of San Pedro Street around noon, Montgomery said. At one point during the confrontation a non-lethal Taser had been deployed, but Smith said it was “ineffective.”
Needless to say, the witnesses to the shooting were not impressed with the LAPD’s performance:
One witness can be heard complaining that there had been at least six officers to handle the situation, and that the mortally wounded man had been unarmed.
“Ain’t nobody got no … gun!” he shouts.
“That man never was a threat,” said Lonnie Franklin, 53, who said he was across the street when the shooting occurred. “The amount of officers present at the time could have subdued him.”
Actually, the video shows that the officers had tried to subdue the man prior to the shooting. One woman distracted an office by attempting to grab a nightstick that had dropped, but the other five officers had tried Tasing the suspect and wrestling him to the ground. They had not succeeded in subduing him, and either the man pulled out what appeared to be a gun in the melee or tried to get one of the police weapons — or at least so one or more of the officers thought, according to the audio.
Interestingly, the LA Times reports that at least one of the officers wore a body camera during the incident. The use of body cameras came under considerable debate after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, with some suggesting that it will take a lot of the guesswork out of unpacking these kinds of incidents. We’ll see what the body cam(s) depict eventually, as well as some surveillance cameras that were in the area and might have more context than the one Facebook video.
That will take a while for the public to see, though, and in the meantime this shooting will fester. The Rodney King beating festered for a considerable period of time before the 1992 Los Angeles riots actually broke out, for which the catalyst was the acquittal of the police officers in their state trial over the incident. Having lived in the area at the time, personal experience leads me to believe that the police had better act as quickly as they can to release any video and provide an explanation. Otherwise, this may be the catalyst for something very ugly.