Justice or violence, that is the question


Recently, a cellphone video released on the Internet showed Los Angeles police officers shooting down a seemingly innocent beggar suspected of robbery, after the targeted man had allegedly attempted to seize the police officer’s gun during a confrontation with the police. This footage portrays the kind of actions the Los Angeles Police Department had previously been accused of: abuse of power and violence towards the handicapped and minorities. Local civil righs activists are insisting that the police diminish the use of lethal force in impoverished areas.

According to the mission director of Union Rescue Mission, a Christian homeless shelter located in downtown Los Angeles, the dead man, who went by the street name Africa, had been living in his tent for weeks near the Union Rescue Mission building, where the incident took place. Andy Bale, chief executive of the rescue mission, called attention to the surveillance footage that showed Africa pushing a homeless neighbor about 40 minutes before the shooting. Bale added that this may have led to the robbery report that called the police’s attention, identifying Africa as a possible culprit for the robbery.

The confrontation resulted in Africa falling down on a sidewalk. The video, filmed by bystanders, shows the man resisting by waving his hands and defending himself from the officers who were trying to restrain him. Africa is seen suddenly reaching for a policeman’s gun. In the video, someone is heard shouting “Drop the gun!” four times before the homeless man is shot down. After the shooting, one of the bystanders yells at the police, “Ain’t nobody got no gun. I’m gonna record this… They just shot that man right here, man, they just shot that man right here, yeah.”

The shooting caused more speculation about racial tensions between the police and observers as the man shot was an African-American. One of the four officers, whose weapon was tampered with, is also an African-American. Another issue is that the homeless man may have been mentally ill. After the scuffle, another resident on Skid Row, Ina Murphy, said that Africa had told her he had just been released after being in a mental institution for ten years. He already had a history of conflicting periodic violence and cooperation, which may explain his mental insecurity during the confrontation.

Bale stated that the man had volunteered to wash down the streets outside the mission, but had also been physically aggressive at least three times in the week before his death. “There’s been some good moments with this gentleman, and some erratic violence,” he said.

The Los Angeles Police Department proclaimed that the investigation had already begun and asked people to refrain from early judgments before all the facts are revealed, revealing that the police officers who were involved in this scene had already received death threats.

Regardless of this, the death has aroused discomfort and anger among activists and citizens of Los Angeles, some demonstrating and protesting against the shooting. This tragic event calls into question the level of violence of the police that can be condoned in life-threatening situations.

Sources: The Guardian, Yahoo, BBC