He was 25 years old. He was Black. He was homeless, unarmed, mentally ill, lying on the ground and he was still shot to death five times by three Los Angeles police officers on Skid Row Sunday.
Friends called him Africa.
Larry Jackson, an eyewitness to the shooting, told reporters: “I heard one shot and I looked over across the street and I see three more shots being fired at the guy who was laying down on the ground. Instead of handcuffing the guy, they straight out shot him.”
As a Black man in America, it doesn’t matter whether you are employed or homeless, young are old, competent or emotionally challenged – chances are you can be shot and killed by overzealous police officers if they confront you.
Police said Africa was struggling for one of the officer’s weapons and, for reasons unexplained, the taser used on him didn’t work so the cops were forced to shoot him. Five times. The cop who he was struggling with was a rookie just short of completing his probationary period. And he was Black, proving that it’s not always race that is an issue with police – it’s the superiority they feel when they’re armed with a gun and a badge.
The shooting was played out on video in front of several witnesses. The video is graphic and troubling. Calls for an external investigation are legitimate. Six police officers who responded to the call. It also begs this question: How many shots were needed to subdue one man against a unit of police officers?
It seems to me that six Los Angeles police officers, highly trained in restraining suspects and in this case with knowledge of of the homeless community could have subdued Africa without killing him. But once again, as I have written far too many times before, another Black man is dead following a questionable police shooting.
Africa wasn’t lunging at the cops; he wasn’t brandishing a weapon; he wasn’t even standing up. So how non-resistant does a Black man have to be not to get shot by cops in America?
“That man never was a threat,” Lonnie Franklin, 53, told reporters. Franklin said he was standing across the street when the shooting occurred. “The amount of officers present at the time could have subdued him.”
Black folks have complained for years that a corrupt police culture leads to the disproportionate shooting deaths of black men by police from coast to coast and those deaths have created a deep distrust in law enforcement that is almost impossible to repair.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, head of the activist group the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said in a statement that the shooting “underscores the need for the police commission to hold a special hearing to fully examine police tactics and training in the use of deadly force by LAPD officers involving skid row residents many of whom have major mental challenges.”
Perhaps more evidence will emerge in the coming days if the police officers were wearing body cameras. President Barack Obama signed an executive order proposing that $75 million be allocated to buy body cameras for 50,000 police officers following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by former Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson last year.
The Skid Row police shooting comes as the President’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing issued its report Monday saying “there should be independent investigations of deadly police shootings.”
“In order to restore and maintain trust, this independence is crucial,” the report said.
The report also suggests that police departments build better relationships with the communities they serve and police officers should also have better training, specifically on how to resolve potentially dangerous situations.
Meanwhile, Skid Row is the downtown Los Angeles neighborhood where an estimated 1,700 homeless people live in tents and cardboard shelters. Social service workers say many of the homeless men and women suffer from mental illness.
Dennis Horne, 29, told reporters that Africa had been fighting with someone else in his tent before officers arrived.
“It’s sad,” Horne said. “There’s no justification to take somebody’s life.”
I wish more police officers felt the same way.
What do you think?