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.