LAPD shooting stirs residents' anger
reports from Los Angeles on the latest case of deadly police violence.
THE LOS Angeles Police Department struck again the day before Labor Day. A 37-year-old Guatemalan day laborer--who witnesses say was unarmed--was shot in the head and killed by an officer from the notorious Rampart Division, site of one of the worst police scandals in U.S. history.
But this time, the shooting resulted in an eruption of protest, with residents angrily confronting police for several nights and an ongoing vigil to demand justice in yet another case of deadly police violence.
The killing took place in the Westlake area of LA, which is sandwiched between the increasingly gentrified downtown and the predominantly immigrant MacArthur Park neighborhood. Manuel Jamines was shot and killed by LAPD officer Frank Hernandez after supposedly lunging at Hernandez with a switchblade.
According to official police story, Jamines had been threatening two women. One of the women flagged down three bicycle police officers, the cops say--after they drew their weapons, Jamines allegedly charged at them with the knife, and the officers responded by killing him on the spot.
But residents say the official version of the shooting is full of holes.
A cafeteria worker in the Los Angeles Unified School District has appeared publicly to contradict the police story. Asking to be called only Ana, for fear of police harassment, she said she was across the street and saw no weapon in Jamines' hands. She said Jamines seemed drunk and was having a hard time keeping his balance. Within a minute of the cops' shouted warnings at Jamines, Hernandez fired twice at point-blank range--Ana said Jamines' blood splattered to the other side of the street.
A day after Ana's statement, the Los Angeles Times reported that Hernandez had been involved in two previous officer-related shootings and is currently a defendant in a federal lawsuit alleging that he covered up one shooting by falsely claiming that the suspect possessed a gun.
Anyone who knows the history of the Rampart Division ought to be suspicious. In the 1990s, more than 70 cops from the division's CRASH anti-gang unit were implicated in unprovoked shootings and violence, routine planting of evidence to frame suspects, stealing from residents, bank robbery and dealing drugs.
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ON THE night Jamines was killed and the following two, residents and activists turned out for angry demonstrations, with some throwing rocks at police and setting dumpsters on fire. Dozens of people were arrested.
The media took the cops' side and hinted that the confrontations were the work of "outside agitators." LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the officer a hero, according to the KPCC radio station in Pasadena.
On September 8, the Rampart Division held a community forum, where Police Chief Charles Beck read a statement from the LAPD's unnamed main witness, who said Jamines tried to attack her and a pregnant woman. He was met by an explosion of boos and heckling from the more than 300 people into a school auditorium for the forum.
LA City Council member Ed Reyes, flanked by a small army of city officials, tried to reassure the crowd that there would be a fair investigation into the shooting. But promises like that, as in the case of Oscar Grant III's murder by a transit officer in Oakland, always turn out to be hollow.
While the images in the media have focused the nights of altercations between police and residents on the streets, there is an ongoing campaign to hold the LAPD accountable for this shooting and call attention to its history of violence and abuse.
Many residents gather for daily vigils at the site of the shooting, where the discussion has turned to further organizing. Citywide organizations are offering their support--on September 18, demonstrators will gather at Union Avenue and 6th Street at 10 a.m. for a march organized by the ANSWER Coalition, Consejo de Federaciones Mexicanas en Norteamérica and Unión Del Barrio.
Residents and activists are demanding justice in the case of this awful crime. We know that city and police officials always promise a fair investigation, but the outcome is almost always to clear police of wrongdoing and quiet dissent. It will take more organizing and protests to hold the cops accountable and give the Westlake community a sense that it is safe from an abusive police department.