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The Rising Just 4 Miles From Campus by wildcat

November 20, 2010

No, I’m not talking about the Watts riots or the Rodney King riots in 1991. I’m talking about something that occurred just three months ago in Westlake, less than 4 miles northeast of campus. Those that are aware may simply shrug it aside as only one event in a long sequence of police shootings of poor people of color that somehow deserve it or otherwise can’t be helped. In no way does this suggest that poor people of color somehow deserve the butt-end of state violence masquerading as “justice.”

On Sunday, September 5th, Manuel Jamines, a 37 year old Guatemalan day laborer, was fatally shot by three police officers on the corner of 6th and Union.1 Mainstream media outlets, wont to lamely repeat whatever press releases come from institutions of authority, such as the police in this instance, reported that the officers and the majority of witnesses claim that Jamines was drunk and threatening to assault bystanders, including a pregnant woman, with a knife. A few witnesses claim that while he was drunk, he was either not holding a knife or was not nearly aggressive enough to warrant the shooting. When police told him to drop the knife, he did not comply, resulting in their shooting him. He was an immigrant that spoke mainly the Mayan language Q’uiche, and had very little knowledge of English or Spanish. Isolated from his family in Guatemala, he was known to drink, but was also peaceful.2 Police later produced a bloody knife as evidence, but community members have challenged this, claiming police planted the knife.3

As a result of the police shooting, the community, composed mostly of Central American immigrants, rose up in protest, claiming the area for themselves in a vigil and calling for “Justicia!” until driven back by heavy police repression.4 Their revolt lasted for three nights and resulted in 22 arrests, some of them of illegal immigrants who will be deported.

The police claim in apparent innocent ignorance that they have no idea what caused the community to just be so gosh-darned angry. They also use the claim that the officer most at fault, Frank Hernandez, is Hispanic. Now while some may claim that given his Hispanic heritage, the shooting has nothing to do with race, prior examples of the oppressed being turned against their own people show the lie to this claim. While some may think that the stereotype of racist black cops depicted in popular 90s films such as Boyz n The Hood is surely dead now, Earl Ofari Hutchinson of Salon.com noted as recently as 2000 that many black officers carry the same prejudices as their white counterparts, writing, “Worse, many black cops are also infected with the “us vs. them” police siege mentality, and will commit and then attempt to cover up misconduct or brutal acts.”5 For example, Hernandez has gained so much notoriety in the community for his unpredictable violence that he has earned himself the nickname of “El Pelon.”6

A month after Manuel Jamines was fatally shot by police officers, an eighteen-year-old, James Davis III, was shot in the back and killed by police officers in Watts.7 Witnesses acknowledged that he was carrying a handgun, but contradicted the police officers’ account that he had drawn it and aimed at the police officers. Instead, they claimed that he had thrown it to the ground to avoid getting caught with it. They have also contradicted the police officers’ claim that he belonged to a gang, saying that members of the community often carried weapons for protection. Even if he had belonged to a gang and police actions until that point were justified, they unambiguously erred in refusing to allow a witness that was a registered nurse to administer first aid to the downed youth, who later died in the hospital. Immediately after the shooting, community members railed against the police and later, the Coalition for Community Control Over the Police put out a demand for an “all-elected, all-civilian, police control board with full authority over the police in all aspects,” arguing that the police cannot be trusted to investigate themselves.

While police may be telling the truth, all the accusations against them are plausible simply because they’ve done similar things in the past. The LAPD in particular had specifically enforced unspoken racial boundaries around South Central up to the 1970s and 80s, contributing to the racialized ghetto that it is today.8 Anthony Asadullah Samad, a professor of political science, wrote in the LA Progressive that, “former police chief, the late William H. Parker…was an urban segregationist, no different from Bull Connor or Jim Clark down in Alabama. Parker enforced racial protocols and Los Angeles’ race caste system that held until the early 1970s (some say the mid-80s, as far as the Valley areas go).” As seen in the partially released COINTELPRO government documents, police forces around the nation have cooperated with the FBI to fabricate evidence and otherwise repress anything that could be viewed as a threat to the prevailing power structure.9 For example, the FBI and local law enforcement were instrumental in destroying the Black Panther’s Breakfast Program for children in various cities, raiding offices and destroying food among other possessions, as well as orchestrating assassinations such as that of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and instigating armed conflict between racial minority street gangs (often originally formed to combat white youth violence) and political groups to keep them from forming a united front to racist oppression.

What needs to occur is a realization that the police are not a neutral force protecting people. At the very least, they are a force protecting property. They have no obligation to protect people. This isn’t just based on the behavior of the police; in almost all states, courts have ruled that police do not have this supposed obligation.10 In fact, as attorney Richard W. Stevens writes in his book, Call 911 and Die, “In its landmark decision of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The Department of Public Safety is no different; they protect our privilege, and our resulting gross excess of personal property, from being threatened. This is quite evident anywhere on or near campus; for example, DPS will very quickly escort poor people of color out of the UV food court.

As the historical record has shown, the police in this city, like in every city, are a paramilitary force used to suppress any threats to the status quo, even if these “threats” may in fact be composed of the majority of people, or may benefit the majority of people.

 

Footnotes

1. http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/city-news/westlake-lapd-witness/

2. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/09/relatives-of-knife-wielding-man-killed-by-police-said-he-was-not-violent.html

3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/09/officer-frank-hernandez-h_n_710556.html

4. http://colorlines.com/archives/2010/09/protests_outrage_after_lapd_kills_guatemalan_father_of_three.html

5. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/11/01/cops

6. http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20100920053434853

7. http://www.laactivist.com/2010/10/13/police-account-of-watts-shooting-held-in-question/

8. http://www.laprogressive.com/rankism/the-racist-legacy-of-the-lapd/

9. http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/cointel.htm

10.0 Richard W. Stevens, Call 911 and Die

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