Revolution #180, October 25, 2009

The Killing Grounds of Los Angeles County

“Growing up with the sheriffs, boy it’s tough. They get you once, they get you twice, it’s all over from there. They know your name, they never forget your face. They’ll ride you until you get a record. That’s the way they are….

“It was a vendetta. The cop hated him. Tito gave that guy a run for his money a couple weeks in a row. He ran from him, ’cause he was on parole, yes he was on parole... but it’s no reason to kill the man. He was on parole for drugs. Who isn’t on parole for drugs? He killed him because he hated him, he killed Tito because he was going to get away again. He was going to run, there’s a way down the back side, he was going to get away again, and he didn’t want that to happen, so he killed him.”

—Friend of 33-year-old Ezequiel “Tito” Jacobo, killed by sheriffs in Carson, California, on August 8, 2009

Scottsdale Estates is a housing project in Carson, south of LA, tucked off of Avalon Blvd. It was a warm Saturday afternoon the day Tito was killed. People had pulled out their barbeques and were hanging out in the park inside the complex. The LA County sheriffs came through earlier in the day fucking with people in the park, giving out loitering tickets to people barbequing. Tito was sitting with friends in someone’s garage when the sheriffs pulled up. He was on parole and he ran from them. One of the sheriffs shot him in the back as he ran, then kept shooting while he was on the ground, executing Tito in front of his friends and the neighborhood kids.

A few days after Tito’s execution, 50 people marched to Carson City Hall from where he was killed. They were headed to the city hall meeting, but stood outside speaking bitterness on the lawn in front after the meeting was abruptly cancelled. Armed sheriffs in riot gear guarded the sheriffs station next door and sheriff cars sped up and down the street, stopping cars that honked in support of the march. When a witness to the murder was almost arrested, marchers stopped and confronted the sheriffs until they let him go.

Tito’s murder was not an aberration. In the last three months at least ten Black and Latino people have been killed just by sheriffs and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Killing Spree by Sheriffs and LAPD

In July, August, and September of this year, the LA sheriffs and LAPD went on a killing spree:

July 5, 16-year-old Avery Cody, Jr. was shot and killed by sheriffs in Compton.

July 10, 22-year-old Woodrow Player III was shot in the back and killed by sheriffs in Athens.

August 6, 19-year-old Jessie Long was shot and killed by LAPD in South Central.

August 7, 23-year-old Guillermo Saucedo was shot and killed by sheriffs in Lynwood.

August 8, 33-year-old Ezequiel “Tito” Jacobo was shot and killed by sheriffs in Carson.

August 9, 37-year-old Oran Eugene Douglas III was shot and killed by LAPD in South Central.

Last year, Inglewood, California, police shot and killed four Black and Latino men in four months:  Michael Byoune, an unarmed 19-year-old who was out at a burger restaurant with his friends; Ruben Walton Ortega, an unarmed 23-year-old who they shot five times in an alley; Kevin Wicks, a well-respected post office worker who they shot when they mistakenly went to his house on a call, pounded on his door in the middle of the night and he answered with a gun in his hand; and Eddie Felix Franco, an unarmed homeless man they shot 47 times on a street corner in the middle of the day.

Then in May of this year, Inglewood police murdered 31-year-old Marcus Smith, shooting and killing him at a family party when they showed up in response to a call of a fight.  The police said Marcus shot at them and they shot in self-defense.  Witnesses say Marcus didn’t even have a gun in his hand and the cop who was shot in the leg was hit by one of the bullets coming from the other cops.  Angry friends and relatives at the party who saw the shooting were beaten and handcuffed.  The independent autopsy report showed 17 bullets in Marcus’s back.

After the four murders last year, there were protests and marches and calls for investigations.  Four investigations were started, including an investigation of the policies and procedures of the Inglewood Police Department by the Department of Justice.  Yet none of the murdering cops were taken off the streets.  One of the cops who shot Michael Byoune killed Kevin Wicks a month later.  Another Inglewood cop, Zerai Massey, killed an unarmed youth in 2007, shot Eddie Felix Franco last year, and then killed Marcus Smith this May.  Now the Office of Independent Review has released a report of their investigation and the city is refusing to publicly release it, claiming “attorney-client privilege.”

September 14, 36-year-old Darrick Collins was walking with a friend in the driveway of his cousin’s house when a sheriffs’ car pulled around the corner, looking for two robbery suspects. Darrick started to walk back towards the house. The sheriffs pulled into the driveway and when Darrick didn’t stop, they started shooting. He was shot once in the back of the neck and twice in the side. The sheriffs have admitted that Darrick was unarmed and was not the robbery suspect they were looking for. In the wake of Darrick Collins’ murder, family members and activists filled the city hall meeting demanding the truth be told about Darrick’s murder, and demanding justice.

September 19, 17-year-old Travion Richard was shot and killed by LA County sheriffs in Lynwood. Travion’s family organized a march from their church down Alameda Blvd. to the notorious Lynwood Sheriffs Station (which used to have within it an organized white supremacist gang called the Vikings). Some people defiantly held up in front of the sheriff cars handmade signs of a human figure as target practice with the words “New Target Shoot Kill” and red paint splashing out from heads and chests—the victims of murders by police. Along the march route, the friends and family of Travion, all Black, reached out to Latino families who were walking and driving by, making the connections that the police are murdering their children too—and many of the Latino families responded with sympathy, some sharing stories about their encounters with the police.

September 20, the day after Travion was killed, sheriffs shot and killed 27-year-old Felipe Valdovinos in Compton and 24-year-old Leopoldo Huizar in Norwalk.

The murders were given justifications, repeated in the news. The most common being the claim that the police feared for their life when the victim supposedly pointed a gun at them at some point in the pursuit, or tried to wrestle a cop’s gun away, or the standard fallback claim that the victim was “reaching for their waistband.” And then the police justify these killings by pointing to arrest records and parole status.

Under this system’s own laws, things like running away from police or most violations of the law are supposedly not punishable by the death penalty—let alone execution on the spot, with no trial. But not a single cop has been charged with a crime or removed from the police force or punished in any way. In fact, the opposite is true. In the same time period of this killing spree, a lawsuit against the cops who shot to death two-year-old Suzi Pena and her father was thrown out of court while the LAPD SWAT team was presented with awards for their “heroism” in this case. The fact that the police are basically given free rein to do this exposes the actual role of the state machinery, including the police.

Shot In the Back...

People are angry about these murders, and there has been important resistance in response to some of them. But there’s still confusion about why this is happening, and what’s behind it.

Here’s some facts. Darrick Collins, Tito Jacobo and Woodrow Player III were shot in the back—and repeatedly—while running away and unarmed. Eyewitnesses to the murders of Tito Jacobo and Woodrow Player III back this up and media accounts of the murders of all three tell the same story. Clearly they were not advancing on or threatening the police in any manner.

Under the system’s own laws, police are not supposed to execute people, shooting them repeatedly in the back, when the victim poses no threat to them. So, what has been the system’s response to this illegal wave of killings? There were no arrests of the murdering police. There were no firings of the murdering police. There were no statements about rogue cops being out of control. And no apologies. Sheriff Lee Baca said that he would convene a special panel of his “top shooting experts” to look into shootings by the sheriffs and the tactics used in these confrontations. Baca also stated he would speed up the investigative process in sheriff-involved shootings.

Back in the days of Jim Crow in the South, it was technically illegal for the KKK to lynch Black people. But the authorities—from local cracker cops to the FBI and the Justice Department—turned a blind eye to these lynchings even when they were announced in advance in the news. Illegal or not, lynch-mob terror kept everything and everyone locked down into what the system considered their “proper place” in this society. Every Black person was a potential target and grew up with that fear of never knowing if you might be the next one grabbed off the street or out of your house.

Today it is the police, patrolling neighborhoods, hounding Black and Latino youth from the time they can walk. And even though it is supposed to be illegal for them to murder people for no reason, they do it over and over, and with impunity.

Ten police killings, at least, in three months, and nobody facing criminal charges. That is not an aberration—a “few bad apples”—or a few racist, sadistic pigs. These are actions of an armed force of the state, whose role is to serve and protect a system—the system of capitalism-imperialism—and to sow an atmosphere of terror among the oppressed, especially the youth.

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