March 2, 2015   |   Alissa Kokkins
March 2, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Los Angeles, CA — As rain poured in Los Angeles on Sunday night, outraged community members packed the steps of Pershing Square. General Jeff, from Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) declared to a somber crowd:
“If you notice, the heavens are crying right now. Another senseless murder at the hands of Los Angeles Police Department.”
Joined by Black Lives Matter, Los Angeles, LA CAN addressed those who had gathered in response to LAPD’s execution of an unarmed man from the Skid Row community earlier that afternoon. A killing that went viral after a video of the incident was posted to Facebook by eyewitness, Anthony Blackburn. Although the execution caught the attention of the masses and media, locals were outraged that LAPD had been speaking to the press while simultaneously refusing to talk to Skid Row residents about the execution; the very people LAPD’s actions impact the most.
While the government name of the man executed by LAPD remains unknown, members of the community called him “Africa.” According to residents, Africa had a history of mental illness that was well known to both the community and police. Yet, despite his struggles, Africa had always been trustworthy, respectful and harmless. In fact, Africa protected the Skid Row store adjacent to where he pitched his tent since the business stayed open until 4am. A tent that very well may have led to his execution.
On March 1st, 2015 at around 11:30 am, LAPD responded to a call on San Pedro and 5th street about an altercation that had long been settled before LAPD arrived. Once there, officers found Africa sleeping and chose to rouse him from his rest. Being disturbed by police was a sensitive issue for Africa. You see, despite Skid Row being home to the largest houseless community in America, tents can only be pitched from 9pm-6am in Los Angeles County. To enforce this law, police frequently harassed Africa to take down his home… as they do to all who are unhoused that dare pitch a tent in Los Angeles during unauthorized hours. So when LAPD disturbed Africa on this fateful Sunday, Africa responded by jumping up prepared to defend his right to have his tent up in the rain; and that is when LAPD got aggressive. Minutes later, Africa was dead after being shot five times by LAPD. Police claim Africa was killed because he was reaching for an officer’s gun while he was face down on the ground being tasered.
Hours later, LA residents found themselves gathered mourning, sharing witness accounts, and demanding that the cops who killed Africa be held accountable. As they stood together in the pouring rain heartbroken and frustrated, an even more disturbing tale emerged. A story of a Skid Row that is no stranger to killer cops, police violence, and over policing. A place where Africa was far from LAPD’s first execution, and most likely not their last either.
Just a little over six months ago, LAPD and the SWAT team killed, Carlos Ocana, 54 – another unarmed, mentally ill Skid Row resident that police literally tasered off of a roof on San Pedro Street; the middle of the very same block police killed Africa on. Yet, residents are still waiting for answers about the last killing and now… another one. Skid Row Resident and Activist, General Dogon, in part blames Los Angeles’ Safer Cities Initiative that was enacted in 2006. An initiative that he says is anything but safe.
“For the last nine years Skid Row has been under police occupation, right. This is the most policed community in the nation. And the only things that it has been leading to is civil and human rights violations.” – General Dogon, Skid Row Activist
A “broken windows” approach to policing, the Safer Cities Initiative was introduced by former Los Angeles Police Chief and now New York Police Chief, William Bratton. The initiative was championed by the Central City Association (CCA), a powerful business lobby group that is the invisible seat of power which runs the City of Los Angeles. CCA represents local businesses, organizations, and large corporations, such as: Walt Disney Company, UCLA, Chevron, Walmart, Verizon, Paramount Pictures, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo, and Bank of America. While monied interests stand firmly behind the initiative, critics have serious concerns about the impact the initiative has on those less privileged.
Heather Timmons from Quartz reports:
“Violent crime and robberies dropped significantly in Skid Row after the initiative was introduced. But critics say the initiative has been devastating for people living on the streets, because it stresses criminalization for minor law infractions over social services, essentially making it a crime to be homeless. And the area’s homeless population has surged in recent years, thanks to a weak economy.
A 2010 survey of homeless and poor people in the Skid Row area found that over half had been arrested in the past year because of the initiative, resulting in loss of housing, social services, and jobs. Nearly half said they had been physically or verbally abused by police while receiving citations for non-violent behavior like jaywalking, drinking in public, and sleeping on the sidewalk.”
On Sunday night, the reality of the draconian Safer Cities Initiative was on full display for the two dozen LA residents that braved the rain to march to the Skid Row police station after people left Pershing Square. The small, determined group took the sidewalks to the station fearing that their actions would cause police to backlash against the community with the likes of water hoses, citations and arrests — tactics police had used against Skid Row residents in the past.
As the group entered Skid Row, the landscape of the ever gentrifying downtown swiftly changed. Coffee shops, hipster hangouts and pristine urban sprawl transformed into streets speckled with tarps, tents and litter. Litter so high that it acted as barricades, causing intersections to impassibly flood. As people visibly suffered everywhere you looked on this cold, wet night, one to two police cruisers sat running idle on every single block. Watching. Police Officers wasted gas and sipped hot coffee as they waited for the next ticket, arrests or incident to report. Not one officer was seen leaving the safety of their warm patrol car to serve and protect this community. A community forced to mourn in the freezing, cold rain.
Community members will be meeting on Tuesday, March 3rd at the Union Rescue Mission on San Pedro between 5th and 6th at
8:30 am to march to the police commission meeting at LAPD Headquarters.
UPDATE: Community members and LA CAN are inviting people to begin gathering at 7 am and asking that folks be ready to march by 8am. To stay updated, check out this Facebook invite.
Donations to Africa’s Memorial and Burial Fund can be made here.
This article will be updated as we process our video and photos and/if more information becomes available.
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