Never A Threat

The viral video of Los Angeles cops taking down a homeless man of questionable mental stability, until five shots are fired and he became a dead homeless man, is a good illustration of the confusion. The video is confusing. The conduct of the police is confusing. The necessity for violence is confusing, and the reasons behind all of this are confusing.

The only thing not confusing about it is that the man, who is known as Africa on the street, is dead.

In an effort to make sense of the confusion, note that at 21 seconds, you hear the word “gun.”  From the LA Times:

“It’s clear there was a struggle for the officer’s gun,” Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said. No other gun was found at the scene.

There is nothing clear here, though this has already become a critical piece of the narrative surrounding this killing.  If there was a struggle that’s less than apparent from the video, Africa was clearly getting the worst of the deal.  The idea that he could “struggle” for anyone, no less a gun, while being beaten is hard to swallow.

Someone, no doubt, will explain that it could happen, but then, someone will say that about anything, no matter how ridiculous. And it is possible, because in this mass of confusion, pretty much anything is possible.  Except Africa surviving five shots to his body.

The question that may never be answered, and will likely never receive the attention it deserves, is why all these brave cops, six in total, couldn’t manage to handle a lone homeless man without resort to force in the first place.

To this end, the fact that Africa was homeless, an annoyance to police, and likely the shopkeepers, public, and other nice folks, becomes relevant.  From a distance, many of us feel pretty lousy about the fact that there are homeless people in the country. And we similarly feel pretty badly that a great many of them suffer from mental illness, a sad conundrum of the clash of rights and needs, that’s never found a viable resolution.

But they exist, and most of us don’t give them a hug and a meal despite their odor.  We are not as good a person as Mark Bennett.  We walk around them, side-stepping their unpleasantness.  They are often the sort of person that says inappropriate things to women, who might be inclined to call them “misogynistic losers.”  Homeless guys are far easier to love from a safe distance.

According to the LA Times, the police were called for a theft. Why this call devolved into violence is unknown as yet, and will likely never really be known.  The excuses that will make the papers will come from the cops, and they will explain in irrefutable jargon how the police tactics were unavoidable.  Blame the crazy, homeless guy who “struggled” with cops for a gun.  Should they have waited until he killed a cop?

But then, the question begins before they threw him to the ground.  The question begins with the slew of cops present to deal with some homeless guy.  Couldn’t they talk to him? Couldn’t they wait him out?  Well, sure, they could have, but that would have required the police to think Africa was worth their time, worthy of patience.

Homeless guys are things.  Want to talk about being objectified?  No one is more objectified than society’s rejects, the worthless breathing bodies that make streets unpleasant.  Only when we see a video of police killing a homeless guy do we realize that he’s not just a thing, but a person.  Only then do we give a damn about him.

That the police treated Africa as a piece of street flotsam isn’t new, and isn’t a matter that would give rise to protests, no less concern, had he not been shot to death, and had there not been graphic video of his killing.  But then, the rest of us don’t do a whole lot better when it comes to dealing with the homeless.  We are no less guilty of objectifying them, even if we’re not inclined to rush to beat them or shoot them.

There were a million ways the Los Angeles police could have dealt with a homeless guy named Africa that wouldn’t have resulted in his death.  Then again, there were a million ways in which we could have done more to give Africa a life, maybe even mental health, so that he wouldn’t be on the street to be beaten, tased and killed by the cops.

Just as the cops didn’t have to begin down a path that led to this needless death, we could have gone down a path that didn’t have to leave Africa homeless and helpless.  Blame the cops for killing him, but that doesn’t relieve the rest of us for his being there in the first place.

32 thoughts on “Never A Threat

  1. John Barleycorn

    The eighty pound woman deserves a medal for her intuitive sense of reasonable force. She never stood a chance but she tried.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Run? No way!

        My WAG is she was well aware of the spectrum of results the officers actions were about to unleash once the swarm committed itself. None of them good for Africa and she selflessly and courageously seized the opportunity to defend her comrade against the beast.

        The irony is she was actually the only armed citizen involved.

        Good thing for her she was only perceived to be minor nuisance and not an immanent deadly threat to the swarm carrying out its “duty” to protect and serve the hive.

        It will be interesting to see if she is charged and if so with what?

  2. Not Jim Ardis

    Starting at 0:20 someone yells “drop the gun” four times and then someone (perhaps the same one who yelled “drop the gun, but perhaps not) opens fire. That suggests he wasn’t reaching for a gun, but had a gun. Good thing no one with any authority will do anything as hold the cops accountable.

    I thought cops were supposed to be badasses… Was Africa some sort of kung-fu master that it takes so many guys to take him on?

    1. John Anthony

      There’s a clearer video at youtube id bOaMWtZcAU4. Referring to the embedded video above, at 0:15 or so, you can see clearly that the suspect has his hand on the left-most (black) officer’s holstered pistol. If you time the pause well, you can see the hand and the gun pulled at at a 45-degree angle from the officer’s hip. A moment after this, the officer is saying “Get off my gun! Get off my gun!” while using his right hand to dislodge the suspects hand and his left hand to alternately steady himself/punch the suspect. Another moment later, the officer rolls away from the suspect disloging the hand. Later in the video you can see the officer still has his gun as he draws it on the suspect.

      As the black officer is rolling off of the suspect’s torso, you can see that the heavyset, semi-crew cut officer to the right of the first officer (standing/kneeling at the suspect’s waist) draws his weapon in reaction to the “get off my gun” yells. Assuming that the audio track is properly synced to the video, it looks like the heavyset officer begins firing just after the first officer has rolled out of the way. It did not appear to me that shots were fired by the other officers, but it’s clear that all four officers drew their weapons within a few moments of the fired shots.

      1. SHG Post author

        …at 0:15 or so, you can see clearly that the suspect has his hand on the left-most (black) officer’s holstered pistol.

        Clearly? At all? If you stick your head deeply up some cop’s rectum and pray hard? This is where the bullshit crashes and burns. Don’t give up sniffing glue today. I can’t wait until some cop shill has the guts to use a real name and email address, but that won’t happen, now will it? All the other cops reading this are facepalming, wondering why someone like you has to embarrass them all the time.

        1. Not Jim Ardis

          Like Uncle Jimbo on Southpark yelling “It’s coming right for me” to justify blowing away whatever woodland creature he pleases, yelling “drop the gun” or “get off my gun” (and seriously, there is no possible way to hear the latter without first fellating police power) will always excuse a cop gunning down anyone they please.

          1. SHG Post author

            I assume the hope is that if the shill can sell his story, it will fall under “seeing is believing.” At least I should be proud of the fact that I always get some day tripping cop shill give it that old cop try.

        2. John Anthony

          I apologize for the anonymity, but I am not a police officer or shill (I am a physicist, but I believe that to be completely irrelevant to the discussion). When I first saw the video yesterday, I took more than a few minutes trying to discern the order of events and what was actually being said. I did not think that what I wrote would be so controversial once someone had taken a more careful look at the video (perhaps the 2nd video that I argue looks a bit clearer). I certainly tried to avoid tainting a discussion of the facts with my opinion on the events.

          I have isolated a key frame at I don’t believe that it is “seeing is believing.” I think that is clearly a hand wrapped around the officer’s gun; a fact that becomes clearer watching the rest of the video after seeing that image.

          I don’t think my opinion matters much to the discussion but I believe this is a tragic event. I too question whether or not the officers could have chosen an approach that would have avoided deadly violence. I believe that the officers gun was out of the man’s grasp at least a moment or two before the 2nd officer fired his weapon, so a reasonable person would not believe that the man was a deadly threat at that point. However, like I said, I don’t believe that my feelings have anything to do with what actually appears on the video.

          1. SHG Post author

            I’m going to take you at your word, and I apologize for calling you a cop/shill. Whenever an issue like this arises, I invariably get a slew of cop shills offering comments similar to yours. It’s gets tedious.

            While I don’t allow links in comments, I’ve left yours in, and I reproduce the image here:


            Sorry, but I most don’t see it. Not at all. While you overstated your case in your prior comment when you described it as “clearly,” I don’t see anything of the sort. I don’t know what I see, but I don’t see a hand wrapped around a gun.

            But if others see it, they can say so. I do not.

            1. ExCop-LawStudent

              It appears that way to me, but as you know, I’m biased. I’ve also had people go after my gun (although not to the extent here), so that probably weighs into it.

              Plus the LA Times appears to have witnesses who saw the homeless guy going after the officer’s gun.

              My inclination is that the shooting is justifiable, but we need to wait and see how it develops.

            2. John Barleycorn

              Yup, they have plenty of witnesses all right.

              The LA Times is also reporting that “the encounter was recorded by body cameras worn by at least one of the officers involved. It was unclear what that recording shows.”

              I wonder if that video will make the six o’clock news?

              P.S. Speaking of witnesses rumor has it one of the most successful Nordic Metal Bands of all time is thinking about funding and dispatching a NGO comprised of observers and medics to “skid rows” across America. They are going to wear light blue vests with black crosses on them I guess.

            3. SHG Post author

              I wonder if that video will make the six o’clock news?

              A cynical person might say that if it showed that he was “struggling” to get an officer’s gun, it would be readily available. And with good reason.

            4. John Barleycorn

              That and the wording of the leak.

              The “at least one” phrasing via the body camera evidence should be enough to cover a lot of different potential scenarios if need be.

              Things do get lost accidentally and malfunctions happen. But even cynics know that I guess?

              I guess one thing for sure is known via the leak… There will be at least one body camera’s footage to choose from.

            5. SHG Post author

              Just checked (because breaking news, right?), and still no body cam video released. However, CNN reports that guy who took the video, Anthony Blackburn, says he didn’t see the guy reach for an officer’s gun.

              In contrast:

              Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck defended the officers’ actions.

              “I think that this is an awful tragedy, but the officers took — on the face of it — reasonable steps to avoid it. Had the individual not grabbed the officer’s pistol, certainly we would not be having this discussion,” he told reporters.

              He also showed a screen grab from a privately taken video that appears to show the man’s hand reaching for the officer’s waistband, where his pistol would be.

              Apparently, he didn’t see the guy’s hand wrapped around the gun either. Maybe he just has old man eyesight, like me?

            6. John Barleycorn

              Just to note an error I made. The “at least one” was not an unidentified LAPD “leak”. It is being directly attributed to LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith in several sources now.

              Just how many officers were wearing a body camera that was recording during a fatal officer involved shooting is hard to keep track of when you have grainy screen shots from other sources I guess?

            7. Not Jim Ardis

              If I was flailing about while having the shit beat out of by a half-dozen cops, I suppose my hand might eventually end up near at least one of their guns at some point.

              Not because I was trying, but by pure chance.

      2. onlymom

        No offense but if 5 people were in the process of beating me and with 5 I would have to assume they are going to try and beat me to death and one of you were stupid enough to give me a shot at a gun you were carrying I would be going for it to for the express purpose of returning the favor. No matter what stupid costume you had on.

        1. SHG Post author

          Not sure why I’m letting you have this one, but I’m sufficiently offended at what happened here that your solution is not as crazy as usual.

          1. onlymom

            I think you misunderstood. It’s not a solution but a possible reason he went for the gun IF in fact he did.

            instinct and self preservation will come into play when your looking at death in the face and 5 armed individuals against 1 who’s getting pretty much the s##t beat out of him suddenly get’s a gun shoved in his face during the conflict is gonna go for it.

            He’s got nothing to lose.

  3. DW

    Anxiously awaiting for PD to trot out the poor guy’s rap sheet with 15+ petty arrests, or maybe a toxicology report that shows he’d used an illicit substance within a week.

    I really don’t get the spontaneous violence from cops against the homeless. Up until the cop’s CYA cries of “Goin for mah gun!” this looked like Kelly Thomas all over again. It’s like there was this moment where one cop decided “This n****r is getting a beating” and the other cops followed his lead. Shortly thereafter, one of them decided “Fuck it, let’s kill him” and used the word “gun” instead of “Stop resisting” (which can only justify a beating, not a murder). It might have been the same cop, I can’t be sure. What I am sure of is that there are 6 cops that have a pretty good idea of what really happened, and they’re going to protect and continue working with the cop(s) that decided to escalate the violence.

    1. SHG Post author

      Kelly Thomas was the poster boy for objectifying a homeless guy as subhuman and unworthy of living.

      1. David M.

        And Emperor Norton was a good symbol of police treating the homeless & mentally ill with respect. Look at how far we’ve come in 150 years.

  4. Curtis

    The good thing is, out of all those cops, there is one good moral cop who will do the right thing and tell the truth.

    Cue Mighty Mouse theme (It’s on YouTube).

  5. Neil

    I would post this reply to Ex-Cop LawStudent, but there’s no reply option available at that point of the thread.

    With so many police officers nearby and the police cars also very close, why can’t the police officers divy up their responsibilities so that those who are going to be laying hands on Africa can leave their weapons in their cars or with their fellow officers?

      1. Neil

        I would agree that for any police officer who’s working on his own, this is a sufficient reason to keep your own weapon close. I do think that if the police officers were trained to work better as a team, the entire team could be safer if the officers who are struggling to hold the suspect left their guns behind, so that the only weapons available to the suspect was whatever he had managed to conceal. In this case, the officers were in more danger because of their own weapons, and not what the suspect had. Teamwork should give the officers more options in how to deal with a situation – but in this case, bad teamwork reduced their options. If police departments don’t bother training their officers how to work as a team, then their options are further limited.
        If the first law of policing operates so that a police officer will never relinquish their gun because they don’t trust the other officers to competently perform their roles, that also eliminates a lot of options for teamwork. Is that the case?

        1. ExCop-LawStudent

          No, that’s not the case.

          Officers regularly trust other officers with their life, and trust the officers to do their job.

          The entire team could be safer if everyone sat in a circle and sang kumbyla too, but it brings us no closer to a solution. Locking up the guns isn’t the answer.

          1. SHG Post author

            The entire team could be safer if everyone sat in a circle and sang kumbyla [sic] too, but it brings us no closer to a solution.

            Well, that would make for an interesting discussion, actually.

  6. John Barleycorn

    A man’s tent is not his castle and more than one equals two.

    One officer and a sergeant involved in the killing of Africa were wearing body cameras that were recording apparently.

    However, (via LA Times)
    ~~~Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.~~~

    Oh my?!

    But, (Just got to have the but right?)

    ~~~But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.~~~

    Nice and consistent but not consistent enough to release the body cam video because reasons. Chief Beck’s reasons.

    Those being the body camera footage offers a “unique perspective” BUT It just wouldn’t be fair to jump to conclusions and release the footage.

    However, the only conclusion offered up in preliminary fashion as fact thus far deserves to be coined. How about Police Department Preliminary Fashion Facts (PD-PFFs).

    He’s got my gun!

    Bang bang bang Bang bang!

    Well no I guess he doesn’t have my gun but, but, but… He touched my gun. I think?

    Yup, Chief confirms the consistently of it all.

    Move along now, nothing to see here.

    Anyway, no one is talking about the partially racked slide, jammed bullet, and loose mag “fact” of the officer who moments after the killing was doing crowd control with his holstered weapon today. But hey, I am sure he and his fellow officers did a factual recreation of things or something like that back at the station to recreate the “factual” state his weapon was in before they killed Africa.

    I wonder if a weapons expert who
    sidelines in holster expertise will be appearing on the six o’clock news tonight to tell us how these “facts” all went down?

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