L.A.'s Skid Row Tense After Fatal Police Shooting Of Homeless Man

Mar 2, 2015
Originally published on March 2, 2015 6:38 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the fatal shooting of a homeless man by police on the city's Skid Row. The confrontation occurred yesterday when officers responded to a robbery call. There was an intense struggle, and multiple shots were fired at the man. The police say the man had gotten hold of one of the officers' guns during the struggle. The entire incident was caught on video by a bystander. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: In this cell phone video that's quickly gone viral, you can see several LAPD officers tackling a homeless man on the sidewalk.

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SIEGLER: You can hear an officer repeatedly using the word - gun, gun. You can also hear what sounds like a taser in the background, then the gunshots.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Whoa. Oh my god.

SIEGLER: Five shots in all. The homeless man widely known here as Africa died. The LAPD is not releasing the man's name. Chief Charlie Beck spoke at a news conference this afternoon.

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CHARLIE BECK: This is a tragedy. It was also a very intense conversation - a very intense situation and a brutal, brutal fight.

SIEGLER: Two of the officers were wearing body cameras. And Beck says, from all the videos he's reviewed, he believes the officers acted compassionately up until the time that force was required. It's incredibly tense today on Skid Row, just southwest of the downtown LA skyscrapers. At the site of yesterday's shooting, LAPD cars patrolled up and down San Pedro Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: There they go. There they go - the murderers. They shot and killed him. There go the murderers. There they go. There they go. You can't intimidate us.

SIEGLER: Skid Row is home to one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the U.S. At any given day, there at least 1,500 people living and sleeping in tents and makeshift encampments lining the sidewalks here. Thousands more live in the shelters and single-residency occupant hotels above the street.

WILLIAM SMART: This is too much. Too many times we're down here when our brothers and sisters - black and Latino - are in this condition.

SIEGLER: Today, Pastor William Smart of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference called on the mayor and the LAPD chief to end what he says is entrenched police harassment of Skid Row residents.

SMART: There's too much violence being evoked on our people. He was in his area - his livelihood, right here, doing his thing. We're tired of it.

SIEGLER: But the situation here is complex and even unique compared to other high-profile police shootings of minorities recently in other cities. Skid Row and its concentrated shelters not only draw homeless people in need, but also gangs, drug dealers and rampant prostitution. Police arrest people, and then three days later, they're right back out here. Even the LAPD's senior officer on Skid Row has warned of a worsening mental health crisis. Again, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

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BECK: We prepare our officers to deal as best they can with them. But the reality is, this is much more than a problem that the police alone can solve.

SIEGLER: Beck is promising a full investigation into whether the use of force was justified. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.