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Thirteen years old and killed by the LAPD

By Lisa Baker | February 18, 2005 | Page 1

"A SWEET, loving kid." That's how a family friend described the latest victim of the Los Angeles Police Department--13-year-old Devin Brown.

Devin was killed on February 6, shortly before 4 a.m. in South Los Angeles. According to the Los Angeles Times, police followed the car Brown was driving for more than three miles until it skidded onto the curbside at Western Avenue and 83rd Street. After a passenger jumped out, the car began backing up.

That's when police officer Steve Garcia fired 10 shots into the car, killing Brown.

Community members have held an ongoing vigil at the intersection where Devin was murdered. There, the conversation isn't limited to this one case.

People talked about the LAPD's beating of Rodney King, which sparked riots against police brutality in 1992--and how little has changed since.

They spoke of Stanley Miller, whose brutal beating by LA police was captured on videotape last June. Less than a week before Devin was killed, prosecutors announced that they wouldn't file criminal charges against the officer who pummeled Miller with a heavy aluminum flashlight.

Sharon McCall told Socialist Worker that she witnessed the beating of Stanley Miller in front of her home. She had a job working for the Compton police department at the time. She pointed to a car parked across the street and said, "Where it happened, it was as close to me as that car is now." Yet when she told what she saw, the LAPD concluded that she had "poor visibility" and was not a credible witness.

Others drew the connection with Donovan Jackson, who was slammed against a patrol car and struck by three officers, two white and one Black. Two of these cops lost their jobs. But the two white officers sued the state for "discrimination"--and won $1.6 million and $811,000, respectively.

The lack of punishment in all of these cases--along with the tremendous reward for those who brutalized Jackson--sends a message to police that they can get away with anything. All this laid the ground for the killing of a child.

[Devin] wasn't a gang-banger," said Linda Williams, a close friend of the family. "That's just lies they're putting out. He was just like any other kid, just trying to survive in the world."

At a rally last week at the United Methodist Church in South Central LA, Tony Mohammed said from the podium, "We need to organize...The mayor isn't going to give us justice. The police aren't going to give us justice."

On February 15, Democratic Mayor James Hahn, who is up for re-election in a few weeks, and Sheriff Lee Baca are scheduled to appear at Crenshaw Christian Center to speak at an event titled "South Los Angeles Gun Violence: A Time for Change." But if city officials want to reduce gun violence, they should start with their police department.

Some community leaders are hoping for policy changes that will decrease police violence. For instance, Police Chief William Bratton has promised to speed up changes in police policy so that officers will no longer be allowed to open fire on a moving vehicle unless their lives are threatened by something other than the vehicle.

But the police already routinely break laws and are rarely held accountable. The problem isn't bad policy. It's systematic racism that comes all the way from the top, in the name of fighting a "war on crime."

Bratton, formerly New York's police commissioner, took the LA post in 2003, calling for an "all-out assault" on gang crime, which he described as "homeland terrorism." Is it any wonder that cops would shoot first and ask questions later in such a climate.

Activists have called a protest against Hahn, Baca and Bratton during their gun violence event on February 15, and a demonstration to "Stop the Killing!" is scheduled for February 26 in Leimert Park.

We can't trust politicians, review boards and the legal system to solve the problems of racist police violence. Now is the time to organize.

"We need to put pressure on them and keep it on," a parent of four living in South Central told Socialist Worker. "I'm just tired of this. They need to see the light that there's a thin line between peace and war--and that line is wearing away. But it needs to be everybody this time: Black, white, Latino. It's not about me--I just want to see things different for my children."

Gillian Russom and Elizabeth Schulte contributed to this article.

Killed by "non-lethal" weapons

THE DEATH of a Chicago man who was shot by police with a Taser stun gun begs the question: What do you do with so-called non-lethal weapons when they kill people.

Like thousands of police departments around the country, Chicago introduced stun guns and other "non-lethal" weapons several years ago, supposedly to reduce the number of fatalities at the hands of the police. The Taser sends 50,000 volts of electricity through the bodies of its victims. Sales of the gun--manufactured by Taser International, whose board of directors includes Bush's failed first choice for Homeland Security czar, Bernard Kerik--have skyrocketed.

Chicago began using a handful of the guns in 2003. Today, there are at least 200 of them in the hands of Chicago cops. Nationally, more than 100,000 police officers carry Tasers.

And people are dying. On February 10, Chicago police fired a Taser at 54-year-old Ronald Hasse, who collapsed and died. The same day, in San Diego, a man was Tasered and died two days later. A few days earlier, a 14-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest after police used a stun gun on him at his school.

So far, Tasers have been connected to some 84 reported deaths around the country. Like other "non-lethal" weapons, Tasers aren't any less lethal than the police forces that use them.

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