Civil-rights activists in Los Angeles are calling for a federal investigation into the "patterns and practices" of the Los Angeles Police Department after an unarmed homeless black man was shot and killed by officers in Venice on Tuesday night.
That's the second time in recent months an unarmed homeless man has been killed by police in the city. In March, Charly "Africa" Leundeu Keunang, a Cameroon native, was shot by police amid a scuffle. The incident, which was caught on film, drew protests in the city. The case is still under investigation.
"Ezell Ford and Omar Alberto [were] killed by LAPD officers last year [and] have investigations into their deaths that are still not completed," Najee Ali, political director of the National Action Network's Los Angeles chapter, told L.A. Weekly. "We need a Justice Department investigation to help reform our shoot-and kill-unarmed-civilians-first, we’ll-ask-questions-later police department."
Just this morning, the Department of Justice opened a civil-rights investigation into the policing practices in Baltimore. The April 12 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody there provoked the largest unrest that city has seen since the 1960s. Six officers have been indicted for their roles in that incident.
In Los Angeles, Brendon Glenn, 29, was shot after police responded to a report of a homeless man harassing customers close to the city's famous boardwalk. When officers arrived, they said they spoke with him, and he walked away. He then got into a physical altercation with a nearby person, according to official statements. When officers tried to detain him, they say, they became involved in a physical altercation, which ended with Glenn being shot.
Shortly after the incident, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters at a news conference that he was troubled by the case. After watching surveillance video that captured the shooting, he said: "Any time an unarmed person is shot by a Los Angeles police officer, it takes extraordinary circumstances to justify that. I have not seen those extraordinary circumstances."
"I don't know what was in the officer's mind," he added.
Those comments drew immediate fire from Craig Lally, head of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a union. Lally said Beck's comments were "completely irresponsible" and that the "premature decision by the chief essentially renders the investigation process void."
Surveillance video of the shooting has not been made public, nor has the name of the officer who fired shots.
On Thursday night, a town hall meeting was held to address the incident. The Los Angeles Times said it drew a "standing-room-only crowd" that denounced the shooting, and suggested the incident could have been handled better if officers were better trained with dealing with people who suffer from mental illnesses.
"We don't want a police officer in the car," one man in the crowd said to cheers, according to the Times. "We want a professional mental health person in the car who understands what the problem really is."
It is not known what, if any, mental illness Glenn might have suffered from. But, it is easy to see why the community can draw that conclusion, if based on probability alone. According to the most recent homeless count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, there were 10,925 homeless members of the community who are considered "severely mentally ill." That same count, taken in 2013, found there was a homeless population of 39,63 in the county.
Keunang, who was killed by LAPD officers in March, had a documented history of mental illness.
The two officers involved with this week's shooting have been removed from the field. The shooting will be investigated by the civilian Police Commission, the LAPD inspector general, and the district attorney's office.
Tim Pardue, a friend of Glenn's who runs a drop-in center for the homeless in the neighborhood where the shooting happened, told the Times he thought he heard gunshots, but didn't think anything of it until he came outside and saw Glenn laying on the floor a few doors down.
"I saw [Glenn's] dog Dozer and I knew it was him right away," Pardue said. "It was really a sad situation."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.